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"Humanely" Raised and Slaughtered Birds

By Rae Sikora





Vegetarianism & Veganism

Factory Farming

Contaminated Food

Animal Agriculture & the Environment

Animal-based Diets & Human Health

Opposite Trends in Agribusiness

Humane Animal Husbandry: A Myth

Humane Slaughter:
A Contradiction in Terms

Selected Bibliography




Judaism & Animals:  Vegetarianism

Islam & Animals: Vegetarianism

Christianity & Animals



How Long Animals Live

Slaughterhouse Exposť






Many who consider themselves progressive and socially conscious buy organic, pasture-raised turkeys so they can avoid feeling guilty about supporting factory farming and chemical-laden agriculture.


A friend and I decided to take a tour of our local organic farm with the best reputation for environmental and humane standards. The farm lives up to its reputation as the best of the best farms for raising birds for slaughter and sale.


The farm's reputation is true. It is really the best of the best when it comes to farms raising birds for slaughter and sale. They raise their 1000 birds in large outdoor hoop-houses with green pasture around them. Their feed is organically grown at the same farm and hangs in feeders in each hoop-house. They slaughter the birds right there on the farm, so there is no trucking to a large slaughterhouse facility.


And even with these better-than-average conditions, I would bet that 99 percent of the people ordering the birds would not be able to stomach the conditions of the raising and slaughtering of the bird that appears in their home in a tidy little shrink-wrapped package with a convenient carrying handle.


Most people assume that if a bird is called "organic," it is not specially bred for the purpose of meat consumption. On the contrary, organic turkeys, on this farm and others, are specifically bred to gain weight quickly. In about 18 weeks they go from being young chicks to fat adults. The problem with this breeding is that the bird's legs cannot handle the weight of their bodies, and many of the birds are completely lame and cannot even make it to their food or water. We saw the last 60 of the 1000 turkeys to be slaughtered. We saw them on their last day. Some were stuck in the straw, struggling to make it to food and water, but unable to get up and walk. Their vulnerable position made them the target for eye pecking and harassment by the other stronger birds. The dead ones had been removed earlier that day. The birds receive no veterinary care during their lives.


Our tour guide, the manager for 11 years, was open with us. He told us he was proud of this facility and was happy to show us around. A young man who has been working there for 4 years joined us on the tour. When he walked into the slaughter building where we stood with the manager, he was first introduced as "the killer." Then the manager smiled and said, "but we refer to him as the "harvester."


I asked the young harvester if doing his job was difficult. He looked suddenly very thoughtful and replied, "It was hard at first, but then it gets easier. But everyday this is hard for me to do." They described the procedure. The birds are "gently" pushed into wall mounted funnels head first and upside down. Their heads hang below the large opening at the base of the funnel. The young harvester then slices the large arteries on the sides of the bird's neck. A bucket catches the blood below. In the words of the harvester: "I slice with a clean 100 dollar surgical knife. I am careful not to cut the airway. We need them alive and breathing and bleeding to drain all the blood out or it gets too messy in the next step. It is very fast. It only takes two minutes for the blood to all drain out. They are breathing the whole time and their legs are kicking, but it is mostly just nerves."


I stood there struck by the words "only two minutes." I recently led a workshop in which I asked people to close their eyes and guess how long a minute lasts. Holding a watch, I asked the participants to open their eyes and raise their hands when they thought the minute was up. Almost everyone had their eyes open and their hands raised at about 30 seconds. A minute is a long time. Two minutes hanging upside down with your major arteries cut is a long time.


We toured the entire facility from the pasture to the freezer filled with hundreds of tidy packaged birds. After the tour, my friend and I walked slowly toward my car, obviously a little shocked by our experience. I knew at that moment that I would like everyone who chooses to eat a bird or other animal labeled "humanely raised" or "organic" or "free range" to be required to visit the facility that supplies their meat. I doubt most would choose to support these industries. I am also quite sure that most people could not actively take part in the violent processes required to produce their meat. Nothing should be hidden behind the seemingly guilt-free labels of "humanely raised," "free-range," or "organic."


I have met many "used-to-be vegetarians" who have returned to a meat-based diet because of the availability of animal products labeled "humane" or "organic." These misleading labels give people permission to turn their backs on the violent reality of eating living beings. 



Rae with black bear cub she rescued from hunters

Rae Sikora is a respected spokesperson for animals, the environment, and human rights. She is the founder of Simply Enough, an organization that offers workshops internationally to help people see how implementing changes locally can bring about change globally, and she co-founded the Center for Compassionate Living and the International Institute for Humane Education. Ms. Sikora has led conferences in Israel for CHAI, and she is writing our new course material. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin.

Rae with black bear cub she rescued from hunters