Friend or fowl: Giving table-bound turkeys a second chance

A portrait of
A portrait of "Gable," one of the adoptable turkeys living at the Farm Sanctuary in Acton, CA.
Courtesy of Adopt A Turkey

Some of us won’t be serving turkey on Thanksgiving. Even though the National Turkey Federation (NTF) says that more than 46 million of the big birds will be served as Thanksgiving dinner this year, a few hundred of the fowls will get to experience the holiday as a pet, said turkey rescue Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary director Susie Coston says she would much rather have a turkey as a pet than eat one.

“Turkeys and all the birds in the United States that are raised for food are so much more horribly treated than any other animal. Beef cattle have it made in comparison to any bird. These birds, they have no laws to protect them and they are abused,” Coston says.

Turkeys come with different breeds and personalities, with some weighing as much as 60 pounds. 

"Turkeys are inherently nervous," NTF spokeswoman Kimmon Williams notes. "Turkeys also need plenty of space to run around in and be fed the appropriate diet," Williams cautioned any would-be owners.

Still, Karen Oeh, who will be getting four pet turkeys just before Thanksgiving, said she preferred them over dogs.

"Dogs are needy to me. They need affection, attention, security, they always need you to do something for them. With the turkeys, I don't feel guilty because I didn't take them to the park and throw the Frisbee," said the Ben Lomond resident.

Despite their differences, turkeys and traditional pets share traits such as the ability to love unconditionally, loyalty and intelligence, owners said. Dr. Drucilla Roberts, a pathologist from Millis, MA, pointed out a bonus: "They give us manure and eggs."

Coston's national farm animal rescue and adoption network has a ranch in Acton, just south of Palmdale. There you can sponsor a turkey to live at the sanctuary or adopt one to take home with you. And perhaps they will return to favor and sound the alarm if trouble darkens your door.

"I was always told that turkeys were the dumbest of farm animals. But that's not true. They know us and protect us," Roberts said. "If a stranger comes, the turkey is right in his face and clucking and raising its feathers. They make great noises."