By Susie Coston
Here at Farm Sanctuary, we think a lot about turkeys this time of year. That’s because more than 45 million turkeys used for food are slaughtered in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Apart from that grim statistic, there is so much that I wish more people knew about them.
I wish more people knew how turkeys suffer. On factory farms, turkeys are selectively bred to develop horribly distorted bodies — chests so huge that they can’t mate or fly or perch. Their abnormal size overtaxes their hearts, and their feet and legs are crippled from bearing so much weight. They are crammed into windowless warehouses by the thousands, and parts of their sensitive beaks and toes are cut off without anesthetics.
Even more than that, I wish more people knew that turkeys are like us in so many ways. Turkeys are incredibly personable, each a unique individual. In fact, many of the qualities that endear them to us are the very ones we value in other human beings. Let me tell you about some turkeys I have known.
Chicky, one of the most popular turkeys to ever live at the New York Shelter, had health issues, but he never showed guests anything but his stunning strut and his sweet nature. He let adults and children touch his wattles and snood and stroke his feathers. If you whistled, he’d answer you with a gobble. Chicky’s other love, besides attention, was food. Gaining weight was not a problem for Chicky, though! His constant strutting kept him fit.
Around here, turkeys are famous, sometimes infamous, for their curiosity. We have a new turkey named Daisy who is even more curious than most. When you are in Daisy’s vicinity, whatever you are doing, she’s probably right behind you. Walk through the turkey pasture – there’s Daisy! Walk into the barn – there’s Daisy! Turn your back on your healthcare kit – there’s Daisy taking inventory! Some of the turkeys like to run off with the items they find in our kits, but Daisy just keeps digging, determined to investigate everything inside.
Our dear Marino was the clown of the farm and such a love. He arrived with facial paralysis that had caused his beak to be permanently crossed, resulting in eating and breathing difficulties. We gave him lots of attention and help, and he was always a good sport. He was intrigued when anyone brought a camera to his barn and strutted right up to it, thinking himself quite a celebrity. One year, we found a turkey-sized Santa hat for Marino. I swear he was fond of posing with it! Marino made us smile, and he knew it and loved it.
Hildy, one of my all-time favorite gals, lived at the New York Shelter for eight years. When you called her name, she’d come running. She spent hours with caregivers and guests, letting them stroke her back until she drifted off to sleep. This friendliness extended to her flock mates, too. She was especially close with her best friend, Kima, but no fellow turkey was beyond the scope of her good will. Like many animals, turkeys can be territorial and sometimes give newcomers a hard time, but Hildy never fought with anyone. She received every guest and new arrival to her home with complete graciousness. We could all learn from these turkeys: Put our best foot forward (and maybe even strut our stuff), keep our eyes open to the fascinating world around us, have a sense of humor, and, most of all, be kind to every living creature.
We could all learn from these turkeys: Put our best foot forward (and maybe even strut our stuff), keep our eyes open to the fascinating world around us, have a sense of humor, and, most of all, be kind to every living creature.