Talkin’ Turkey

Whew.  Been a WHILE.  Sorry, it’s just too hot around here to even think straight.  But, I wanted to tell you a bit about our turkeys.

At the end of February, we brought home eight baby turkeys (AKA ‘poults’).  Cute little boogers they were!  Unfortunately for them, and, little did they know, their fate was a sealed deal from the get-go.  After all, Broad Breasted turkeys are really only good for one thing, and that’s putting on a bunch of muscle really fast (AKA ‘meat’).  So, fast forward to last month.  It’s June, and those cute little turkeys are now the size of a small sedan, with huge reptilian legs and the biggest bird eyeballs I’ve ever seen.  There’s just something about being stared at by a turkey that’s somewhat unnerving…..(do they know their fate???)

Anyway, so the turkeys are huge, lumbering, hungry critters.  Yes, they will barrel down upon you for food, and you’d just better have some handouts, that’s for sure.  One fine June day, I was in their pen (after feeding them, of course), and I discovered that their water bin had shifted and needed a little help.  Well, the turkeys had finished gulping down their meal, and now all eyes (*huge, huge, hungry eyes*) were upon me.  As I was fiddling with the stupid water pan and splashing turkey mess all over myself, the largest tom (with the largest eyeballs) snatches my glasses.  Yes, right offa my face.  And he runs. Fast.

Now, I’m not completely blind, but just enough so that I begin to panic when it hits my brain that a 25 pound bird is escaping with my eyewear. My expensive and delicate eyewear.  Why, oh why, did I ever think that rimless glasses would be a good idea?  After a few tense minutes and a few very naughty words, I managed to wrestle the glasses away from the tom.  I shot him a “Marked for Death” look.  He looked at me quizzically.  With his huge, unforgiving eyes.

Not long after the Glasses Incident of 2011, the toms decided it would be fun to learn to escape their pen.  If you think that a 25 pound bird can’t clear a good four foot fence, let me inform you of something.  You’re wrong.  So, little by little, they became more and more brave.  First, they were just pecking the grass by the pen.  Then it was walking on the driveway.  Then they discovered the fig tree. Then it was the watermelon patch.  There is a darn good reason that you build fences on a farm.  Sadly, the fig tree and watermelon patch are two things outside of our garden fence.  I didn’t mind the figs being eaten so much.  Well, except for one (little) thing.  It made their poop black liquid.  A lovely tarry shade in an unbelievably copious quantity.  More on this in a minute.

So, one day, I let my watermelon patch get a little dry.  Not really hard to do in a record drought, by the way.  The next morning, I noticed that it really looked bad.  Not just dry and crispy bad, but there was just something missing.  Yes, the leaves of the watermelon vines were….gone.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that turkeys adore watermelon leaves, since the next evening, there were 3 toms in my melon patch, one with a leaf still hanging out of his beak.

Now, I tried to count to ten and think calming thoughts.  But I’d worked hard on growing these melons despite a drought, and here was this passel of turkeys chowing down on my work.  I ran into the patch, waving my arms and screaming.  They looked at each other as if to say, “God, what’s HER problem today?” I (gently, yes, really) booted a turkey behind to get them into gear. Then they got the picture.  All three toms lumbered off as quickly as they could to the fig tree.  Now, our fig tree is about 20 foot in diameter.  The turkeys went one way, and I was right behind them, still waving and hollerin’ and now shaking a stick.  And, rather than continue towards their pen, they decided to keep going round the tree and…ended back up in the melon patch.  Now I was really hot and aggravated.  I tried again.  We ended back up in the melons.  Getting dizzy from circling the tree, I decided that playing “Whack the Turkeys ‘Round the Old Fig Tree” just wasn’t for me.  So, I had to enlist the help of Jason, a can of dog food, and my kids.  (Note:  No actual whacking of turkeys took place.  No harming of animals occured, unless you count the inevitable indigestion that the turkeys experienced after running around after engorging themselves on watermelon leaves)

So, fast forward a couple of weeks.  Remember the tarry fig poo?  Imagine that all over the floor of your workshop.  The turkeys are nuts about dog food.  They figured out that the dog food came from the shop, and helped themselves to a sack of it, all while pooping all over the concrete floor.  But, we weren’t only limited to black poo, we also had copious amounts of lovely red poo, which was from the turkeys ingesting some of our lovely red dirt when eating their food.  Nice, really nice.  So, the other day, after finding 2 turkeys in his ‘man cave’ and about 10 ‘turkey explosions’ on his floor, Jason went a little nuts on the turkeys.  I can’t tell you what happened since I was asleep, other than Jason threw his back out, and there were quite a few turkey feathers in the shop.

