Turkey Lifespan: How Long Do Turkeys Live Before Slaughter

Turkeys can live for decades in the wild but, when raised for food, these creatures are slaughtered as young as 12 weeks old.


Explainer Food Industry

About 245 million turkeys are slaughtered each year in the U.S., with 46 million alone killed just for Thanksgiving. While turkeys are as social and playful as cats and dogs, there could be no starker difference between the lives and deaths of these creatures and that of most companion animals.

How Long Do Turkeys Take To Grow 


During the spring nesting season, wild female turkeys called hens will lay between nine and 13 eggs, incubating them day and night for about 28 days.

On factory farms, hens lay 100 to 130 eggs for six to seven months until their productivity declines. They lay eggs in nest boxes that automatically force out the hens and move the eggs to a conveyor belt. Turkey eggs are then transported to commercial hatcheries, where they are placed into incubators. 


Newly-hatched chicks — called poults — usually leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours. In two weeks, poults can fly short distances and start roosting in trees.


Juvenile males are called jakes and juvenile females are called jennies. Technically, jakes can breed at age 1. But they may find it difficult to compete with mature toms and wind up traveling in search of a mate.


Most turkey breeds will mature between 14-22 weeks of age. Heritage breeds, however, take 25-30 weeks. Turkey toms grow to an average live weight of 41 pounds, while hens average 17 pounds each. Modern birds grow astonishingly quickly, reaching a weight of over 20 kgs or 44 pounds by the time they are slaughtered between 9 and 24 weeks of age.

What Factors Impact a Turkey’s Lifespan?

There are several key factors that typically impact a turkey’s lifespan, most important of which are whether the turkey is wild or living in captivity, particularly a factory farm.


Wild turkeys thrive in and around mature forests that produce mast, described as the “fruit and nuts of woody trees and shrubs.” In the spring, free-roaming turkeys tend to eat leaves and grass, while in the fall, these creatures feed on fruits, berries, seeds and insects. 

Environmental Conditions

Farmed poults need a lot of heat to survive. As a result, turkey producers are instructed to heat their turkey houses, called brooders, to 95 to 100 degrees in the first week after the turkeys hatch, decreasing it by five degrees every week until the birds have all of their feathers and can better maintain their body heat.

For wild turkeys whose environmental conditions aren’t controlled by humans, the length of their lives is highly dependent on the environment in which they live. Local wild turkey population rates shift throughout the year depending on a number of environmental factors, including local habitat, “availability of food, weather, density of predators, disease and hunting season.”

Turkeys are also highly susceptible to pathogens, even vulnerable to diseases that do not affect chicken. As a result, it’s not recommended that producers keep the two types of birds together. Vaccinations are available but generally not recommended for small-scale producers absent a specific threat. 

Genetic Factors

The farmed turkey industry has long used selective breeding techniques to grow larger turkeys that produce more breast meat, leading to an increase in birds that are very susceptible to heart disease and other infections. Heritage birds are not susceptible to many of these conditions due to their more balanced size and spacious living conditions.

How Long Do Turkeys Live? 

How long turkeys live varies depending on whether the animal is wild or raised in captivity, particularly for slaughter.

How Long Do Wild Turkeys Live?

In the wild, the life expectancy of a turkey is three to four years.

How Long Do Wild Turkeys Live In Captivity?

In captivity, turkeys can live for up to 10 years, depending on their living conditions.

How Long Do Domestic Turkeys Live?

Domesticated turkeys, such as those on factory farms across the country, are killed between five and six months. Pet turkeys can live up to 10 years.

How Long Do Turkeys Live Before Slaughter?

A farmed turkey’s lifespan depends on the turkey’s gender. Hens are considered ready for slaughter at 14 to 16 weeks old, and male turkeys at around 19 weeks old. Some intensively farmed turkeys are slaughtered as young as 12 weeks old.

What Is the Longest Living Turkey?

The carcass of a turkey found in 1992 indicated it lived to be 13 years old. Another 13-year-old turkey was reported in New Jersey that same year.

Earlier this year, researchers discovered a 12-year-old hen in Pennsylvania. 

What You Can Do

Educate yourself on the impacts of shifting to a more plant-based diet. Factory farming doesn’t just hurt animals, it puts factory farm workers at risk. In addition to the brutal living and working conditions, factory farming is rife with disease affecting both animals and humans. Experts believe factory farms are incubating the next global pandemic. To swap out turkey for an alternative protein, opt for plant-based turkey brands like Tofurky, Gardein, Quorn, and Field Roast, which can be found in most large grocery stores.

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