The life of a factory-farmed turkey is far from natural and has little in common with the life of their wild ancestor. The average life span until the birds reach slaughter weight is between 12 to 26 weeks, and they are routinely given antibiotics.
Turkeys are selectively bred to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible. The intensive breeding of the farmed turkey means that it is now an animal so obese that it cannot naturally reproduce. The breeding relies on human intervention for artificial insemination.
After hatching and rearing in brooder houses, at about six weeks of age the turkey chicks are placed into factory sheds with thousands of other birds. The conditions are dark and become intensely crowded as they grow. To combat the turkeys harming each other, painful mutilations, such as beak trimming, are performed without anaesthesia and can result in excessive bleeding, infections and death.
Like with ‘meat’ chickens, obesity from unnaturally fast weight gain results in broken bones, painful hip joints and lameness. Some turkeys die from organ failure or heart attack before they are even six months old. The average life span for a turkey in the wild is about seven to nine years of age.
The overcrowded conditions also create conditions for the spread of infections and disease. For example, in 2011, 5000 birds died as a result of a bacterial infection on one of Tegel’s turkey farms.
There are three large turkey meat producers that supply more than 90% of the market in New Zealand, the largest being Tegel Foods. Increasingly, these producers are marketing turkey as a regular staple food. All of Tegel’s 280,000 turkeys a year come from 12 sheds on three farms.
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