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TALKING TURKEY - A moving story and a callous fate
Posted 1 December 2002
Sanctuary owner Marion Eastwood tells the moving story of one rescued turkey, while Beck Lilly outlines the callous fate awaiting millions of others.
Gladys was a turkey. The very first turkey I ever knew. It was a long time ago. The scene, a market place, bare wire cages with animals aplenty. Frightened, confused little faces peering out from behind metal. Adults, babies - they didn't differentiate.
Someone bought a pen of poults (baby turkeys). They were helpless, just standing there waiting for Christmas. The farmer who bought them agreed to give me one and, bizarrely, I felt grateful and took my little Gladys home.
She was just a little baby herself, no more than a week or so old. But, of course, she was so much bigger than the other little baby fowl she was housed with. She must have looked like a mum to those newly hatched bantams who had been stolen from their own mothers. And so she was. I was astonished to see how loads of little newly-born birds had adopted her.
Gladys wore the mantle of motherhood with pride, it would appear. The newly hatched snuggled into her, under her wing, clambering over, under and around. Always she embraced their needy, baby advances with what I can only compare with love.
I can honestly say that Gladys was my friend. When I was outside, I couldn't turn around without tripping over her. I used to crouch down and my beloved Gladys would rest her head on my leg and close her eyes as I tickled her neck.
Gladys lived her span in peace at our sanctuary. She roamed free, knew the feel of grass under her feet and what it was like to stretch her wings. We lost her two years ago, and she is still badly missed.
Gladys was born to be someone's Christmas dinner. A nothing.
The brutal world of factory farming
In stark contrast to the happy tale of Gladys is the horror that faces factory farmed birds.
Nearly all turkeys in industrial nations are intensively farmed, housed in windowless sheds, devoid of natural light. Birds are crammed tightly to make the most of space - up to 25,000 in a shed at any one time. The more they grow, the less space they have.
Frustration and stress often cause birds to peck at each other; de-beaking with a red-hot blade is a regular occurrence to try to discourage such aggression.
Birds are bred to put on weight at an unnaturally quick rate and this causes several disease problems. Heart and legs frequently collapse, too weak to sustain their hugely fat bodies. About two million die even before they reach slaughter weight.
Those who survive are killed at anything between 12 to 26 weeks (their natural lifespan being approximately 10 years). As with other poultry, stunning and killing methods are both unreliable and some birds may enter the scalding tank while fully conscious.
When you settle down for Christmas dinner this year, please spare a thought for all those turkeys who were not as lucky as Gladys, and ended their sorry lives as someone's Christmas dinner. Is this what the spirit of Christmas is truly about?