Labels can be confusing but are vital in understanding the provenance of the Christmas lunch. The EU does not have turkey-specific legislation protecting turkeys but there are legal marketing standards and assurance schemes to improve turkey welfare in less intensive systems. Red Tractor labels, RSPCA Assured are two of the more easily recognisable ones but some supermarkets have their own, too.

The way turkeys are grown normally fall into one of the following categories:

Standard indoor intensive

This is the most basic and carries problems of overcrowding and poor welfare.

Higher-welfare indoor

Turkeys are reared in barns and given more space than in intensive systems with better air and litter quality. Perches and straw bales are common and help to provide valuable exercise and exploration. Perching above the ground is more natural for turkeys and it can reduce feather-pecking.


By law birds must have outdoor access for at least half of their lives and a minimum allowance of four square metres of outdoor space. This access to daylight and fresh air results in better optical and respiratory health. Turkeys have more space to exhibit natural behaviour and exercise which leads to stronger, healthier legs. Commonly free-range turkeys are slower-growing breeds and so less likely to suffer from the heart problems and lameness that stem from fast growth.

The RSPCA believes that free-range conditions can offer considerable benefits to bird welfare, provided that the range area is well-managed and the birds are offered suitable protection against inclement weather and predators.


Turkeys have outdoor access and more space per bird than in free-range. Small houses are used and often natural shelter is encouraged in the form of shrubs and trees. They are kept in much smaller group sizes as European law states that 2500 turkeys per group is the maximum allowed. Their feed is 100% organic and slower-growing breeds are commonly used.

Turkeys are inquisitive so they need the mental stimulation of time spent outdoors. They love to explore and, of course, this brings physical benefits which convert into flavour and texture later on.

The RSPCA encourages turkey keepers to use additional enrichment items to encourage greater mental activity in the birds and to reduce or avoid injurious pecking. Safe additional enrichment foods include brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts and broccoli, maize stalks, pumpkins, alfalfa blocks. Other safe additional items include hanging CDs and plastic drinking bottles as well as the addition of other appropriate livestock.

New RSPCA Assured standards

The RSPCA updated its welfare standards for turkeys this year and they came into effect on September 28 2017. These include:

New requirements for the testing of non-mains water and the recording of results

Changes to the standards relating to wild animal control

All birds must be caught under the direct supervision of a senior member of the catching team who has been approved by RSPCA Assured

Changes to the gas killing standards

Amended lighting standards

Updated beak trimming standards

The ‘RSPCA welfare standards for turkeys’ have been developed to provide the only RSPCA-approved scheme for the rearing, handling, transport and slaughter/killing of turkeys. They take account of UK legislation, government welfare codes, scientific research, veterinary advice, recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee and the practical experience of the farming industry. For more information visit