Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poult Love

Turkeys have no personalities.
Turkeys will drown in a rainstorm.
Turkeys are born looking for a comfortable place to die.

Turkeys are stupid.

Like everyone else, I've been exposed to casual, "everyone knows" anti-turkey propaganda my entire life.

Not just from "everyone says" and popular culture, either.

No less a pastoral luminary than Gene Logsdon devoted a memorable chapter to turkeys in The Contrary Farmer.

I reproduce his advice to would-be turkey raisers in its entirety, from memory:


Understand this about me.

I like intelligent animals. Even those that -- as our friend The Donald said of goats -- are too intelligent for their place on the food chain.*

I like sturdy animals.

I like animals that meet me at least halfway in my efforts to keep them alive.

I like animals that meet my eye.

I don't have much use for stupid, delicate, suicidal, autistic animals.**

And I bought turkeys anyway.

And I am in love.

The fifteen Narragansett and Bourbon red poults came from the hatchery two weeks ago.

I knew I wanted heritage breeds, and to work on conserving these genetic resources through both breeding and market development. I was also planning to get a few commercial broad-breasted birds, which would be invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. My heritage poults won't be big enough in time. We do a big bird at Thanksgiving, and the old breeds grow slowly.

But it seems there is a run on turkeys this year, and all the hatcheries are out. I was lucky to get my Narries and Bourbons.

First thing I noticed when I opened the box at the post office is that they were coming right at me -- pecking and full of piss. Aggressive? Seemed so.

Turns out, notsomuch.

Here's the truth about normal, non-industrial turkeys. They are active, engaged, lively, and curious about everything. They are not particularly delicate, as hatchling poultry goes. Our turkey-mentor friend Carolyn assures me that "These are the ones with Life Force." And there are lots of things they love.

Things turkey poults love

Heat lamp
Hard-boiled egg
Dog tongue on mah butt
Shiny stuff
Weeds, especially lamb's quarters and amaranth
Perch on top of brooder
Red stuff
Ride on hand
Perch on finger like parakeet
Amherst College Class of 1987 gold signet ring (see shiny stuff)
Sit on lap
Be petted and fussed over
Shoulder ride

And turns out, I am the Mama.

I have never been the Mama before. The chickens are tame and meet my eye, but mainly do their own thing. The guineas are simply wild. The ducks are convinced that we will most likely eat them in the morning; domestic in their habits, but not tame. But when I opened the box of poults, they imprinted on me, and humans in general. They run to me for attention. They call for me when they are distressed, and periodically when they are lonely or bored. The meaning of their three-note contact call is unmistakable.

I'm old enough to remember when autistic human children were created by bad mothers. All the experts proclaimed this, and Reader's Digest made it a universally known fact. And old enough to remember when someone grokked that the reason the mothers of autistic children seemed disconnected from their kids was that the children did not have the normal human behavior that elicits bonding. (Probably being told by "experts" that they were the ones who f'd up their screaming, stimming, touch-intolerant, non-verbal, zero-eye-contact kids did not help matters further.)

Well thus it is with the poultry.

The ducks, while cute for the first few days, and somewhat amusing in their absurdity now, are autistic poultry. I have no love for my ducks. They do not meet my eye. Any that don't earn their keep will be sent to freezer camp. Talk about a refrigerator mother.

The turkeys have successfully played the baby card. By treating me as their Mama, they've made me their Mama.

Don't get me started about eventually eating the grandkids.

* He may as well have been describing the vast majority of pet dogs, no?

**Keeping in mind that many exotics who are labeled one, two, or all three of the above are simply animals who have a life niche that includes specific, non-negotiable needs. Meet those needs and the animals are clever, vigorous, and imbued with the will to live. Fail to meet them through ignorance and sloth, and you've killed your captive.

Iguanas, for example. Croak all the time because of errors in temperature, lighting, and diet made by their incurious owners. Give them the right warmth, full-spectrum light, and a varied vegetable diet with adequate calcium in the right balance with phosphorus, and they grow into impressive terror-lizards that will send your dog running for cover.
With this one, I'll concede the "clever."

And I don't expect a captive wild animal to meet my eye.

Domestic livestock are another matter.


  1. Thanks for the poultry post! I was just wondering last night what was going on with your birdie set. And thank you for sharing, I always enjoy your posts.

    Paula from Indiana

  2. Yay! I love turkeys. The ones I got to know were the ready-by-thanksgiving variety. Perhaps more curious than bright, but smarter as a group than individually -- and so funny and sweet. Yours won't outgrow the shoulder riding and lapsitting as quickly as ours did - I'm jealous!

  3. You're in trouble now. Turkeys are addictive. Be careful with the lap and shoulder siting, many heritage birds never realize when they've gotten too big for it. If you haven't found it already yahoo has a great list called RareHeritageTurkey.

  4. $*&$(*(# blogger ATE MY COMMENT!

    A pox on it.



  5. Blogger knows you've been consorting with WordPress.

    She's a jealous bitch.

  6. The wild turkeys are particularly intelligent and wary creatures-- that's why they are very hard to shoot.

    The tame ones come from a different subspecies than the ones that live where I do, but every once in a while a tame turkey feels "the call of the wild" and joins his wild brethren.

    Now, wild turkeys very rarely exceed 20 pounds in this ares. Most turkey hunters know this (at least the locals do).

    Well, a friend of friend brings some fellows in from a nearby Midwestern state to hunt turkeys. And this man has come several years in a row in hopes of killing one.

    And this year he got one.

    A 37 pounder!

    Everyone has told him that it was a tame turkey, but he refuses to believe it. And when he is told that the record size for a wild turkey tom is 38 pounds, he thinks he's got a record bird.


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