At any rate, it was high time to butcher the birds.  BB turkeys are usually butchered at 4 to 5 months, and we’re getting closer to 6 months.  I won’t go into too many details, but two troublesome toms equal about 9 pounds of breast meat, which is aging in my refrigerator as I type.

But don’t think that I dislike turkeys, because I don’t.  I actually love turkeys, and they’re just as friendly as can be.  The moral of this story is…higher fences.  Definitely higher fences.

One last story:

One afternoon we drove up into the driveway after a day of shopping.  There, sitting on our golf cart, on our seats, were two toms.  They didn’t budge.  Throw in a miniature set of golf clubs and a couple of hats, and I could have had a really nice picture to show you.

Ode to a Turkey

My turkey hen and one of her last sunsets

You may have heard someone say that a turkey is so dumb it will drown itself in a rainstorm by holding its head up, watching the rain.  You may have just heard someone say that a turkey is plain stupid.  I am here to assure you that both statements were obviously said by someone who has never owned a turkey. 

I bought my pair of Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys in March of ’09.  They were supposed to be slaughtered at about 6 months of age.  Well, that was the plan anyway.  After so many excuses, it eventually just became a joke about killing (or the non-killing of) the turkeys.  The truth was, we had grown pretty fond of the fat birds.  They are amazingly dog-like, and would follow you just to plop down right in front of your feet and occasionally the golf cart while in motion.  My hen would lay down in front of me and let us all pet her as long as we wished.  Tom was more standoffish, that is, until you brought out the feed cup and he suddenly became your best friend, waddling as fast as he possibly could to try and snag some food.  I had taught them how to drink from a chick waterer (using beer caps), how to eat (using Mardi Gras beads), and where to stay at night.  We shared a year together, until today.  Today I went out to the coop to find that Hen had prolapsed overnight.  To spare you the grisly details, think: insides on your outsides.  And, it was a complete mess.  Broad Breasted turkeys are not bred for longetivity.  They are bred to put on weight as fast as possible in the least amount of time.  They are almost always propagated, if you will, by artificial insemination, as they are so heavy they can’t ‘do it’ naturally.  Tom had already had leg trouble, but seemed to have gotten over it for the most part.  But now, here was a problem that definitely couldn’t be fixed, nor ignored.  I knew it was time to stop joking about killing the turkeys and time to actually do it.

Tom last fall in the coop.

I have never butchered an animal, ever.  But, keeping with my pioneer spirit, I knew that today would be THE DAY.  Trust me, I wasn’t excited about it. 

So, after lunch, I got my filet knife, Jason got his .22 and we got Hen from the coop.  I wasn’t as sad as I thought I would be because I knew she was in pain.  Jason shot her and let me tell you that a bird still moves around…a LOT.  In fact, to the point it is dangerous should you get too close.  But we managed to rope the legs and we suspended her from a plank, much like you would suspend other large game.  I did have to slit the neck (you let them ‘bleed out’), which was not quite as bad as I thought.  After a few minutes, I plucked the feathers from the breast and inside of the legs as fast as I could (birds have a HUGE amount of feathers, by the way).  Then, I took my knife and sliced the skin straight down the keel bone.  Then I cut out the breast muscles.  You would think this would be really bloody.  It is not. It is actually a very clean process.  I also skinned the drumstick (huge) and took them off of the bird via some shears.  All in all, the whole process took about 15 minutes or so. 

Then came Tom.  Poor Tom had squooshed about 4 of my young hens in his lifetime with his sheer gargantuan breast, just by laying on them.  Statistically speaking, Tom was deadlier to my chickens than the coyotes.  I really, really hated to kill Tom, but he would be so lost without Hen.  And, after all, I had bought them knowing that this would be the outcome.  Still…

Yes, we repeated the process with Tom.  Yes, I did cry, especially after my daughter said, “But, I LIKE Tom.”  I ‘talked’ to him, for the last time, in my best ‘Turkey-ese” (I have gotten pretty good at imitating a turkey now), and I walked away because I couldn’t bear to see him get shot.  And then he did, and then I repeated the whole butchering process over again, amidst several tears.  And now, Tom and Hen are in my refrigerator awaiting some seasoning and their futures as sausage patties. 

People may think, “But why would you do that? How could you do that?”.  My best answer is this:

I want to know where my food comes from.  This is why we made the decision to grow and process our own food.  I know that Tom and Hen had great lives, far better than their Butterball cousins who are packed, by the thousands, in windowless, disgusting buildings.  Tom and Hen knew what sunshine was, and fresh grass, and bugs, and what being loved by humans was like.  Every time we eat a chicken or a cow or a turkey who was raised in some industrial hellhole, we are supporting that.  For every McNugget your kids eat and every fast food burger that you eat, you are supporting that way of life.  I have chosen not to support that any more.  I loved Tom and Hen, but I knew what their future would be.  I have no interest in becoming a full fledged vegetarian, so I choose to raise my own meat humanely until the end. 

