Thursday, January 7, 2010

That`s Fowl!- Talkin` Turkey

Domestication of the turkey has done the birds no favors.

Perhaps that sounds harsh and I do apologize to any turkey fanatics out there but domestic turkeys are not the sharpest of tacks. We`ve had birds of just about every flavor on this hillside farm so I feel rather qualified to make the above turkey smartness remark.

We`ve had chickens and geese and ducks and pheasants and guinea hens yet none of those birds came close to being the dim bulbs domestic turkeys are.

Now usually I refrain from poultry profiling because it`s wrong but folks and solks after having the pleasure of having many various breeds of turkeys gadding about our farm I shall stand by my statement. Most generally when an animal allows itself to become domesticated it learns to work with humans and thusly becomes smarter, or at least to our human way of thinking. Smart in this instance meaning they retain their wild cousin’s intelligence to some small ninth of a degree.

Maybe it`s just us. We do tend to have this skill for picking out critters that seem to bumble about lost in their own little critter worlds. Excuse me a moment I`ve just been handed a paper from the dogs, cats and goats calling for a retraction. *Rolls eyes* I shall amend that to say we tend to have this skill for picking out TURKEYS that bumble about….Sheesh! What, the cow’s didn`t want their names cleared as…….*Peeks out window to watch Patrick and Bubba J. staring at side of cow barn in bovine daze* Moving onward…..

I remember the first turkey we ever had here on the hillside farm. It was the first summer we were here and we had already had gotten chickens but nothing else in the way of farm buddies. Mister Yodeling had heard about one of our neighbors who had some turkeys he wanted to get rid of so off him and his buddy /our neighbor Mister L. went! A short time later they pulled up and Miss Yodeling and I hurried out to see our newest pet. When the two men opened the trunk of our car (yes you read right, they brought the turkey home in my trunk) my jaw nearly hit our dirt driveway.

There was the biggest, dirtiest and nastiest looking turkey I had ever seen. If this bird didn`t top the scales at forty plus pounds I`ll eat my Muck boots! Being the clever and witty goatherders we are we named him….wait for it….Tom.

Now broad-breasted turkeys are not meant to be kept for years. They`ve been bred for massive breasts and short-life spans. Their legs will just not support their huge weight and I have to assume their hearts don`t last for too long either. Our genetic fiddling has given us a wonderful bird for eating but those huge breasts also cost turkey his romantic ability. Their breasts being SO huge and their legs SO short and weak the tom cannot mount and breed the hen so turkey ranchers use artificial insemination almost exclusively now.

How old Tom was we hadn`t a clue but he was now ours, all fifty nasty pounds of him, lover or not.

Tom, it would turn out, would end up being a good turkey as far as turkey`s go. Since he could barely walk down the hill he didn`t gad off like the ones we have now do. Although Tom did have a few quirks, one in particular that seemed rather………..bizarre may be the word I`m looking for.

We didn`t have a hen so we didn`t think much of Tom and his ‘seasonal desires’. Well good old Tom had meandered down the hill one warm spring day, gobbling to beat the band then stopping to catch his breath between gobbles, when he must have spied my daughter`s plastic kitchen set that sat beneath a shade tree in our front yard. She had this small little white three-legged stool with pink legs out there to sit on as we played tea.

How can I put this delicately?? Let`s just say that Tom and that stool became quite an item over the course of that summer. Our friends and neighbors found this strange turkey/stool love affair most entertaining when they would visit, especially my dear hubby`s buddies. Only here gang I swear it!

We had Tom for another year then his old over-worked heart just gave up the ghost. Thinking we were now done with turkey`s I found out otherwise. We ended up ordering some Royal Palm`s from the feed store with my groom`s assurance that these lighter birds would preen and keep themselves tidy, as opposed to Tom who was just too large to preen or even roost so he slept in his droppings. I had reservations but being a sucker for any wee chick, duckling, gosling or poult I went along with the plan.

I do have to admit that those Royal Palm`s were my favorite turkey breed. As they grew they did indeed roost every night in their coop and aside from not being overly erudite they grew into stunning mature birds. I think we ended up with more toms than hens, as is par the course with straight run it seems, so we processed all but one tom. This tom oh he was a something to see! Handsome with crisp bars of black along his tail and white, white feathers!!

Yet he remained nameless for months. Since I do the birds they all seem to know me the best and bond with me more than hubby or Miss Yodeling. (Do not ask about the one Embden gander we had who liked to try to bond with my head if I sat down in the grass…..)

