With Thanksgiving coming up, turkeys are on all of our minds. From the animals themselves to the production of turkey, here are some surprising things you might not know:
1. Flock vs. rafter
While many people use the term flock, technically a group of turkeys is called a rafter.
2. Turkeys are omnivores
In the wild, turkeys eat a varied diet of everything from seeds, berries, grass, and acorns, to insects and small lizards. But on factory farms, turkeys are fed only corn and soy laced with antibiotics.
3. Breasts get in the way of sex
99% of turkeys raised today are the “Broadbreasted White” variety. These turkeys have been selectively bred to produce the largest possible breasts. Turkeys’ breasts are now so large that they are physically incapable of mating. Which means…
4. Humans inseminate turkeys
After “milking” semen from male birds, workers artificially inseminate the female turkeys. A female turkey can lay one egg every few days. She is inseminated and forced to produce eggs at this rate for up to 25 weeks, at which point her body is “spent” and she’s sent to slaughter.
5. Turkeys are speedy
Wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour and fly up to 55 miles per hour. But domesticated turkeys cannot fly because of their unnaturally large size. Many domesticated turkeys cannot even stand because their bones cannot support the weight, and most cannot walk properly because…
6. Turkeys’ missing toes and beaks
Workers “de-beak” and “de-toe” newborn baby turkeys. The sharp parts of their beaks and toes are cut off without any sort of pain relief. This is done to keep them from attacking each other while under the stress of intensive confinement. As a result of having their toes and beaks cut off, many turkeys cannot walk and some cannot eat and die of starvation.
7. In the Mood for Snood
Male turkeys have a flap of flesh that hangs over their beak called a snood. Female turkeys decide who to mate with based on snood length (bigger is better), and males are less likely to challenge turkeys with longer snoods. But on factory farms, the snood is cut off along with the beak and toes shortly after birth.
8. Mother Turkey
Baby turkeys, called poults, stay with their mothers for up to 5 months in the wild. But baby turkeys raised for food never set eyes on their mothers; the eggs are taken from the mothers before they hatch and placed in giant industrial hatcheries. By the time her last round of eggs is hatched, the mother turkey will already have been sent to slaughter.
9. No Legal Protection for Turkeys
The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act doesn’t apply to poultry, so turkeys, chickens, ducks, and rabbits (which, strangely enough, are classified as “poultry”) are exempt. This means they can be “shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut” while fully conscious.
10. Turkeys have superbugs
Remember those antibiotics we mentioned in #2? They’re used so indiscriminately, in such huge quantities, that it leads to the evolution of new, stronger bacteria. A study by the Environmental Working Group found that 81% of ground turkey is infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria!
If some of this information is less-than-appetizing, there’s good news! There has never been such an abundance of delicious meat-free Thanksgiving centerpieces, such as Field Roast, Gardein, or the classic Tofurky.
There’s also a plethora of delicious veg Thanksgiving recipe compilations, from the New York Times, to Buzzfeed, to Cosmopolitan Magazine.
#10 on Buzzfeed’s List of 41 Delicious Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes