Monday, April 20, 2009

Almost Good Enough to Eat

Our adult turkeys must be duds because there are no nests and no eggs and thus no babies. What to do?! Enter the most fabulous catalogue ever invented - the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogue, filled with birds of all colors, sizes, breeds, and types. Like shopping in a candy store! Our order of fifteen Heritage turkey poults (a variety pack) just arrived and now our Bronzes are in for the fight of their life...although I do wonder what two year old turkey tastes like.

At first we had the turkeys in a cage in the kitchen, but we have never had so many little birds at once and the conversation turned to overcrowding and the fact that Bubba kept sticking his paw through the wire mesh. We lost one bird the first night and another the next morning. Kind of expected, but tough all the same, especially as Heritage turkeys cost a whole lot more than little chicks. We knew it was harder raising turkeys, but the Thanksgiving benefits usually dollar cost average the losses for a relatively good profit.

We needed a better locale and Annie was actually the one to come up with a potential location. She had spied a section of the potting shed just off the workshop, a triangular area waist high with a dirt base. Used for years to store old plastic pots, a quick cleanup of the area revealed good space and an electric outlet. The only immediate problem? Cat access and the large rat hole at the back.

We plugged the hole, put down some straw, hung the heat lamp, and placed the remnants of some wire mesh known as hardcloth over the chicks, like a Quansot hut. The chicks loved the space but we soon realized this was a one night solution. Once enclosed, there was no way to reach the chicks, change their water, or give them food!

The idea was right. It was the execution that lacked imagination. I called Manuel for a creative solution since he is the king when it comes to making something from nothing, using only the materials at hand (Home Depot has seen a steep decline in my business since Manuel came into our lives!)

When Manuel first began to build the turkey "coop", the poults were inside it. Annie was worried they might die of stress, or a falling 2x4. Anyway, it was time for some imprinting and a little freedom on the grass. She scooped the chicks into a cardboard box and carried them to a protected spot on the lawn under one of the apple trees. She let them loose around her and tried to keep track of twelve chirping babies with Cisco at her side and Bubba in the bushes.

I happened to be in the kitchen and chuckled when I saw what was going on. Of course, I had to run for the camera because Cisco was being pushed to his limit with babies touching his feet and tail and imprinting on him instead of Annie. The fierce dog had become a lamb, but beware the black cat that tried to paw his charges or the goofy Louie who wanted to bounce into the fray. These babies were Cisco's responsibility. "Just don't touch the feet, not the feet!"

So I took these photos of a very confused dog. He looks as if he might eat one of the turkeys as soon as defend it, but the camera misses the furrowed brow as he bends his head low. "Are you okay, baby turkey? Why are you making all that noise?"

In the end, everyone relaxed in the sun and the turkeys stayed close-by, searching the ground for yummy things to eat. Amazingly, they have the instinct from birth to peck, but have to be taught to drink water! Silly, stupid birds. The sun warmed to grass; Annie and Cisco soaked up the spring weather; Manuel finished the enclosure; and the poults were introduced to their new home in no time. Of course, one snap of the jaws and we could have lost a turkey or two, but Cisco forgot his heritage for just a little while and all were safe in the end. Safe until Thanksgiving, anyway...

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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