The Secret Lives of Turkeys

The Secret Lives of Turkeys

My first experience with a turkey was during my internship at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. His name was Moreno and he was the sexiest animal I had ever met! He flirted with all the female turkeys, he showed me his mating dance, but most importantly, he gave me a glimpse into the lives and personalities of these wonderful animals.

Unfortunately, most turkeys don’t get to live a life of safety and love like Moreno. Every year, 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas and 19 million on Easter.

The Sad Truth Behind the “Holiday’s Turkey”

Baby turkeys are hatched in large incubators and after a couple of weeks, they are moved to large, windowless sheds that they share with thousands of other turkeys. To keep them from hurting each other, parts of their beaks and toes are cut off with no anesthesia. They are bred and drugged to make them grow as fast as possible. In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds. Today, turkeys average 28 pounds.

Due to these artificial manipulations, turkey’s legs often break underneath them. In the wild, turkeys can live up to 10 years. Today, turkeys that are raised for food are sent to the slaughterhouse at the age of 5 to 6 months, where they experience more pain before ending up on people’s plates during the holidays.

A Ray of Hope in Endeavor

Fortunately, there are sanctuaries around the world that are working to rescue and care for turkeys whose fate was set for the plate. Sol Criations Farm Sanctuary in Endeavor, WI is one of these places. Sol Criations started out as a small alpaca farm with the idea that Brenda Vetter, one of the co-owners, and her family would raise alpacas for their fiber, and become more self-sufficient by raising chickens for eggs, etc. But through living with the animals and learning what using them for food or fiber means for them, she was led on a journey – a complete immersion into animal agriculture. Learning what happens to animals raised for food and other human purposes, she and her family were so horrified, they slammed on the brakes, stopped everything they were doing, went vegan and converted their farm to a farm sanctuary, with the vision of helping animals and educating people.

The Story of Tofu and Tempeh

Sol Criations is also where rescued turkeys Tofu and Tempeh reside. According to Brenda, Tofu and Tempeh came from a neighborhood farm and they were set to be slaughtered for Thanksgiving. She saw her neighbor’s post on Facebook, talking about how her kids were crying about killing the turkeys. Brenda asked her if she would be willing to spare one and let him live out his life at her sanctuary, and her neighbor agreed. When Brenda picked up Tofu, she felt like he would need a friend, so she adopted Tempeh as well. They are 3 years old now, after being set to be slaughtered at the age of 7 months.

Tofu the Turkey
Tofu the rescued turkey knows he's handsome and is he is constantly strutting around and posing for pictures! Sol Criations Farm Sanctuary.

Tofu is the male turkey. He knows he is the most handsome turkey ever, constantly strutting around and posing for pictures!  He is comical and friendly, but food obsessed (I can relate). Life is all about him! Tempeh is gentle, quiet and shy. She loves calm, gentle touch and being talked to quietly. “I think it is important for people to understand the emotional lives of turkeys. Just like all other animals, they have important relationships, bonds, emotions, and sensitivities. They often are very affectionate and love to snuggle,” says Brenda. 

Tempeh, the rescued turkey, is gentle, quiet and shy. She loves calm, gentle touch and being talked to quietly. Image: Courtesy of Sol Criations Farm Sanctuary.

Bird Brain?

Brenda says there is a huge misconception that turkeys are stupid. “Turkeys are incredibly smart and social and form strong bonds. Each of them (just like companion animals) have their own unique personalities and preferences. They have friendships and love. They are very beautiful! I think it is very important for people to be aware of what happens to turkeys that are raised for food – the health of their bodies, bred to grow so big, so fast that their legs and hearts give out. The conditions they are raised in on factory farms and the suffering involved from birth to death while still babies.”

What Can You Do to Help?

This Thanksgiving, there are a couple of ways you can spare these wonderful birds from suffering for holiday celebration purposes. The first way is to leave them off of your plate. There is a huge abundance of wonderful plant based holiday recipes out to help you celebrate a cruelty-free Thanksgiving! Just do a quick search and choose your likings!

The second thing you can do is sponsor a turkey. Sponsorship is one of the best ways to help individual animals at sanctuaries around the world. In animal sanctuaries, turkeys receive tender loving care, respect, clean water and sunshine. They are also provided with comfortable shelter, clean bedding, healthy food and medical care. When you sponsor a turkey, you contribute directly to his or her personal care. You can also be eligible to receive wonderful thank you perks from the sanctuary in the form of free admission, pictures of your turkey, private tours, certificates of adoption and discounts on merchandise (benefits of sponsorship vary between sanctuaries). In addition to all the holiday celebrations, Thanksgiving Day is a great time to take your family to visit your local farm sanctuary and learn about these wonderful birds and what could be a wonderful life for them, if we all showed a little compassion.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Leolin Bowen