Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Sad Turkey Tale

I almost boycotted eating turkey this year.

I haven't posted in awhile and I am sorry for coming back with a sad story, but I feel compelled to write about it.  It's just something that happened in our life that a lot of people will never have to go through, yet a lot of others have "been there, done that."

You don't have to read, I won't be offended.  If you do read, please don't give me any grief.

Let's begin at the beginning.  Back in the summer I went to a chicken swap.  I took 3 of our young roosters with hopes of coming home with some other egg laying birds.  A lot of people don't want a rooster at all so I was skeptical about getting a good swap. But I wanted to try anyway.  You see, a lot of places sell sexed chicks and that's what we started out with, little girl chicks.  Our first rooster, Big Ed,  I had to seek out.   I thought maybe others had the same predicament. I think I've talked about this in a previous post.  Yes, here and here.
my sign to take along with my 3 roos
I took the roos to the swap and no one wanted them, until the very last minute.  I was on my way to the car and asked a gentleman if he wanted some roosters for some turkeys.  I was half joking. To my surprise he said yes.  So...we swapped 3 roosters for 3 turkeys.  They are Bourbon Reds, a heritage breed.  Mr turkey man says there are less than 10,000 of them in the country. Very cool. Well it goes down hill from here.  I can understand why there aren't a lot.  I'll get to that.
(*hint* I'm discussing a low turkey population and the title includes sad)
turkeys, meet chickens
full grown Red Bourbon turkey
I get home with my turkey poults, sex tbd, and I put them in a small cage next to our chicken run.  Suddenly they were out of the cage!  There was one place in the cage big enough for them to get out.  Two of the three escaped.  I grab one, stuffed it back in the cage, look for the other one and lo and behold, it is in the chicken run.  Well now I see two problems, first of all I need catch this little bird, secondly, this means that if they can escape in to the run, they can escape out of the run.  Sigh, this means more planning and fence fortifying or something, but nothing to worry about for a day or two at least.  When introducing new birds to a flock it's best to keep them separated for a little while at first.

here's the little guy on the loose
The gate to get in the chicken run is one the other side of the house, I have my baby on my back so I can't squeeze between the fences to get to it, hard to explain.  So I have to run around the house to get in, grab the turkey, run back around to the other side (I probably don't have to run back) and put it back in the cage with it's feathered siblings.  I'm in the chicken run and going for the turkey and then it hops through the fence BACK out to the other side where we began.  So...I do have to run to the other side.  This goes on for a bit, I'm sure it would have been quite comical had there been any witnesses.

Finally I get all three birds in the cage and set up with food and water.  Shew, I'm tired, so is baby.  I go inside for nap time and take a looong nap with with baby. I wake up once and it's thundering and raining hard.  I smile and close my eyes, and think this is the best for napping.  An hour or so later I pop up and think OH CRAP THE TURKEYS!  I don't know what you've heard, but I've heard that turkeys are so dumb that they look up when it rains and drown themselves.  Crap.  It's raining hard, baby is still sleeping, crap.  I get up and get an umbrella and run out there again.  Umbrella is pointless.  I grab the cage and run, quite clumsily back to the porch.  These poor birds are soaked and shivering with their eyes closed.

By this time hubby is home and he brings in a small cat carrier and we get a heating pad hooked up and start drying them and holding them.  They fit in my hand.

I wasn't sure if they were going to make it.  The next day one passes away in my hand.  There are more details, hubby tried for a long time anything he could think of to help it out, nothing worked.  So we're down to two.  I felt terrible.  We both felt terrible.

Oh yeah, one thing the turkey swapper man said to me starts to come back, he said "these birds are 8 weeks old, just about the age where they stop dying for no reason."  I tried to use that line to make myself feel better, like this one died on it's own accord and not like it had anything to do with being stuck outside with no shelter in a rain storm.
getting bigger!
We keep the turkeys locked in the coop until they are big enough to not squeeze through the fence.  The chickens can get in and out so they can all get used to each other.  Finally after a few weeks we release the turkeys into the run.  They are put in their place by some big mommas, they get picked on a bit, but not for long and nothing bad.  It is just the flock establishing pecking order.  There is one younger hen (sister to the roosters that left us) that buddied up with the turkeys.  The turkeys are the first ones up in the morning and this young hen joins them.  The early birds.  Oh yeah, the turkeys have decided that they will roost on top of the coop, not in it.  Whatever.

