10 Things Everyone Should Know About Free-range Turkeys

Over 280 million turkeys are slaughtered annually for human consumption in the United States, despite the fact that such consumption is unnecessary for humans and absolutely horrifying for turkeys. 45 million of those deaths occur for the ritual of Thanksgiving alone.


Increasingly, as consumers are becoming more aware of the extreme cruelty of animal farming, free-range, organic and ‘natural’ animal products are gaining popularity. What many people don’t realize, however, is that animals raised under these labels frequently suffer through much of the same torment as those in standard factory farming operations.

1) According to the USDA, the terms “free range” and “free roaming” can be used to describe animals that “are allowed access to the outside for 51% of their lives”. There are no other requirements, including the amount of time spent outdoors or the quality and size of the outdoor area. For this reason, contrary to popular belief, “free-range” facilities are generally no more than large sheds in which tens of thousands of turkeys are crammed together on filthy, disease-ridden floors, living in their own waste. The conditions are often so poor that many turkeys die simply from the stress of living in such an environment.

2) Lighting is often kept dim to discourage aggression, since birds can engage in feather plucking and even cannibalism when they become highly stressed. Low lighting can cause reduced activity levels and result in abnormalities in growth, such as in the eyes and legs.

3) When raised for food, turkeys (even those described as free-range) are genetically modified to grow abnormally large — often twice their normal size — for producer profits. This genetic modification causes severe health problems, but since turkeys are generally slaughtered five months into their natural life span of 10 years, most are killed prior to the heart attacks or organ failure that would otherwise occur after six months. (This becomes apparent when genetically modified turkeys are rescued and allowed to live out the rest of their lives in sanctuary situations.)

4) “Natural”, “free range,” and “organic” turkeys are routinely subjected to debeaking, which is intended to prevent overcrowded birds from pecking at each other. Debeaking involves slicing off about one-third of a bird’s beak with a red hot blade when the turkey is around 5 days old (or often even younger).

5) To prevent cannibalism due to stressful conditions, turkeys sold under the above labels are just as likely to be subjected to detoeing. Detoeing is a very painful procedure which involves cutting off or microwaving the ends of the toes of male turkeys within the first three days of life.

6) Free-range, organic and natural operations are also allowed to practice desnooding, which consists of the cutting off of the snood (the fleshy appendage above the beak). Desnooding is an acutely painful procedure, and is often done with scissors, or using methods that are too brutal to describe here.

7) By the time the birds are sent to slaughter, as much as 80 per cent of the litter on the floor of the shed is their own feces. This results in a buildup of ammonia, causing turkeys to develop ulcerated feet and painful burns on their legs and bodies.

8) When they reach market weight, free-range turkeys generally undergo the same horrifying conditions on their way to slaughter as does any factory-farmed animal. Workers gather these birds up to four at a time, carrying them upside down by their legs and then throwing them into crates on multi-tiered trucks. During transport, they are at the mercy of the elements, sometimes enduring extreme cold, and are denied access to food or water.

9) After transportation, free-range turkeys arrive at the same slaughterhouses as turkeys from any other facility. In these places, workers often torture the turkeys – kicking them, throwing them into walls, and breaking their necks and bones.

10) Even when turkeys are not intentionally tortured during transportation or at the slaughterhouse, the killing process itself would certainly be considered torture if done to a human being. The birds are hung upside down by the legs, and dipped in an electrical bath that is supposed to “stun” them, but often only causes convulsions and terror. If they miss the stunning bath, their throats are slit while they’re still conscious. Sometimes, because they are flailing around, they miss both the bath and the blade, and end up alive in a scalding tank designed to remove feathers.

As anyone familiar with animal sanctuary operations will tell you, turkeys are intelligent, social beings who nurture and protect their young and thrive in their natural habitat. Even when they are stressed and confined in “free-range” concentration camps, they have an amazing will to live, as do all sentient beings.

In the extremely rare cases where turkeys are raised gently in someone’s backyard, slaughter by any method is intentional killing of the innocent and clearly unnecessary for humans, and is therefore wrong and logically indistinguishable from murder.

