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Farming turkeys

There are three main commercial farming systems for the rearing of turkeys; indoor, pole-barns and free-range (including organic). In 2012, around 18 million turkeys were reared in the UK for meat.


Rearing systems

Indoor

Turkey in a free range system © Kevin Elliker/RSPCA Farm Animals Department

In standard indoor production systems turkeys are reared on the floor of large, purpose-built sheds or converted farm buildings. Up to 25,000 birds may be housed in one building and, aside from feeders and drinkers the sheds are often barren. The birds are given few opportunities to express natural behaviours such as perching and foraging.


About 90 per cent of turkeys in the UK are reared in standard indoor production systems. However, some indoor systems may provide more space, environmental enrichment and natural daylight through windows for turkeys.


Pole-barns

In ‘pole-barns’ the upper part of the house walls are open, allowing in natural light and air, but the environment may still be quite barren.


Free-range and organic

In free-range and organic systems the housing may be similar to indoor or pole-barn systems, but the turkeys also have access to an outdoor range area.


End of rearing

Male turkeys are usually kept to around 20 weeks old, when they can weigh as much as 25kg and female turkeys are usually kept to around 10 weeks of age.


Birds ready for slaughter/killing are caught by teams of ‘catchers’ who put them into crates for transportation to the abattoir.


Breeding

Selective breeding to produce larger birds with more breast meat has meant that today’s breeds of turkey are now very heavy and have much more developed breast muscles.


Because of the size of typical commercial male turkeys, natural mating with the female rarely takes place as it’s difficult for the male to get close enough to the female without injuring her, as she is much smaller and lighter. As a result, most breeding is carried out using artificial insemination.


Find out about the key welfare issues for farmed turkeys.