Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Food for thought

With Thanksgiving upon us, I figured I would give a quick list of facts about turkeys. It is not my goal to get any of you to stop eating turkey. Not that I don't think that would be a wonderful thing, but I try as much as possible to be a realist. And with that in mind, it is my goal to get you to think about turkeys as more than just food, but as living creatures with minds of their own. And as you're about to read, they do indeed have minds of their own, and are not as dumb as we've characterized them to be.

  • Wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour and can fly short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. In comparison with the physical prowess of their wild relatives, turkeys genetically selected to be raised for meat weigh twice as much, making them unable to fly or even copulate naturally since their breasts are so enlarged.

  • Benjamin Franklin regarded the turkey as a noble bird and preferred it to the eagle as the proposed symbol for the new United States, describing it as a "Bird of Courage.

  • Animal welfare groups such as Farm Sanctuary claim that turkeys are bright and social animals that can make suitable companion animals. There is a long tradition of keeping turkeys as pets, and Abraham Lincoln's son Tad kept a turkey as a White House pet.

  • The average lifespan for a domesticated turkey is ten years (and much less than that for those raised for food).

  • Turkeys are popularly believed to be unintelligent birds with claims made that during a rain storm turkeys will look up into the sky until they drown. Despite this image, the turkey is no more or less intelligent than a comparable animal, and while the birds will look at the sky for up to a minute during a rain storm, this is due to a genetic nervous disorder known as tetanic torticollar spasms. Other criticisms include the bird being 'too dumb' to realize it can't fly, and perceptions about the bird being awkward, both traits being due to the breeding of modern turkeys to be much heavier than their wild relatives to provide more meat.

  • Within just a few days of hatching, poults (young turkeys) instinctively tag along behind their mother for protection and food. During their first few weeks of life, poults will panic when separated from their mother. The poult emits a loud "peep peep" to which the mother responds by yelping and running towards her child. Mother turkeys defend their young against predators, including raccoons, foxes, snakes, owls, and hawks.

  • Poults continue to live with their mother for four or five months, and during this time, the mother-child bonding through vocal and visual signals is important to the poult’s normal social development. The signals communicated early on facilitate learning of important social activities, as turkeys are social animals who prefer to live and feed together in flocks.

Whether you're eating turkey or not, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  1. Yes! Turkeys are magnificent birds that have a higher intelligence which most people do not give them credit for.
    Much like the pig, turkeys are clean animals if given the chance to live in such an environment. But most people don't know this because they are conditioned to believe factory farmed animals are commodities only and are here to satisfy our palates!

    Great post on the eve of a holiday which, if you think about it, is a bit twisted and overly glamourized!

  2. Oh geez, thanks a lot, Christopher. You had to include the turkey chicklet even? This plus another friend's talk of turducken and I'm almost (almost) ready for tofurkey!

    BTW, I look up at the sky when it rains. And sometimes I'm pretty sure I can fly.