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Turkeys - key welfare issues

We're concerned that the way in which many turkeys are reared, handled, transported and slaughtered/killed could be greatly improved.

Housing and space

Turkeys reared in standard systems are often not given enough space or facilities to carry out all their normal behaviours properly.

Other welfare problems that can be associated with insufficient space include:

  • foot pad lesions (caused by the birds standing or sitting on litter which may have high levels of ammonia from a build up of faeces).
  • heat stress.

More space per bird and environmental enrichment, to allow them to move around, exercise and perform normal behaviours, can help to avoid these problems.

Selective breeding for fast growth rates

Turkey breeding companies have focused mainly on breeding the largest and fastest growing birds. As a result there is evidence of severe leg problems in both meat and breeding turkeys. This can particularly be the case for large male turkeys in standard production, which can suffer from lameness, leg deformities and/or hip problems.

Beak trimming and lighting

Where there is a risk of feather pecking, which can cause injuries and sometimes lead to cannibalism, turkeys may be beak trimmed. This procedure reduces the risk of damage caused to other turkeys, but can be painful depending on the technique used.

Lighting may also be kept at very low levels to further reduce the risk of feather pecking. This can prevent the birds from performing many of their normal behaviours and even lead to blindness.

Environmental enrichment

Turkeys can be kept in barren sheds with little or no opportunity to express natural behaviours such as perching, and foraging.

Handling and transport

Turkeys can experience considerable suffering if not handled carefully. When they are caught at the end of rearing, put into transport crates, and during transport there is a risk of bone fractures, bone breaks, dislocated hips and bruising.

Careful management and providing turkeys with the things they need to carry out their natural behaviours can help to avoid all of the welfare problems described above.

If you’re concerned about turkey welfare, then find out how you can help.

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