November is traditionally a bad month for American turkeys. The vast majority will soon sacrifice their lives for our dining pleasure on the fourth Thursday of this month.
Thankfully, for these guys (and girls), they are not in the majority.
Last July, my son decided to buy seven baby turkeys as an investment. We did careful research on varieties and care, and we opted for a couple of heritage breeds that came with promises of gentleness and friendliness. Some folks may wonder why we’d want to be friends with our future food, and I understand that. It just makes the handling much less difficult. Turkeys get big, and their beaks and toenails are nothing to sneeze at. Friendly and gentle is good when you have to get up close and personal with them on a twice-daily basis.
Back to July. After some Divine intervention in getting our truck started, my son and I headed out to meet a couple of friends for the 45-minute drive to the turkeys’ house. (It takes a special kind of friend to be excited about picking up baby turkeys, and we had chosen just the right family!) The poultry pick-up went smoothly. The babies were adorable, and we got all of our questions answered by the very helpful and knowledgeable turkey lady. We were soon back on the road with a peeping crate of seven fluffballs.
Long story short, the turkeys have been a pretty easy venture. (We are down to six, but that’s a story for another time.) Even though my son is their primary caregiver, I peek my head in to their movable coop from time to time just to talk turkey. They make the most interesting sounds–much softer and more musical than the gobble alarm with which we are all familiar. They are so naturally curious that any new thing gets their thorough observation.
Yesterday we moved the turkeys to their winter quarters in the barn. I was a little nervous about how the disruption would affect them–especially the toms who probably weigh about ten pounds at this point. Things actually went very smoothly, though, and they were soon settled into their new home, curiously checking out every corner and making quick work of all of the spiders.
I went in the house and my son stayed outside to finish moving feeders and to clean the turkey’s waterer. He soon runs in to tell me that the turkeys have already escaped. Yikes! Eventually, we want them be able to free-range in our pasture, but they need to come to terms with their new sleeping quarters first. Turkeys will automatically go in to roost at dusk, but they must first know where it’s safe to roost. We planned to confine them to their new pen for a week or so–making sure they know that this is their home–before opening the door and allowing them out during the day.
My daughters and son and I all hurried outside to herd turkeys. Upon arrival, we discovered that it wasn’t as bad as we had thought. All six birds were just roosting on top of the gate to the pasture. Two of the kids went around to the outside and gently pushed each bird back into the pen. We then caught each one and clipped their wings. I won’t say that this was particularly easy or enjoyable work, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been with more aggressive turkeys. I felt bad taking my scissors to such beautiful feathers, but it really is safer for the birds at this point. If you know anyone who wants to make a feathered headdress, I might be able to help ’em out.
My son hopes to butcher and sell a few of the birds for profit this Christmas or even for Easter. Since they were born so late in the season, they’re just not quite big enough to be anyone’s showstopper this Thanksgiving. I would kind of like to keep a pair, though–a tom and a hen–for breeding. Not only do I hear that their eggs are fairly valuable, but I think turkeys would be a nice addition to our little farm.
Sometimes, we try something new and it really, really works. Sometimes, it really, really doesn’t. For now, these turkeys seem to be working for us. Either way, we are certainly working for them. They’ve got at least a month on almost every other turkey in these united states.