There are many reasons factory-farmed turkeys dominate the Thanksgiving scene: They're easy to pick up at the supermarket, relatively inexpensive, and taste good. So what's the problem? Truth is, there are some disturbing facts about they way most American turkeys are raised. Since factory-farmed turkeys make up 99 percent of turkeys sold in stores, we think you should know where your gobbler comes from.
Click through the gallery to learn 7 shocking facts about turkeys in the U.S. You might just find yourself inspired to choose a free-range bird this year.
Photo: Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images
No Room to Roam
Space is tight for the average factory-farmed tukey. In these massive operations, each bird has only 3.5 square feet of space, according to John C. Voris' book Turkey Care Practices. A 20-pound turkey with three feet to roam? Those are pretty cramped living quarters.
Factory-farmed turkeys bred for food consumption are not allowed to live over one year. In fact, most of them are slaughtered at five to six months. In the wild, turkeys can live up to 12 years.
Photo: Paul McCormick/Getty Images
Too Big Too Fast
In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds. Today, thanks to copious amounts of high-calorie feed, factory-farmed turkeys weigh up to 28 pounds and have such large breasts that they are unable to naturally reproduce. According to United Poultry Concerns, factory-farmed turkeys grow so quickly that if a seven-pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age.
Photo: Britt Erlanson/Getty Images
Massive Amounts of Waste
Millions of factory-farmed turkeys mean millions of pounds of waste. In Ohio, one turkey farm alone produces four million pounds of manure a year. Innovators are trying new ways to convert that waste (called "litter" in the industry) into energy, but that effort doesn't come close to taking care of the magnitude of the problem.
Photo: BanksImages/Getty Images
You Can Choose A Happy Turkey
Discouraged? Don't be. Plenty of independent farmers are raising heritage turkeys that are full of flavor—and guilt-free.
Free-range, organic, and heritage turkeys are available online and in local farms. Local Harvest has a comprehensive list of organic, pastured, and heritage turkey sellers in every city. If you prefer your turkeys to stay in the family, Mary’s Turkey raises their heritage and organic turkeys in a stress-free environment that is four times the size of the average factory-farmed turkey ranch. One of the largest vendors of heritage turkeys, Heritage Foods USA, works with farms all over the country to process about 7,500 Heritage turkeys each November.
Humanely raised turkeys that taste great? Let's give thanks.
Tell USDA and OMB: No Foodborne Illness With Thanksgiving Dinner
A new USDA proposal would speed up poultry slaughter lines, reduce the number of inspectors at poultry plants, and encourage plants to create their own inspection guidelines. This would leave inspectors with just one-third of a second to inspect each carcass! Tell the USDA and OMB to reject this proposal and encourage reform that will actually improve public health and prevent foodborne illness.
Christina previously worked in production and publicity at Red Hen Press in Los Angeles. She studied modern literature and linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She enjoys writing about health, culture, food, and the environment for various print and online publications. Email Christina | @christinakhar