One early morning I was out doing my birds and happened to be singing. I sing a lot, and dance too when the mood strikes, makes my kid want to curl up and die. Tee and hee. This particular AM I was crooning an old, I mean classic Elton John tune and that tom turkey just came unglued! He gobbled and gobbled and gobbled as I fed and watered him and his harem. So…… he shall be Levon.

We had Levon and his ladies for quite a few years. Mister loves to hear the gobbles in the early spring mornings and we have witnessed more than one fight when wild birds all het up with spring fever will come down to try to challenge our toms.

We keep all the domestic turkeys penned until after the wild birds are done courting because the wild turkeys do NOT need that dumb gene in their pool. Not to mention any disease our domestic birds may harbor that may infect the wild turkeys. Some of those fights lasted for hours though…. our tom on the inside, the wild tom on the outside and wings cracking into the wire fencing!

Over the years we lost one hen then another, some would sneak off well after breeding season to try to set a nest and not return. Others just passing as poultry do. Eventually we had only Levon left and his days were looking to be limited as well. Sometimes being a farmer isn`t always easy, but we did what we had to do for the handsome old man.

So once more I assumed we were now well and truly out of the turkey game. Wrong!!! Oh silly woman you! Once more our neighbors kept us in the turkey biz when they offered us eggs a couple years ago. These were mixed-breeds of bourbon reds, Narragansett’s and Eastern wilds. You can buy eastern wild turkey poults from hatcheries but local game laws apply with certain guidelines. Of course once my yodeling other heard of free turkeys we once more had a coop full.

This batch of birds is the reason I say that domestication has not helped the noble turkey one iota. Talk about a flighty flock of goonies!! Every single day of the year, three hundred and sixty-five of them, I do bird chores as I mentioned earlier.

I open the goose coop door and the geese are all ‘Yo lady who feeds us every single day, what`s new?’

I go down and open the door to the chicken coop and the chicken`s are all ‘Yo lady who feeds us every single day, what`s new?’

I go to the turkey coop and open the door and the turkeys go’ AHHHHHHHHH!!! Someone`s coming in!!! Hurry!!! Leap and jump and fly around the coop!!!!!!!!!! The end is nigh!! The end is nigh!!!!!’

Now I realize they only have a brain the size of a walnut but so do the chickens and they don`t come unhinged every single morning! Needless to say this particular bunch of caruncle-heads are not my favorites. I`d sell them off to the highest bidder faster than one could say ‘drumstick’ just to not be flogged each and every day. Heck I`d give the dolts away!

Anyone want a flock of turkeys??? *Smiles ever so sweetly*


houndstooth said...

I think I'll pass on the turkeys and just enjoy the tales of you being attacked by them!

Brenda said...

No thank you! We tried turkeys several years ago ... twice actually. And, I totally agree about their level of intelligence! It is absolutely true that they will drown in a summer rain. Yes ... they look up at the rain and drown! I lost 3 half grown turkeys this way ... only about 2 foot outside of the nice dry shelter. If anyone around here mentions getting turkeys again ... I remind them of our past experiences with them!

Have a great day and stay warm!

~Tonia said...

We have had various turkeys over the years. My mom had Bourbon reds at one time. It got down to one tom...Named Tom!Lol He would chase cars!! She had a bronze hen that loved the kids and would follow them around. Where ever they where at she would be and they loved her. But out of all the turkeys we had that is 2 exceptions to the not so smart rule!lol The rest were idiots!!Sorry turkey lovers...

taylorgirl6 said...

I've thought about raising turkeys once we get some acreage, but this has convinced me that I should only give it a shot once I don't work full-time. Do they seriously drown in the rain? Dear god, that's horrid.

By the way, this was a hilarious read!

Flat Creek Farm said...

Oh, I love it!! Here I sit, up too late at night and chuckling at your blog again. This is great!

Keep 'em comin'! -Tammy

Feral Female said...

Welcome to the hillside farm Taylorgirl!

As to your question about turkeys drowning in the rain as you`ve heard it does happen but here`s what I`ve come to understand about it...From what I gather this happens only to immature birds who aren`t fully feathered. If they remain outside and get soaked to thier skin shock sets in, and from what I`ve read, thier heads tipping back is a sign of shock. So actually they don`t 'drown'they merely aren`t smart enough to come in out of the rain.

Which pretty much explains the domestic turkey in a nutshell more or less. =)

Nezzy said...

No thank you. We have a bottom valley filled with wild turkeys that have been following the fat cattle in the winter wheat. Boo-coos of turkeys.

As far as a turkey drowning in the rain, we all know they're not the brightest bunch of colors in the box!!! Heeeheeehe!

Ya'll have a great day!!!