In a few days people in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s not a happy day for turkeys. That’s not to say turkeys have a better time here in Australia, where I live.
So here is an off-topic post about a turkey. While I made up this story, the facts about the turkey industry in Australia are true.
Everything about the day is grey. After an uneventful day in the office, I am on my way home. The traffic doesn’t flow, people don’t move, and I am at an intersection trying to get across the road to catch a bus. The congestion on the footpath makes me edgy. I feel stuck, unable to escape the concoction of body odour, synthetic perfume and aftershave. The muscles in my shoulders tense.
It had been raining most of the day, and the cloud cover promises more of the same. People are on their way home, frustrated about being trapped at this intersection. Vacant eyes, minds elsewhere, sluggish energy.
Behind me, I hear a loud voice. I turn around. In a front yard that is neat in a bare way, behind a low fence, stands a stocky man in his fifties. Grey face, dark hair, focussed eyes. He speaks to the crowd. Not that anyone seems to listen.
“Here, see this turkey. I can kill it. I have the power to kill. With an axe. I’ll show you.”
The turkey in his left hand, face down, has stopped struggling. Her eyes bulge in terror.
She looks like an escapee from a factory farm. The ends of her beak and toes cut off, a practice common in factory farming to stop the birds killing each other in the crowded conditions. Pink bald spots on her body. This is not a pet or a bird raised on a small farm.
My mind wanders to my neighbour Jeanie and her stories about the turkey farm where she once worked. In Australia, more than five million turkeys per year are produced, the vast majority by large commercial growers. More than 30,000 birds are kept on a farm. They live in sheds and are given space the size of an A3 piece of paper per bird. The layer of litter they live on is made up of rice hulls, straw or wood shavings, which is not changed during the birds’ life in the shed. Just imagine the stench.
The man with the turkey keeps talking. “I have done this before. I have killed turkeys and chooks and rabbits. You’ll see, this one won’t escape me either.”
What is this madman on about? Why does he need to let the world know about his brutal intentions? Nobody seems to care anyway.
I wonder whether people in the crowd know that in turkey factories, the parts of the birds that are not used for human consumption will be processed and end up in pellets fed to poultry, pigs, and fish, or in pet food.
Turkeys have a lifespan of ten years, but farmed animals are killed young – females at ten weeks and males when they are 17 weeks old. Turkeys are bred to be up to 30 kilos, so heavy that many cannot move around because their legs are not strong enough to support their weight. The bird in front of me is not that heavy. Maybe she is a reject from the turkey factory.
The animal stares at me. The man’s voice fades into the background. I don’t register his words. The turkey’s terror grabs hold of me.
A dark coat has moved right in front of me, obscuring the view of the turkey. I start screaming. “No, you can’t do this, the bird feels pain like you do. No, no.” People are moving away from me, as if it was me who is mad, and then I can see the grey-faced man again.
The headless bird is thrashing around on the ground, then she stops moving. The man picks her up by the feet and holds her up high, in triumph, blood draining from her neck.
Nobody in the crowd shows a reaction. People are standing there, waiting to be able to move, minding their own business. The man is now quiet. So am I. We stare at each other. I move away, slowly, through the empty space the crowd has created for me.
More information about the turkey industry: