In this section
We are very concerned about the way that many of the UK’s farmed turkeys are reared, handled, transported and slaughtered. Working closely with the RSPCA, we try to ensure that as many farmed turkeys as possible have a good quality of life.
Some key animal welfare concerns
1. Living conditions
Most turkeys in the UK still live in dark, bare, overcrowded conditions. These turkeys lack the space, light and stimulation that encourages them to move around, stay active and carry out natural behaviours like foraging and perching. This can cause boredom, aggression and other negative behaviours, such as feather pecking.
What the RSPCA standards say...
RSPCA standards provide turkeys with more space than they get under the law or other standards. Additionally, they insist on turkeys being provided with enrichment, such as perches, straw bales and objects to peck at to provide stimulation and encourage activity. Indoors, the standards also require that turkeys have windows for natural daylight. Free-range turkeys are also provided with shade and shelter, including trees and bushes, which protect them from bad weather and predators. This makes them feel safer and encourages more of them to use and benefit from the range.
2. Beak trimming
Young turkeys (called ‘poults’) often have their beaks trimmed to avoid them pecking and harming one another. However, if not performed by trained individuals with the right equipment, there is the potential to cause significant pain and suffering. Turkey sheds are often low lit to reduce aggression and feather pecking which can lead to cannibalism. But, this also reduces positive and active behaviours like foraging.
What the RSPCA standards say…
The practice of beak trimming is contrary to the principles of the RSPCA welfare standards. However, at the present time, it is accepted that in some cases where it is necessary to deter potential injurious pecking, infrared beak trimming can be permitted. In these cases, it is only permitted when carried out by a properly trained individual with the correct infrared technology.
The RSPCA’s preference would always be to rule out mutilations completely and actively research alternative solutions to these problems.
3. Transport and slaughter
Like many farmed animals, turkeys can suffer from rough handling, long transport and inhumane slaughter. Many birds in the UK are still shackled upside down by the legs whilst still alive, which can be distressing and cause injury. Also, some birds are not pre-stunned and are still conscious when they are killed.
What the RSPCA standards say...
Unlike other assurance providers, RSPCA Assured inspects the welfare of animals from birth through to slaughter. The RSPCA standards ensure catching teams have suitable training in animal handling, including the requirement that turkeys are not picked up by one leg.
The standards also limit the maximum length of transportation time and do not allow turkeys to be routinely shackled whilst they are still alive or slaughtered without being effectively stunned to ensure they are unconscious.
What makes RSPCA Assured free-range different?
People often ask us what value RSPCA Assured adds if they are already buying free-range anyway.
RSPCA Assured free-range turkeys must be provided environmental enrichment both inside and outside. Shade and shelter, including trees and bushes which protect birds from bad weather and predators, are also a requirement. This helps the birds feel safer and hence range more freely, exploring the space around them and using the perches more.
Whilst other free-range turkeys may be provided with enrichment our standards insist on it!
Where to buy
RSPCA Assured turkeys are available at Christmas in most major retailers. Check back in November for further details.
Find out more about the RSPCA's standards for turkeys.