Turkeys are naturally inquisitive birds, capable of flying and running at high speeds. Intensive production prevents them from acting naturally, which can cause stress and damage their health.
Unable to move freely, turkeys confined in overcrowded sheds cannot change their position to avoid heat, cold, or other environmental conditions. When their litter becomes soiled and wet, it gives off ammonia, causing breast blisters from the contact with the litter and respiratory problems from the polluted air. It can also cause painful foot sores.
Overcrowding and poor ventilation can lead to high temperatures, causing the birds to suffer discomfort and heat stress.
Breeding and lameness
Fast growth causes leg and bone disorders, especially among heavier male birds. Severe foot sores are also more common in male birds.
Breeding males can be reared to extreme weights and often suffer from serious joint problems. They are too heavy to mate naturally and the females have to be artificially inseminated.
Spread of diseases
While vaccinations exist for many infections, overcrowding increases the risk that infectious diseases will spread. Avian Flu, for example, can have devastating consequences. In 1983-84 in the United States, 17 million birds had to be culled and it took more than two years to eradicate, costing more than 70 million dollars. Thankfully there has not been one more recently. However, in 2007 an outbreak in the UK had similar devastating effects on their turkey industry.
Lighting, aggression, and debeaking
Low lighting in enclosed sheds is used to make the birds less active and less aggressive. If turkeys are not given enough darkness to rest, it can result in eye damage. In order to reduce feather pecking, it is common for turkeys to have part of their sensitive beaks cut off without anesthetic.
Turkeys often suffer broken legs and wings from rough handling during catching, crating, and transportation to the slaughterhouse. When they arrive, they suffer pain and distress from being hung upside down by their legs. They often struggle before being stunned, causing dislocations and fractures.
They can also suffer painful pre-stun electric shocks as their wings dip into the electrified bath before their heads touch the water. Some may be stunned improperly and regain consciousness before their throats are cut. They may even be conscious as they are plunged into the scalding tank if their main arteries have not been effectively severed.
In the winter, turkeys are often killed in smaller “seasonal” slaughterhouses or on-farm. This is sometimes done by neck dislocation, possibly carried out by untrained staff and without pre-stunning. In some instances, they may have their throats cut without pre-stunning. While this is illegal in the EU, the US the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter, has been interpreted by the USDA not to apply to poultry.
Turkeys are sometimes plucked within seconds of slaughter when they may still be alive and conscious.
There are alternative methods of turkey rearing and slaughter that cause less suffering.