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November 9, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: A celebration FOR the turkeys

Ohlone Humane Society: A celebration FOR the turkeys

By Nancy Lyon

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the newly emerging United States of America, when commenting on which bird should represent our nation, wrote the following: "For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country... For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America... He is a bird of courage."

Today, poor old Ben would be saddened to see what has befallen this magnificent bird of courage and potential icon of America.

In the over-crowded and inhumane industrial plants where 250-300 million genetically modified turkeys are raised each year for human consumption, these ill-fated factory farm-raised turkeys lead a very different life than their more fortunate wild relatives.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and farmed animal advocates, turkeys are very family oriented and in the wild form family units that stick together. As intelligent and sensitive animals, much like our cats and dogs, their social bonds are strong and they show great affection to others. They forage in groups and roost in trees together; turkey mothers diligently teach their young survival skills, and turkey brothers stay together for life. They recognize each other by their unique voices, and researchers have identified more than 20 distinct vocalizations in wild turkeys. Turkeys have excellent geography skills and can learn the specific details of an area of more than 1,000 acres.

Wild turkeys are lean and athletic and can live up to 12 years, weighing in at about 18 pounds; they spend their days foraging for food. By contrast, a male turkey on a factory farm lives about 136 days or 14-18 weeks of age, weighs an unnatural 35 pounds and is anything but a free and healthy bird.

On the wretched money-making farms, turkeys frequently have the ends of their beaks and toes cut off without anesthesia - practices known as debeaking and detoeing - to prevent them from injuring one another as they are driven to frantic frenzy when crowded by the thousands into dark, fume-ridden and filthy warehouses.

Between 1965 and 2000, the weight of the average turkey raised commercially in the U.S. increased by 57 percent, from 18 pounds to an average of 28.2 pounds, the unnatural and over burdening weight causing commercially bred turkeys to suffer from crippling foot and leg problems. The pain and suffering from this crippling make many unable to walk to where they can reach food and water, and therefore die.

Because the industry has selectively bred turkeys to have abnormally large breasts, this anatomical manipulation also makes normal reproduction physically impossible, a monstrous aberration all in the name of profit.

Turkeys, along with other poultry, are not protected by the federal Humane Slaughter Act, and they are frequently killed while they are fully conscious without first being stunned, their deaths are a brutal end to a miserable existence. Forty-six million are killed for Thanksgiving.

To bring awareness of this cruelty and promote compassionate Thanksgiving traditions, Farm Sanctuary, the nation's leading farm animal protection organization, works to protect farm animals from cruelty and inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals. At the sanctuary in Northern California on a 300-acre farm that sits on the eastern foothills of the coastal mountain range near Orland, people see farm animals as living, feeling beings that are just as capable of suffering from isolation, fear, and neglect as a dog or cat.

Every November at Farm Sanctuary's California or upstate New York Shelter, a Thanksgiving benefit of compassion is held - the celebration FOR the turkeys. This gala event for our feathered friends, turkeys and other farm animals in need, includes an inspiring speaker line-up, shelter time with their rescued animal residents, a delectable feast featuring vegan versions of traditional holiday favorites, and a silent auction of farm-animal friendly items to raise funds for their lifesaving work. The highlight of the event, of course, is their unique Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony in which rescued turkeys are the guests of honor and feast on squash, pumpkin pie, and cranberries generously offered by their kindhearted guests.

Thanksgiving is a special time for friends and family to gather, celebrate, and give gratitude. It can also be a time of life-affirming compassion that also extends to the animals. We think these incredible birds deserve better, and a growing number of people share this feeling after learning about the terrible life and fate that these once noble creatures are forced to endure. What better time to think outside of the roasting pan.

For dozens of fantastic holiday vegetarian/vegan recipes check out the following websites:

To learn more about Farm Sanctuary's farm tours, overnight accommodations, retreats, and conferences visit

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