Turkeys: Some people eat them, some feed them

Associated Press Modified: November 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm •  Published: November 21, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Turkeys: Main course or animal companion?

OK, so it isn't even close. According to the industry group National Turkey Federation, more than 46 million of the big birds will be served as Thanksgiving dinner this year. Just a few hundred will get to experience the holiday as a pet, said turkey rescue Farm Sanctuary.

"I believe they make amazing companions, but they are different than cats or dogs," said Susie Coston of Watkins Glen, N.Y. For one thing, turkeys get too hot and are too messy to come indoors, said Coston, the national shelter director for the Farm Sanctuary.

Taking the large bird on as a companion requires more responsibilities than owning a dog or a cat, experts say. "If people are adopting domesticated turkeys, they should be aware that it's not a simple endeavor and would take a considerable amount of work," said NTF spokeswoman Kimmon Williams.

"Turkeys as pets is a complicated question," she added.

Like other animals that serve as companions to humans, turkeys come in different breeds, with some weighing as much as 60 pounds, Williams said. Every turkey has its own personality — and some can be aggressive, she said.

Most pet turkey owners agree the birds aren't the kind of pets that can be walked on a leash or dressed for the Christmas family photo.

Coston said, for instance, that she wouldn't sleep with her turkey "like I do my dogs and cats. But I don't love dogs more than I do pigs or dogs and cats more than chickens and turkeys. I have a different relationship with each of them."

"Turkeys are inherently nervous and do not tend to be warm and cuddly. Turkeys also need plenty of space to run around in and be fed the appropriate diet," Williams noted.

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, Calif., 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, Mass., pointed out a bonus: "They give us manure and eggs."

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

Like dogs, some turkeys grow attached to their owners. Oeh recounted how her last turkey, Ariala, followed her around the garden.

"She would stay by my right leg. When I was picking vegetables, she ate out of my hand. She let me pet her and kiss her," Oeh said, adding that petting turkeys can put them into a trance-like state. "She was so immersed in the moment that if you got tired of petting her and moved away, she'd wake up and look around as if to say 'What's going on?'"

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