There are three main commercial farming systems for the rearing of turkeys; indoor, pole-barns and free-range (including organic). In 2016, around 16 million turkeys were slaughtered in the UK for meat.
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. The birds are given few opportunities to express natural behaviours such as perching and foraging.
The majority of turkeys in the UK are reared in standard indoor production systems. However, some indoor systems may provide more space, more environmental enrichment and natural daylight through windows for turkeys.
In ‘pole-barns’ the upper part of the house walls are open, allowing in natural light and air, but the birds may still have few opportunities to express natural behaviours.
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
The average liveweight of turkeys at slaughter in 2016 was around 13kg. Larger birds tend to be grown year-round for portioned or processed products, whilst birds sold whole – usually for the Christmas market – tend to be smaller.
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.