This isn't a warm and fuzzy time for American turkeys. To provide fodder for millions of tryptophan comas, roughly 45 million birds meet their makers every November.
But at Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary in Ocala, turkeys aren't for eating. Instead, they live out their lives in peace and comfort. Plus, they get cuddles.
Life on some factory farm isn't pretty. Turkeys are hatched in large incubators, and never see their mamas. Their beaks and toes are chopped off, and they're bred to grow as large as possible, as quickly as possible. Their living conditions are horrific. Some birds die of heart attacks from the stress, while others peck each other to death. Then, at around 12 weeks-old, they're slaughtered.
"The female turkeys have it the worst because before they die they artificially inseminate them, which is this awful process that involves lots of giant tools and young babies at that point -- at 12 weeks -- the turkey is still a baby," says Logan Vindett, the sanctuary's director.
But not so for the turkeys at Kindred Spirits. The sprawling sanctuary has four birds in residence -- Mia, Maddie, Cynthia and Libby (short for animal liberation). These are some lucky birds. When content, turkeys make a sound that's almost like purring, and we heard it for ourselves from these pampered fowl.
Mia is disabled. She fell off a turkey truck (seriously) and suffered some serious injuries. And while she has a little trouble with her equilibrium and balance, she's happy as a clam.
Because farm turkeys are bred for obesity to maximize profits, those rescued often reach a point where their legs no longer support them. After all, they weren't designed to live very long. So Vindett keeps them on a pretty strict diet.
"I tend to think that chickens and turkeys are some of the more abused animals. People can, in some ways, relate to a cow or a pig because they're more dog-like, they're mammals, they're furry. With the birds it's always different because we don't understand a lot of what they do," he explains.
Kindred Spirits, by the way, has lots of other farm animals in residence, including cows, pigs, horses, donkeys, goats, and chickens.
Last Saturday, they hosted a "Thank the Turkeys" celebration, where families and animal lovers gathered en masse to watch the feathered flock eat, rather than the other way around.
Pretty damn adorable.
Whether you're a meat eater or not, it's tough to argue that what happens to turkeys is nothing short of appalling. A better option, in addition to Tofurky roasts and quinoa loafs, is buying your turkey at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or straight from a local farm.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
On a day like Thanksgiving, when we're focused on gratitude, peace and love -- doesn't it make sense to honor the humane treatment of our feathered friends?
A visit to Kindred Spirits might put things in perspective. We highly recommend it.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.