Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jurassic Park on the Honey Grove

I've always imagined the possibility of some latent strain of dinosaur living in our primeval woods surrounding our pastures. Maybe it wasn't really a cougar that hauled off all those lambs several summers ago. Could it have been a velociraptor? Too many Jurassic Park movies, I know, and too many repeats on TV.

But, it does occur to me, as we currently host eleven large turkey poults, that Steven Spielberg probably took a flock of turkeys running through a field, lopped off their heads (digitally), replaced with dinosaur look-alikes, changed up the feathers a bit, and voila, the actors were ducking behind a large log as the animals came racing at them chased by a T-Rex!

I suspect this because of my own baby dinosaurs in the chicken yard. They are so different from chickens. They stick together in a pack and if one has an idea the others will follow. "Let's jump up on the fence rail." "Let's jump into the grape vine." "Let's see what is happening over here." "Look, I can fly." "Me too." "Me too." This is one way to exhibit limited brain power.

To add a little civility for the poor chickens trapped with this maniac crew, we lock the poults in their own area for the night. Here they can push and shove each other. Here, I can sequester them for an evening and morning meal, behind a locked gate so it is more easy to attend to the other animals in the yard, including our three bottle fed lambs. The yelling and carrying on when I enter their pen is amazing, and I have to be fast with the food or I am likely to get my fingers pinched. As it is, I have to warn guests they may have their feet or clothing pecked when they enter. For the small kids and parents alike, it is a rather alarming scene and many remain outside the enclosure until they have a full handle on what to expect. Some never come in!

The sole goose in the chicken yard tries to herd our baby turkeys. He is successful if they pay attention to him, but, as they grow older, he is more like the grumpy uncle. The lambs fight for their red nippled bottles, even as the poults drag them off. I have come back to the house several times without all my bottles, having turned my back for a second as one of the poults dives in and drags one into the tall grass. They will chase each other for dibs on the treasure. Of course, these are empty bottles. Second example of their very tiny brains.

Other times, the turkeys nip at the lambs and pull wool out in tufts. Mostly, the lambs know to stay away if they can, but every now and again, a crafty bird will approach from behind and give a big yank. They don't eat the wool, but rather like a baby, have to try everything just in case. Third example. Funnily enough, the lambs don't turn around and knock the turkeys over, even though they are 10 times the size.

Even while the poults are imposing as a group, the rats under the chicken coop are unfazed. We bought this batch of turkey poults from a breeder because we were concerned our own tom and hen turkey might not produce enough offspring for sale this year. At one point, the hen was sitting on 12 eggs. I took four eggs and placed them under a broody chicken hen as a safety measure. She hatched one and then let it die!

The turkey hen was diligent about setting, but I started to notice rat holes appearing near her nest. I checked and she had four eggs left. She kept setting until it seemed the days were up and she should have hatched them all. I looked and she had one day-old chick. There were signs the other chicks had hatched, but there were no babies present. Did the rats carry them off? Too grim to consider! I decided to act and took the chick from her, placing it a wire cage in the kitchen with a warm light and plenty of food and water. One chick out of 12. Not a great statistic. Annie has named 'her' Rose.

I doubt dinosaurs had this much trouble reproducing, but then again, humans never interfered with their natural breeding tendencies. Even these Heritage turkeys show interference and a lack of nurturing instincts. Then again, rats are a hardy lot. Look at Templeton in Charlotte's Web. I know our cat, Bubba, isn't that interested in taking on a rat, and he will take on just about anything.

So, today, I head out to close in all the holes and tighten up the chicken coop to discourage the rats. Hopefully, our hen will try another clutch and then we will have varying ages of flocking baby turkeys to remind us just how scary it might have been if these birds where as big and fast as our horses!

Photos: (top) turkey poults underfoot and pecking at my boots; (middle) goose trying to organize the poults with rooster ignoring it all and heralding the sunrise; (bottom) bottle robbers

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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