Friday, December 11, 2015

The Turkey Tribulations

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

A year ago last spring when I placed my initial chick order here at the farm, I decided to include four turkey chicks.  Turkeys have to be ordered "straight run" through my local provider, meaning that you can't select by gender.  After those four began to age I learned that I had three hens and a tom.  Not having an outside dog at the time, they gradually began disappearing to the ravages of the area predators, with the tom being the last to go when he was about six-months-old.

This spring, anticipating that I would soon have an outside dog to protect the poultry, I ordered five turkey chicks.  Two were killed by predators at a very young age, but three survived - all toms.  I got a dog, the mighty Thor, who managed to keep everything safe, but Thor developed a taste for the occasional bird himself, and he liked the odd egg - and he had a bad habit of snarling at joggers and passers-by.  A few weeks ago Thor went to live at another home.

But the three tom turkeys proved to be resilient - and lonely.   Many people slowed up to look at them, particularly during turkey hunting season.  My birds, a breed called "bronze-breasted," look very much like wild turkeys.  One sad soul even came to the door asking for permission to hunt my three toms!

Then last Tuesday a stranger pulled into the drive.  I met the man at the door, curious to learn his business at The Roost.   He said that he had seen the toms and asked if I had any hens.  No, I replied, just the three big boys.  He said that he had two hens - also very lonely - and would I be interested in letting them come live at Rock's Roost.

Free turkey hens!

A couple of hours later the man returned with his two grown turkey hens (a white one and a bronze one) in a cage.  By the time we got them on the yard and freed, the toms had gathered around and were doing their happy dance!  It looked as though a smooth transition was in the offing.

The first day the girls wandered around exploring the farm and learning where to find the feed and water.  That night I managed to shoo the turkey hens into the chicken coop (a poultry clubhouse, of sorts) where they spent their first night in safety with all of the other farm birds.  Day two was uneventful, but then that night the new turkey hens balked at going into the crowded safety of the chicken coop - along with he other turkeys, guineas, and chickens.  The white one sought refuge on the ground in an enclosed pen (they had been raised in a pen), and the other flew up to roost on the roof of the coop.

The pen that the white hen chose to spend the night in is about four feet in height with no protective top.  Sometime during the night a predator entered and killed her.  But the one on the roof made it safely through the night.

Last night the bronze hen again flew up to the roof of the coop to spend the night, and this morning I learned that she had made it through another night safely.  She is potentially a survivor - if I can just teach her to go in at night.

Teaching a turkey is very similar to teaching a teenager.

What's a farmer to do?

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