When it comes to Thanksgiving, adopting a turkey may not be what you had in mind. But this year, why not start a new tradition and save an animal while you’re at it?
Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Turkey Project helps people get involved through sponsorships or home adoptions. The idea may never have crossed your mind, but you might be surprised to learn just how loving and personable these birds can be. We spoke with Farm Sanctuary’s national shelter director, Susie Coston, and one turkey-adopting family about the experience.
Life With Turkeys
What’s it like having a turkey around all the time? Dr. Drucilla Roberts and Nick Semine have adopted a number of animals from Farm Sanctuary over the years, including turkeys, and currently have three of the birds. Roberts says they decided to take in turkeys since their small farm had many animals and they “thought turkeys would be a good addition to the mix.”
“I had always heard that turkeys were one of the dumber farm animals, and I guess I just wanted to know if that was true,” Roberts says. “I learned that is not true. They have a lot of personality.”
Roberts says the process with Farm Sanctuary is streamlined and simple, and calls owning turkeys fun and easy.
She says about turkeys: “They’re very friendly. They come right up to you; they’re not afraid of people. They’re very curious and vocal and not afraid of any of the other animals."
From their desire to be petted to how they seem grateful for help when they need a hand taking some steps, their turkeys have individual personalities that vary just like cats’ and dogs’ do.
“They’re sensitive beings, they have feelings, and the personality part is very strong,” Roberts says. “We are so very happy with our turkeys.”
What You Should Know Before Adopting
The process starts with filling out an application. Coston says her group is strict and careful with who gets to adopt since turkeys have specific requirements. Before adopting, Coston thinks people should realize that turkeys have different needs from another bird you might find in backyards: chickens.
“Turkeys are much larger animals, and their health needs are different, especially when it comes to industrialized birds,” Coston says.
Adopters can take in industrial turkeys or heritage breeds, which are smaller and have health issues closer to chickens. The lifespan of an industrial turkey is about two to five years, while a heritage turkey can live 10 to 12 years.
Once you’ve decided to adopt, you must make sure your area is zoned for livestock. Then check that having turkeys won’t be an issue for your neighbors and prepare a proper shelter that will keep your turkeys safe from predators.
“They can’t see at night, so usually turkeys roost high up — but [industrial ] turkeys can’t because of their body structure, so you worry about predation,” she says.
Industrial turkeys have bigger bodies since they’re selectively bred. According to Coston, a typical wild turkey could be 11 pounds, but these can range from 20 to 27 pounds for females and about 50 for males, even once their diet has been restricted. That means you also need to give them a good amount of space so they are comfortable and don’t feel closed in.
If you’re not a repeat adopter, preparing a shelter can take awhile. Retrofitting an existing barn on your property is easier than setting up a new shelter. Once that’s done, it’s all about understanding care. You need flooring that won’t hurt turkeys’ feet, since the tips are often removed in the industry to keep them from fighting, and you need the right feeders, especially if the turkeys’ are debeaked. Also talk with a poultry veterinarian about the proper diet and feeding procedure to help keep your turkeys healthy.
Sponsor a Turkey
Even if you can’t home adopt, you can still make a difference by sponsoring the care of a shelter turkey. With a one-time donation of $30, you get a photo and a certificate telling you about its personality. Coston says you can even visit the turkey you adopt at its shelter.
Either way, you’re helping these amazing birds, who around Thanksgiving may be thought of as just food, but who are, in fact, curious, attention loving, and would enjoy nothing more than following you around or sitting beside you so you can pet them.
“It’s about recognizing an animal that has been unrecognized for so long,” Coston says. “Instead of seeing them in just one way, it’s about seeing them as individuals.”