Dark, dirty warehouses. Crowds of animals in distress. Mutilated beaks and toes. Sick, injured birds left to suffer and die without anyone to help them. These are not the kinds of images we tend to conjure when we think about Thanksgiving, yet they are indicative of the reality faced by more than 46 million turkeys slaughtered every year in the U.S. for this holiday alone.
Selectively bred by the industry to grow extremely large and fast, and fed high-calorie diets designed for rapid weight gain, today’s commercially-raised turkeys become so top heavy that their legs can barely hold them. The birds have been so profoundly altered that they can no longer breed naturally, and the industry relies on artificial insemination as the sole means of reproduction.
The birds are packed by the thousands in factory farm warehouses, where each is allotted just three square feet of space. The crowded, stressed birds are unable to engage in normal social behaviors, and are driven to fighting. In order to counteract the harm caused by this behavior, the industry painfully removes portions of the birds’ beaks and toes, leaving them disfigured for life.
And as if this were not bad enough, the deplorable conditions these birds are raised in, paired with their unnatural genetic makeup, lead to illness and injury, and many birds on factory farms are left to languish without care and die. Those who do survive are shipped to slaughterhouses where, exempt from animal protection laws, they meet an equally brutal end. For turkeys, this is the sad truth behind Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, there is a lot we can do around the holiday to inspire others to embrace a kinder tradition. For more than two decades, Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey Project has worked to raise mass awareness about the plight of turkeys exploited for food, giving compassionate citizens opportunities to make a difference. And this year, with Ellen DeGeneres as our 2010 spokesperson, we expect to reach more people than ever before!
One of the principal aspects of this campaign is our turkey sponsorship program through which anyone can “adopt” one of our rescued Farm Sanctuary residents. For a one-time donation that goes towards the daily care of turkeys who live at our shelters and all our efforts to protect farm animals, sponsors receive an adoption certificate that they can put on display, reminding everyone who sees it that behind every turkey dinner was once a living, breathing individual with desires, feelings and a life of his or her own. It is a powerful reminder that we can all make a different choice.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we will also be offering resources and opportunities via Making Hay for concerned citizens to take other actions on behalf of turkeys. In addition to sponsoring a turkey, another way you can help raise awareness is by signing our petition to President Obama to send the turkeys he pardons to Farm Sanctuary, and then forwarding it on to others to do the same. The annual turkey pardoning ceremony at the White House has become a tradition and a major media event. By sending these turkeys to a true sanctuary where they can really thrive, President Obama can send a message far and wide that these animals deserve much more than a photo op.
Together, these efforts encourage people to rethink the role turkeys play in the Thanksgiving holiday. The more our fellow citizens learn about the cruelty that goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, the less sense it makes that we feast on these maligned birds as symbols of gratitude, and the more natural it becomes to spare a life in the spirit of thankfulness that shines this time of year.