Things are going great for some time.  We like our pair of big birds, they are now very much larger than the chickens and no longer get picked on.  Although they may get bumped out of the way when we feed the chickens treats such as kitchen scraps or mealworms.
(my mealworms are finally multiplying, red wigglers....not so much....I'll get back to the worm progress soon)
Occasionally the turkeys will be on the outside of the fence by the time we get out in the morning to feed, but they are super easy to herd back in.  This proves to be very bad for their personal security.
the 3 early birds
Oy, this is getting hard to write about now.  So I'm just going to get right to it.  Some friends and their dog were visiting us and one morning the turkeys were out and the dog got a hold of one.  I just happened to look out the window and I saw it shaking the bird like a rag doll, feathers flying.  I rescue the bird and hubby joins me and we put it in the coop.  The poor bird is extremely frightened and in shock.  We had to leave shortly after this happened so our friends started researching and pulling out all the stops to help this injured bird.  When we get back home, there appears to be no change.  I examine the bird the best that I can from top to bottom, and the visible injuries are all to the lower body, the tail, all of the tail feathers are gone and there are some puncture wounds on it's lower back and the bird won't stand up, it doesn't use it's legs at all.  It's very much alert and can move its wings.  I'm looking up stuff online too.  If it had broken legs then they could possibly be splinted, by an authority trained in such a task, but I don't think it's legs are broken.  They're either dislocated or paralyzed.  So we decide to wait until the morning to make sure it's not still in some kind of shock, before we do anything drastic.

Morning comes, check on turkey, no good.  It's still very much alert, it has ate and drank, but it has zero use of it's legs so....we decide to end its life.  What else really could we do?  Hubby makes me do it.  That's ok, I've wrang a sick chickens' neck or two.  I've done this deed before. It doesn't make it easy though.  B killed the birds that we processed and ate, but it was a completely different atmosphere.  I kept saying "that's farm life."  Sometimes this happens.  Sometimes you have to eliminate sick or injured animals.  These aren't pets, they're our food.  I had to have a talk with the bird first, ya know.  Tell it I'm sorry and that it didn't do anything wrong, that I wanted it to have a high quality of life and it didn't anymore, and it could have been in pain for all that we know.  I talk to it awhile, and that really only makes it worse.  Then I flash back to my childhood, jumping off bridges and rocks into the river.  The longer you think about it, the harder it gets.  You have to just do it.  Stop thinking and just do it.  Turn off your brain, stop all thoughts, and jump.  Just jump.

The deed was done, and I just disposed of the bird.  It wasn't really big enough to process, and we weren't really prepared to do that yet anyway.  But now I think I'm going to ask for processing equipment for Christmas.  Really just a sharp knife, a killing cone, and a lung scraper is all we need.  In hindsight, it was only a week away from Thanksgiving, maybe we should have put forth the effort to process it.  But like I said, this wasn't a planned event.

Down to one.  One turkey.  I call my dad and talk to him about it.  He has had turkeys before, he's been there.  He tells me that turkeys are hard.  I look up turkey forums, other folks say turkeys are hard.  They're dumb, they get lost, they "try to kill themselves."  So turkeys are hard to raise.  But we will try again.  We will get some new poults in the spring and try again.

Sorry if this post is depressing, I know I laid my forehead on the table several times while typing this, but that's farm life.  Not only were we depressed, but the rest of the flock mourned for about 3 days.  It actually took me a day or two to be able to go in the back and hang out with the birds.

All is back to business as usual around here.  B is building a new coop and we are going to move the chickens to a new place in the yard.  Fencing is going up and preparations are under way for goats as well.  Moving forward.