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10 Fascinating Facts About Turkeys & Thanksgiving Alternative Traditions

Published on November 17, 2010 by   ·   98 Comments Pin It

Did you know that turkeys communicate their emotions by way of color changes in the skin on their necks, faces and snoods (the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey’s beak)? And that a turkey’s snood turns bright red when he is upset or during courtship? This is just one of the fascinating facts about America’s favorite holiday bird being revealed by Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, just in time for Thanksgiving. Having rescued more than 1,000 turkeys since 1986 and provided lifelong care for hundreds at their two world-renowned shelters located in Watkins Glen, New York and Orland, California, the organization is recognized as a foremost expert on these sensitive, intelligent and thoroughly fascinating birds.

Those who don’t know a snood from a wattle (the flap of skin under the turkey’s chin) are sure to be intrigued by the following little-known turkey facts:

    1. Turkeys recognize each other by their unique voices.
    2. Researchers have identified more than 20 distinct vocalizations in wild turkeys.
    3. Turkeys have excellent geography skills and can learn the specific details of an area of more than 1,000 acres.
    4. Like cats and dogs, turkeys are intelligent and sensitive animals who form strong social bonds and show great affection to others.
    5. On factory farms, turkeys frequently have the ends of their beaks and toes cut off without anesthesia — practices know as debeaking and detoeing — to prevent them from injuring one another as they are crowded by the thousands into dark, filthy warehouses.
    6. Between 1965 and 2000, the weight of the average turkey raised commercially in the U.S. increased by 57 percent, from an average of 18 pounds to an average of 28.2 pounds, causing commercially-bred turkeys to suffer from crippling foot and leg problems.
    7. Completely unlike their wild ancestors not only in terms of physique but also in hue, most commercial turkeys are totally white — the natural bronze color selectively bred out of them to eliminate uneven pigment colorations — because of consumer preference for even flesh tones.
    8. Also catering to consumer preferences for “white meat,” the industry has selectively bred turkeys to have abnormally large breasts. This anatomical manipulation makes it difficult for male turkeys to mount the females, eliminating these birds’ ability to reproduce naturally. As a result, artificial insemination is now the sole means of reproduction on factory farms, where breeder birds are confined for months on end.
    9. Turkeys, along with other poultry, are not protected by the federal Humane Slaughter Act, and are frequently killed without first being stunned.
    10. Every year, more than 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving holiday dinners, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you think these birds are as incredible as we do, you can join talk show host and animal advocate Ellen DeGeneres, Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 Adopt-A-Turkey Project spokesperson, in starting a new tradition this year by adopting a turkey instead of eating. Visit for details or call the Turkey Adoption Hotline at 1-888-SPONSOR


To learn more about these fascinating birds, be sure to check out the new Turkey Talk episode of Farm Sanctuary’s Reel Life at Farm Sanctuary video series. In this short, entertaining video, National Shelter Director Susie Coston introduces viewers to some special birds in the organization’s New York Shelter flock and talks a whole lot of turkey!

Instead of slicing up a factory farmed, tortured bird this T-giving, why not celebrate a new tradition? Host a vegan Thanksgiving.  Or hit up a vegan retreat like this one if you are too lazy to cook and want to be around like-minded individuals;

Giving Thanks: 17th Annual Jivamukti Yoga Retreat Nov. 25-28, 2010 Led by Julie Kirkpatrick & Jules Febre @ Ananda Ashram, Monroe, NY. Your Thurs.-Sun. “Giving Thanks” experience begins with a delicious, home-cooked dinner Thursday, Nov. 25th. Additional highlights include:  Jivamukti Asana classes twice daily, Sanskrit classes, Evening programs with world renowned musicians & teachers, Meditation, traditional fire ceremony. For more information or to register email Purnima, Or call (212) 353-0214, ext. 205. Also visit the Jivamukti Yoga website:, look under “events” Early bird special: : $360 *Transportation and accommodations are not included. *To book your room, please contact Ananda Ashram directly: 845-782- 5575 Ananda Ashram, 13 Sapphire Road, Monroe, NY 10950: The Ashram atmosphere supports natural healing, study and exploration of the deeper aspects of life.

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