Investigation: Turkey Farming

Lincolnshire Turkey Farm Roasted over Fowl Conditions

More than 20 years after we first investigated British turkey farms, we’ve released damning new footage from inside a deeply overcrowded Lincolnshire farm – operated by Hook2Sisters. This evidence reveals disturbing scenes in which thousands of turkeys are tightly packed into industrial-sized sheds that rob them of any freedom to express their natural behaviours. These birds are forced to endure miserably short lives behind closed doors, all for the sake of a Christmas dinner. 

More images from the investigation can also be publicly viewed on Flickr.

Read The Independent Exclusive

Thousands of Turkeys are Densely Packed into Barren Sheds

Every day of these turkeys’ lives are automated by mechanical feeders and lighting systems, in an attempt to control their habits and encourage them to rapidly gain weight. The average lifespan of a wild turkey is three to five years, and the oldest known wild turkey lived to be at least 13 years old, but those bred on factory farms are killed between 12 and 24 weeks.

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Dead and Decaying Birds Trodden into Sodden Litter

Turkeys are innately curious and playful animals, who explore their environments by pecking, digging and foraging. Yet the intensification of turkey farming has restricted their most basic instincts. They have been selectively bred to grow so big and so fast, that their legs and lungs buckle under the strain. During our investigation, dead birds were found trodden into the waste-sodden litter.

Farmed turkeys experience high levels of stress and anxiety, which leads to aggression and boredom – manifesting in injurious pecking and cannibalism. Beak tipping is a routine practice that removes the end of the turkey’s beak, shortly after birth, in order to reduce the severity of pecking injuries; but is a wholly inadequate and cruel management strategy.

Turkey looking at the camera
Dead turkey in a turkey shed

A Highly Pathogenic Strain of Bird Flu is on the Rise

Due to rising cases of Avian Influenza (bird flu) in the UK, on Monday 29 November 2021 the government imposed a mandatory housing order, stating that all farmers and keepers of poultry must keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures. Filming for Viva! Campaigns was carried out during mid-October, prior to the first case identified on 26 October 2021 in Worcestershire, and in line with government biosecurity recommendations at the time.

So far this winter, there have been 59 cases of bird flu in captive birds. In the same period last year (Oct-Dec) there were eight instances (one low pathogenic H5N2, seven high pathogenic H5N8). Worryingly, numbers are much greater this year and have all been of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. 

On overcrowded poultry farms, viruses spread and mutate with ease due to the close proximity in which these birds are forced to live with each other. Housed in sheds with the capacity for 10,000 birds each, these environments provide a perfect petri dish for disease, causing serious health concerns for humans and birds alike.

Densely crowded turkeys in shed
Turkey looking at the camera in shed
Dr Marc Abraham OBE the vet

“The total disregard for animal health and welfare witnessed on this farm is utterly depressing. Like most birds, turkeys are normally playful and inquisitive creatures, who enjoy exploring their natural environment, and foraging for food. Deprived of their most basic welfare needs, these birds are clearly squeezed tightly into barren sheds with minimal enrichment, as well as living unnaturally short lives.

“Unable to ever explore or forage, unsurprisingly like all intelligent animals, turkeys become bored. This is a common cause of increased stress and acute anxiety, which commonly results in higher levels of aggression, feather-pecking, and even self-mutilation. These animals aren’t living, they’re just existing to be exploited.

“Furthermore, I was appalled to see dead birds left rotting on the farm floor, which not only presents an obvious risk to hygiene, but also poses a potential disease risk to the whole flock, particularly now with Avian Flu cases worryingly on the rise. It’s hard to imagine that any sufficient, adequate, and important health and welfare checks were routinely carried out on this particular turkey farm.”

– Dr Marc Abraham OBE, BVM&S, MRCVS (veterinary expert)

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