Monday, December 27, 2010

When Turkeys Don't Get Eaten on Time

When turkeys are born late in the spring and survive a raccoon attack because they are so small they are still living in the kitchen, there's a good chance they won't be 'ready' for either Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. What to do? Well, we end up feeding them instead of eating them!

We now have five indeterminate turkeys because they haven't grown old enough to tell for sure whether they are hens or toms. We already have two toms on the farm: Dutch Boy, our white Holland, that is quite the show-off and very friendly in a good turkey sort of way, and Tom, our Heritage Bronze, that with the goose picks horribly on Dutch Boy, having yanked most of his tail feathers at one time or another. We also have three hens, one of which is Rose, a hand-raised bird that is becoming a menace to small children

With five more growing turkeys, and 11 chickens whose yard the turkeys have taken over, we have quite a few birds that are producing nothing during these shortest days of the year. The math doesn't seem quite right with this. Lots of birds; no eggs. Bags of corn; no eggs.

We are egg-less because the chickens don't think winter is a good time to hatch chicks. I would have to agree. But, there is a darker truth than just the eight hours of daylight in December. Many of our chickens are getting on in years which means they are not longer reliable layers. For many, this would signify chicken soup. For our household, it seems to signify retirement.

The problem we are running into now is the thriving turkey situation. We don't have enough strong roosts for the growing birds, or even enough space on the roosts we do have. Luckily, the birds have taken to flying up to the top of the chicken wire roof and hanging around up there for the night.

I think the wild turkey that has adopted our flock showed the birds they could actually fly. She roosts in the Mulberry tree at night and flies down for a breakfast of corn. She's domesticating herself all on her own, but I do hope we don't mess with the wild/domesticated thing too much if she takes a fancy to Dutch Boy.

I've opened the gates to the chicken yard during the day because I just read that turkeys like to eat grass and the chicken yard is getting a bit worn. The turkeys hang in a crowd as they tromp through the winter beds. Unfortunately, the chickens have shown them my flower pots and I have been chasing turkeys out from digging up all my bulbs.

With turkeys everywhere, I have to watch as I back the car from the carport. Some of the dimmer ones will stand at the back looking at their reflection in the paint. I can say that so far, we have never lost a turkey to a car - only a neighbor's dog and a mean raccoon.

Not sure what Easter will bring, but turkey on the table is unlikely. Maybe we will wait and see what nature provides us in the way of fertility and natural turkey parents. If they turn out to do a good job, Thanksgiving may come and go in the most uneventful way - at least for this group!

Photos: (top) Dutch Boy; (bottom) Rose being fed mulberries and spoiled rotten, which has made her a terror in the chicken yard.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

1 comment:

JeffJustJeff said...

I don't have chickens yet (in contract on a small farm), but I think I'm going to end up like you. I don't think the retirement gift for my laying hens will be a shiny soup pot. I'm sure I'll be up to my neck in tough old birds in no time ;-)