Catching and transporting birds can cause considerable pain and distress. Turkeys are much larger and stronger than chickens and can be nervous and easily frightened. Catchers are often less familiar with handling turkeys and many birds may be injured whilst being removed from sheds and thrust into crates. Poor handling frequently results in bruising, skin grazing and broken blood vessels. Transport to slaughter can be long distance and the birds may experience extremes of temperature, stress, suffocation and shock.  


Turkeys are normally slaughtered at between 9 and 21 weeks old, depending on the size of bird being produced. The natural lifespan of a turkey is 10 years. Over 18 million turkeys were slaughtered in the UK in 2012 (17 million in 2011) (1). The majority of birds are killed in large, semi-automated slaughterhouses.

Turkeys are removed from their crates and hung upside down by their legs from shackles on a moving line. Turkeys may legally hang shackled for 3 minutes before being stunned but this time could be exceeded (2). At slaughter, turkeys can weigh between 5 - 28kg and the pain caused to heavy birds whilst they hang in shackles is considerable. This pain is worsened by the fact that many of the birds, and especially the larger ones, will suffer from diseased hip joints. They are dragged head first through an electrically charged stunning water bath to make them unconscious before having their necks cut. For a bird to be stunned, rather than receiving an electric shock, the electric current must pass through its brain before contacting any other part of the body. But turkeys have a large wingspan which are in danger of entering the stunning bath before their heads (2,5). Research has identified two factors to reduce the danger of birds regaining consciousness as they bleed to death. Sufficient current should be used to induce a cardiac arrest and both carotid arteries in the neck (the main blood supply to the brain) must be severed to ensure that the turkeys die as quickly as possible. However, a number of slaughterhouses fail to regularly ensure both these factors are carried out (5).

Once turkeys have been slaughtered they are placed in a scalding tank designed to loosen the feathers before plucking. Due to the additional demand for turkeys at Christmas ‘Seasonal Slaughterhouses’ are used and 10 million turkeys are killed in the run up to Christmas (7). Many turkeys are killed by having their necks dislocated but research has shown that this does not always have an immediate effect and unconsciousness may not be instant (2).

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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