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November 2006
A Turkey Named Taylor
By Lauren Ornelas


Every animal raised for food, regardless of how they were raised, will end up at a slaughterhouse. Monitoring slaughterhouses is not most people’s idea of a good time, but a fellow activist friend and I would do it on a regular basis. With both video and still camera in hand we would watch for trucks coming in and try to get as close as possible to the shackling of the birds. In my opinion, if you live near a slaughterhouse, you owe it to the animals to keep an eye on it.

One day, we were on a mission to rescue some hens from a cruelty situation in Southern California, but decided to take a quick detour to the Foster Farms turkey slaughterhouse. As we drove up, my friend exclaimed, “There’s a turkey!” Hoping she wasn’t right, I asked “Where?” And there behind the gate, I saw the turkey, covered in blood. She probably fell from the shackles and somehow managed to escape.

We both looked at each other and knew what we had to do. We didn’t have a choice. After all this turkey had been through, we had to get her out of there.

I pulled over and stopped. My friend hopped over the fence, and went to get her. Understandably, the turkey was very scared and ran away. Eventually my friend was able to throw her jacket over the frightened bird, catching her.

Ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, my friend handed the turkey to me over the fence and we got into the van and drove away. We were trying to think of a name for her that began with a “t” for turkey, when we saw a truck pass by with the name Taylor on it. And Taylor she became.

Turkey Toes
Taylor’s beak and all of her toes were cut. The industry says they do it because turkeys kept in confinement will scratch each other causing the flesh of the bird to be downgraded. Instead of giving these animals more room, they choose to cut off parts of their bodies. I have also been told the toes are cut because it is quicker for workers to hang the birds on slaughterhouse shackles if they don’t have to worry about being cut by their nails.

In the past, most toe cutting was done using clippers, but more recently a procedure involving a type of microwave is used to prevent their toes from growing. Of course, the industry claims this is more ‘humane,’ but poultry experts don’t know enough about the procedure to make an assessment. The point is, this painful procedure mutilates the animal so people can eat her.

Without their toes, turkeys—who are bred to grow abnormally large— have a hard time walking and balancing themselves. Even though she was taken to a safe place, Taylor will forever have trouble walking.

Taylor’s Story
I have a hard time thinking about everything she went through, how frightening it must have been for her: born in a cold sterile hatchery, her beak and toes cut, sharing a shed with thoughts of other turkeys, noticing her body grow too large for her feet to hold her up, and then being transported to the slaughterhouse where she witnessed fellow turkeys hung upside down having their throats slit. While I have investigated turkey farms from North Carolina to California, Taylor’s story will stay with me forever. It is no different than the stories of billions of other animals killed for food every year, except that Taylor made it to safety.

Although I played a role in rescuing Taylor, everyone can save a life like hers, simply by not eating animals.

Lauren Ornelas has been involved in the animal rights movement since 1987 and is the former director of Viva!USA.