Instead of practicing the primitive ritual of making the sacrifice of a turkey the focus of Thanksgiving dinner, consider giving thanks for all life by having a vegan thanksgiving. Being vegan inspires a new sense of self-esteem which comes from not contributing to the unnecessary and heartless killing of those who simply want to live their lives, as you do. 


with Dan Cudahy

Image: Wanda Embar, Vegan Peace


Cynthia Mattera
Cynthia Mattera4 years ago

What a sad, horrible life and death for these intelligent birds....heart breaking!

This is why I stopped eating meat, dairy, eggs and fish!

ana p.
ana p5 years ago

Thank you again for a great article!

Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun5 years ago

Great article, thank you

Robin G.
robin g5 years ago

As usual, the answer to these practices is to be vegan. At least, that's the answer that the writers always give. While being vegan is fine, I always get the feeling that people feel that's all you have to do and the world will be a better place! Unfortunately, that's not true. Buying locally, and supporting local farmers is a good way to go, in food as in everything else. Buy local, union-made products and you'll start eliminating child workers, slave workers, and other abuses of people.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams5 years ago

thank you for sharing

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Sonny, did either you or Michelle actually note the date of this discussion? Do you realize it's now May 9th and Thanksgiving has LONG passed. No, turkeys aren't being "phased out" at all, but there is a lot of information out there about how most turkeys raised on "factory-farms" are probably not the healthiest to consume, not to mention that they suffered terribly while being force-fed and raised before being slaughtered. Turkey is still a highly nutritious, low-fat source of protein. You can still eat turkey and not contribute to "factory-farming" and everything it stands for. Get your next turkey from a local farmer or butcher who guarantees that it's organic and free-ranging. You have SIX MONTHS to find one.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado5 years ago

I thought there was a move of not having a turkey on thanks giving day?

Michele G.
Past Member 5 years ago

Poor turkeys.

Victoria H.
Past Member 6 years ago

We are supposed to defend the small and weak, the strange and exploited, the babies and the sickly; aren't most of us taught that as children?
Why have we forgotten this simple truth?
Instead, some choose to believe a LIE---

It's better to kill others.

That's it in a nutshell. That's all the argument comes down to. That's all they have to say. There's no other justification. There's no other reason or rationale. That is the essence of their world view.
For them, it's better to kill and eat others than it is to let them live. It doesn't matter how the others feel, or what they want. It doesn't matter whether they have families, or anything at all like hopes and dreams, or fears and worries. All that matters is that it is better, for those who do it, to kill others.

Everything else they say - we need to kill and eat them to be healthy - we need to torture and experiment on them to cure diseases - we need to be able to express our culture and our religions - it's all just so much bullshit. Just window dressing to hide what they are really saying.
It's better FOR US to kill them.
How pathetic.
Go vegan.

[Source: Tim Gier http://wp.me/pKYQZ-y6]

Thank you, Angel.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Sheri, I'd be the first to agree that there should be no need for any of those practices which you just described. However, the article is a bit mis-leading when it implies that it's the "norm" and it occurs everywhere and nobody can trust the "free range" or "organic" labels given to some birds sold commercially, EVER!

If you go to the other discussion in Care.2 about free-range turkeys, you'll even see two different photos of the subjects......all showing entire feet with extremely long and LETHAL claws, complete beaks, and no "missing" cut-off parts. They were rescued from squalid conditions, yes. Different topic completely, from being "de-beaked, de-footed", though, isn't it?

Even the bird depicted in this discussion shows only a tiny portion of the beak removed, probably at birth, and at that time, probably resulted in no more "pain" than when you trim your own fingernails, since, after all, it's the same material.......basically "keratin". Does it hurt when you trim your nails? It's probably done to prevent the birds from injuring each other, because turkeys can be, and usually ARE very aggressive, especially the TOMS. I'm sure that there IS profit involved when this is done, since after all, a bird that has been "pecked" half to death by it's companions, probably can't be sold for much, if anything.