Legend says that at the founding of the nation Benjamin Franklin argued that the turkey was the most courageous and majestic choice for a symbol of the new country. Franklin’s bird may have lost out to the bald eagle, but turkeys still have a special place in America. This fall, 46 million birds will be eaten on Thanksgiving. So where are all these millions of birds coming from?
The Trouble with White Turkeys
Like most food animals in the United States, the majority of Thanksgiving turkeys come from large factory farms. Almost all are a breed known as white broad-breasted turkeys, bred specifically for their quick growth and large breast. While these traits may be great for producers, over-breeding has made life difficult and painful for white turkeys.
While the muscle size and growth rate of these birds have increased greatly, their skeletons have not kept pace. Their bones remain too small and fragile to hold their enormous bodies. Skeletal disease and hip problems are common among domestic turkeys. Many birds are so large they cannot even stand up; lives spent laying on the floors of dirty CAFO barns lead to blisters, burns and skin diseases. And in crowded conditions the most deformed birds run the risk of being trampled by those turkeys who are still able to walk. On top of their skeletal deformities, the fast growth rate of broad-breasted turkeys increases the instances of heart disease, hemorrhaging, immune system problems and muscle disease. Combined with the problems typical of any industrial barn, particularly high ammonia levels, it’s not surprising that millions of turkeys die before reaching maturity. In fact, the turkeys bred for America’s Thanksgiving tables are so unhealthy they cannot even breed on their own. Every turkey in the industrial farming system is bred through artificial insemination because the males are too large and weak to mate.
“A Much More Respectable Bird”
While Franklin didn’t really champion the wild turkey as an emblem of the country, he did once note their respectable lifestyle. And this lifestyle makes turkeys particularly ill-suited to the stressful life of a factory farm. Turkeys are known to be highly intelligent and social birds. CAFO birds are typically sent to slaughter at around five months old, but in the wild young turkeys stay with their mothers roughly the same period of time learning foraging and social behaviors. And unlike most birds native to our area, turkeys don’t migrate south for the winter. In rural Pennsylvania it is still common to see turkeys in close-knit family groups foraging for seeds, berries and insects all year long.
The turkeys we source from Forks Farm get to live this more natural lifestyle. Like the turkeys you might see in the wild, they’re allowed to graze for natural foods at the edge of forested land. Forks Farm turkeys get an entirely organic diet of the same foods their wild cousins enjoy. These pastured turkeys are given the space and socialization they need, so unlike CAFO birds they don’t experience the stresses that cause aggression. As heritage breed birds, they grow at a natural pace with minimal intervention so their bodies are stronger. Heritage birds take longer to grow, but the result is a happier and healthier bird that has the opportunity to express its natural instincts.
So this holiday season you can make a choice that we can all be a little thankful for - buying farm fresh pastured turkeys from Green Owl. Pastured Thanksgiving turkeys from Green Owl are a cleaner, healthier and more humane way to celebrate with your family. Stop in or email us by November 8th to reserve your own humanely-raised heritage turkey.