Giving Thanks for Turkeys

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on November 23, 2011

Some years ago, my family was visiting Farm Sanctuary, which we do often, and I was headed over to the pig barn to hang out with the pigs. I love those pigs! Just then, several large male turkeys walked straight up to me, fluffing their wings to make themselves look large and menacing. I was impressed, sort of.

They were pitiful fellows, a far cry from their wild cousins, who are graceful, lean and able to fly. These rescued factory farmed turkeys have been genetically manipulated so that their chests are huge and barrel-shaped and they hobble around slowly and with great difficulty. Yet, they are such proud fellows.  

I had never given much thought to turkeys, so decided that this was my chance to get to know them better. I sat down in the entrance of the turkey barn and soon, a large tom turkey began to circle very slowly around me, staring at me intently with the eye on one side of his head. He seemed to be drawn to the sound of my voice, backing away only when I dared to stroke his beautiful, soft feathers. He circled continuously for several minutes, getting closer and closer, until he was about six inches away from my face, at which point I felt a bit intimidated–after all, I knew what goodwill I bore him, but I had no idea what was on his mind. Then, he turned and left and another turkey took his place, then another, then another. An hour passed by, as I sat there blissfully watching them watching me. I’m not sure who was examining whom more closely.  

My daughter, Maggie, later teased me by chanting: "Mommy has a turkey boyfriend."  Well, not quite, but I must say, I was won over by those amiable, stoic little soldiers.  We usually see farmed animals in large groups and it reinforces the belief that they are not individuals. The farmed animals who I meet at sanctuaries keep teaching me that they are, indeed, somebody.  

I wanted to introduce you to my "turkey boyfriends," in the hope that, perhaps, you can see their charms. They have faces and personalities, likes and dislikes. They have a sense of their own being and a curiosity about those around them. Each year, I spend Thanksgiving with my extended family and one of them cooks a turkey as the centerpiece of the holiday dinner. I love the members of my family and I hope that, someday, their circle of compassion will extend to all living creatures. With each passing year, I grow sadder at the fate of those "Thanksgiving" turkeys; the life and death of a factory farmed turkey is a story of pain and suffering. At Thanksgiving, I give thanks that turkeys are not my food, but rather, my inquisitive and delightful companions.  


2 thoughts on “Giving Thanks for Turkeys

  1. Michelle says:

    My husband and I look forward to feeding our wild turkey friends who visit us every day in our yard. I have often heard comments about how “dumb” turkeys are, which I cannot figure out. If you spend any time with them at all, you know this is far from true.

    I did not realize, however, that factory farmed turkeys were so horribly genetically manipulated. I read the “Farm Sanctuary’s ‘Turkey Whisperer’ Shares 10 Fascinating Facts about Turkeys”… what an eye-opener for me. Thank you for sharing your experience, Joyce. This year I will “Adopt a Turkey” through Farm Sanctuary.

  2. Melinda Cusack says:

    I have had “PET” turkeys for many years!! They are and awesome bird to watch and have around. I could never eat one!!!