On the East Coast where I grew up, Thanksgiving was one of the holidays that was a big deal to us. My parents made a huge turkey with stuffing, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes, and I watched the Macy's Thanksiving Day Parade in the morning. Never during the celebrations did I think about where the turkey on my plate might have come from - but of course, I was just a kid then. Now, I try to choose my bird carefully, because many turkeys - like chickens and pigs - are subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions in factories before they end up on a dinner table.
Turkeys raised on factory farms are hatched in large incubators - they don't have a nest, and never see their mothers. It gets worse for them once they're a few weeks old; they're moved into filthy sheds with thousands of other turkeys, which is where they will stay for the rest of their lives. You can imagine how an intelligent animal might react under such stressful conditions, so, to stop the turkeys from killing one another in such an environment, part of the birds' toes and beaks are cut off, as well as the snoods (the flap of skin on a turkey's chin). No anesthesia or pain relievers of any kind are used.
Many of these turkeys don't live much longer after this; they often lose the will to eat afterward, and simply die of starvation. Many factory farms remedy this with even more abuse, of course: The turkeys that refuse to eat are often force-fed with a pump. It's important for these companies to get the bird's weight up, after all. Turkeys today are drugged and genetically manipulated to grow as fast as possible. The average live turkey today weighs 28 pounds, where in 1970, it only weighed 17 pounds at the most, according to PETA.
By the way - the obesity that is foisted upon factory farmed turkeys renders them unable to reproduce naturally, so the turkeys are born through artificial insemination. Fat turkeys have other problems, too. Many die from heart attacks or organ failure due to their weight.
In addition to the horrors that come with factory farming, there are further situations involving deliberate abuse of turkeys.
Animal welfare group Mercy for Animals recently uncovered an incident at a Butterball turkey factory in Garner, North Carolina, where workers were throwing, kicking, and going out of their way to purposely abuse these animals. It's notable that many factories owned by Butterball hire, like so many of their peers, non-union workers.
This latest atrocity in North Carolina is the second time workers have been caught tormenting the birds. The first time was on December 2011, when one employee was charged and convicted of felony animal cruelty, and four others with misdemeanor animal cruelty. One year later, these horrific acts are still taking place. Butterball merely responded that it would "take allegations of animal mistreatment very seriously" and has a "zero tolerance policy for animal abuse." It's anyone's guess whether the company will opt to seriously do anything about the situation.
Here's something to consider: turkeys are intelligent, social birds that care for one another. It's not uncommon in a rearing house to find a dead turkey surrounded by four other birds, who, after watching the first animal experience convulsions and other ailments, died of heart failure from the pure stress of seeing another bird in pain.
There's a very easy way to make sure your Thanksgiving doesn't involve the consumption of a bird that suffered. Purchasing organic, free-range turkeys isn't difficult. Mary's Certified Free-Range Organic Turkeys are raised in a very humane fashion on a farm with plenty of freedom to move around and socialize with their companions. They aren't genetically modified, exposed to chemicals, or force-fed to the point of obesity. Other cruelty-free places to purchase your bird are Applegate Farms, Diestel Ranch, and Good Earth Farms.
If everyone were just a little more conscientious this holiday season, it would be an excellent step forward in the effort to stop torturous, profit-driven factory farming. Just some food for thought before the Thanksgiving feast begins.