As leaves begin to drift from trees and your breath starts to make fog in the chill air when you bend over to pick up your paper in the morning, there is no denying that fall has come. And that means Ginny is going to have to do something about those turkeys, right? It would be unfair for me to leave you wondering how the great turkey experiment turned out, so today I’ll give you final chapter – or at lease as much of it as I can, thus far.
A few weeks ago, I started feeling what can only be called mild anxiety each time I fed my gigantic toms. My cute, little fuzzy chicks had grown and grown, until now they were the size of a Shetland pony – and they were eating like one too. My three surviving turkeys were plowing through a full 50-pound bag of feed every five days, and still acting starved each time they saw me. Growing a turkey from scratch can be expensive, and when I added up the cost of the original chick($10.00) along with 6 months of feed, I figured each of my healthy, organic turkeys had demanded about a $150.00 investment so far, and Thanksgiving was still a ways away. Obviously,organic farming on a small scale is not cost effective, (thus the explanation of industrial farming practices and why they survive despite society’s awareness of the pitfalls to the environment and people’s health – but that is another subject.) So, keeping these birds indefinitely as pets would cost as much as a big dog without half the emotional rewards, (no interest to me, really) besides which, I had promised all along that we would eat these creatures before winter set in. But just looking into their innocent faces made me start to feel guilty, and lets be honest here, there’s no way I’m ever going to lift a hand to harm a creature –despite all my bravado.
Mark has insisted he could find someone to slaughter the three birds for us for Thanksgiving if I would be willing to allow the person to keep one, and I agreed that would be fair. If you are going to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, you can’t decide the poor sod’s miserable life (the one you bought from the grocery store) doesn’t count as much as the bird you know. That’s a double standard. But still, the fact that I could agree to do it doesn’t mean I like the idea of sending my adored birds off to slaughter.
Nevertheless, I was still grateful I had embraced the great turkey experiment. I am curious about the world, and I rather learn about it through experience than just having an intellectual understanding of things gained from books or school– and I now have hands on understanding on the life cycle of the turkey. I know what these birds look like as babies, then adolescents, and finally, as adults. I know when their white mask face starts turning bluish,and when the little nub on their beak grows long and flops over, hanging towards the ground all wrinkled and pink like a stretched out gizzard growing on the outside. Icky. I have picked up decorative turkey feathers for safekeeping, touched a turkey’s rubbery head, and observed turkey behavior day after day. I know how a turkey’s voice sounds, how it changes as they mature and the way it cracks like a prepubescent boy’s voice when they first start to gobble. I know at what stage their hormones kick in and the boys start to puff up and primp for the girls, vying for their attention. These are things you could never truly grasp, not the visual and sensual experience, by reading a book or seeing bunch of turkeys in a pen on a farm some weekend afternoon. More importantly, I’ve learned how cute a turkey could be. They have this silly waddle when they walk or run, because their legs are sprawled, barely able to support their body mass. They are fearless, and will walk between your legs or rub against your arm when you crouch down to fill their bowl. They grow attached to whoever is feeding them, and tend to follow you about like a dog. Their trusting innocence is endearing.
So, as you can imagine, I now had this huge dilemma – a true fondness for my three birds. They are ungraceful and dirty, and they eat like a pig, true, but that describes most of the men I’ve known (and loved) so it’s not these traits are enough to justify slaughtering them. (The men reading this sigh in relief.)
I decided to just ignore the situation, Scarlett O’Harastyle, and worry about that tomorrow. Thanksgiving was still a month away, after all. Perhaps I’d come up witha solution – or more aptly, the bravery to act on a solution. But nature must have sensed my problem and taken pity on me, because she decided to take matters into her own hands.
A few weeks ago, in the morning, I went to feed my birds and spied feathers spread out all over the grounds. Turkey feathers. White. Uh Oh. Not that I was surprised. My big fat toms had a habit of sleeping on the ground near the chicken house because they are fat and thus uncomfortable perching up high and they’ve never tried going into the hen house. I’ve always known this made them sitting ducks for prey, but what ya gonna do? Something, a fox perhaps, had decided to have his thanksgiving feast early. I took stock. My girl turkey was sleeping on top of a chicken pen, and one of the boys was running towards me with that hungry lookin his eyes. It was my biggest, most robust Tom that had been taken down. Figures.
I looked about to see if their were any remains, and sure enough, the bulk of a turkey carcass was sitting way out in the pasture by the creek. Now, picking up the remains of a little chicken that has been snagged in the night is one thing. I was not up for picking up 50 pounds of mauled turkey. Besides which, I had to go to work. So, I left him there, hoping whatever was hungry enough to attack and eat him last night might come finish the job the next night. And whatever it was did. Thank you very much.
Now, I was worried about my two surviving turkeys, but I confess, a part of me was sort of OK with what had happened. I’ve been accepting of the circle of life ever since that song grabbed me in that disney movie, and I don’t feel negligent considering the birds are being well cared for and they have shelter, even though instinct drives them to sleep elsewhere. Three turkeys is a lot of turkeys to care for and worry about. Two, I could handle. And a fox has to eat too. So, that’s that.
Until, a few days later I arrived to find more feathers scattered about. Tom number two had hit the dust. Whatever was eating my birds certainly selected the biggest and best for himself each time. I didn’t see any of the remains, but I did start to feel pretty badly for my last remaining female. Was that loneliness and anxiety I was reading in her eyes, or was I projecting those feelings because I’ve had them too lately? Humm….
That night, I went to the barnyard late to feed the horses. I felt a need to check on things – concerned for my last turkey. When I didn’t see her anywhere, I assumed the worst. She is a huge white bird, so usually, I can spot here easily in the night, huddled on top of the short chicken pen. The fact that she sleeps off the ground is the rea
son she survived beyond the others, no doubt, (Girls are so often the smart ones, you must agree) but if a hunter is hungry enough, it will crawl up to get her, I know.
Just as I was feeling that sad acceptance, I spotted something white peeking over the roof of the chicken house. There she was. Barb, my female turkey. Hiding 9 feet in the air behind the pointed roof. Ha. She must have witnessed both her boys being dragged off and thought, “Well, that ain’t happen’ in to me.” So she took it upon herself to find higher ground. Now, she sleeps there every night.
So, I have one female turkey that hangs with the chickens now. She is sweet and healthy – and other than being lonely, seems well adjusted enough. Considering the trauma she has been under, I’m going to just leave her be. She’s earned it. And all’s well that ends well because there is only one thing about turkeys I didn’t get to experience, and that is holding a turkey egg, cooking it and seeing how it differs from chicken, peacock or duck eggs. Birds lay eggs even without a male around to fertilize it, so if she survives, this spring I’ll still have one last turkey discovery to make. Turkey egg omlets. I’d like that.
Like all life experiences, it will depend on nature and fate. And luck.