An ode to a turkey.  They will never be forgotten.


Busy month, spring is so close!

Well, I apologize for taking sooooooooo long to touch up on this thing!  My computer has been in detox/repair a couple of times and so I have really gotten behind!  Plus, it’s planting season and baby chick season and I have been so terribly busy.  We got in 10 Ameraucana pullets (that’s females in chicken speak) and 10 Buff Orpington pullets.  The Buff Orps aren’t mine, but I’m holding them for my friend, Suzie.  One of them is a real B, if you know what I mean. If you put your hand in the enclosure, which I have to do at least 2 times a day, she will try and take a beak-sized plug out of your hand!  I usually call her a little buff B, and threaten her with the stewpot.  Lol.

I bought 2 Broad breasted Bronze turkeys day before yesterday.  I wasn’t sure what breed they were, but from process of elimination on the dealer’s website, i figured it out.  That is disappointing to me because they have been bred to have so much breast meat that they are incapable of reproducing naturally.  Yes, that means artifical insemination. Yes, that means they’ll probably be destined for the dinner table cause there’s no way I’m going to be a middleman in any kind of turkey sex! 

You all should research about Broad Breasted White turkeys (that is what you will get @ the grocery).  These are totally freaks of nature.  Not the real Nature, but human nature.  What I’m saying is that these birds were bred, inbred, etc, ad infininum, to make these turkeys that have freakishly large breast muscle, to keep us, the American public, happy.  They can’t even breed because they are so heavy in the breast, that the males can’t perform their, uh, duties.  Now, Broad Breasted Bronzes are the same thing, just in their natural coloration.  I am really, truly interesting in ‘heritage’ turkeys; read: natural, heirloom breeds.  These turkeys can breed normally and some raise their own young.  Other turkeys must be hatched in incubators because the broodiness has been bred right out of them.  So, in other words, my little baby turkeys may literally be our Thanksgiving dinner.  Kindof weird to say, but I don’t really need BB’s as pets.  Anyway, so I’m getting off of the soap box now, but what I was going to get into was how different turkey chicks (poults) are, as compared to chickens.

You may hear that a turkey is stupid, it will drown in the rain, blah blah.  I really hate to use the word “stupid” when referring to animals because I think, “Well, ‘stupid’ when compared to what?”  I mean, I’m sorry, but I know a great many people who could be outsmarted by a carrot.  Anyway, after doing research, I learned that poults are a little……..slow.  They move slow, their wings sort of  droop, and they are slow to learn what and where the food and water is.  However, I love them.  When I stick my hand in, they come running to peck at my ring.  Slowly, of course.  I did read to put something shiny in the water and food so that they learn to peck at it.  I grabbed a couple of beer caps for the water and a Mardi Gras bead necklace and ran it into the food dish.  It just so happens that my shiny objects are alcohol-related…don’t let it fool you; I very rarely drink and I got the necklaces for a song at a garage sale.  I didn’t have to flash anyone for them!

Anyway, these little poults are so endearing to me.  Sorry to say they may end up in the freezer, but if it isn’t them, it would be some random, saline-injected turkey that lived a miserable life in some God-forsaken turkey ranch.

I also got my 4 Cayuga ducks in, and we have 2 Snowy Mallards.  Now, ducks are a whole different ballpark.  The negative is that they are SO MESSY.  Just un-Godly messy.  Now, that is when they’re in their enclosure indoors, I mean.  I have never seen a creature consume that much water and splash it that much.  It is like trying to raise a baby whale on land or something.  They manage, within a few short hours to totally drench all of the bedding and their brooding box. I mean flooded, and totally stinky.  If you don’t like to clean, don’t get a baby duck.  On the other hand, when they are in their outdoor enclosure, that is no problem.  Plus, they run after you at super-duck speed (at least 65 MPH) and manage to try and trip you with every step.  They love to eat bugs here and there and mine also eat a great deal of sand for some reason.  Anyway, I love my ducks!

Garden-wise, I have gone ahead and planted all of my herbs.  I hope that we don’t get a frost, but if so, I’ll have to cover some of them.  Tomorrow I am going to go ahead and plant my tomatoes, peppers and the like.  This is a very exciting time of year for a gardener in Zone 8.  March 15 is our typical last frost date.  However, you all know that Texas weather is anything but typical.  I’m going to take my chances, though. Back to the herb garden…I made a little mini-fence out of American beautyberry limbs, honeysuckle vines, rattan vines, and grapevines that I harvested out of our woods.  Let me confide in you here for a moment.  I do say curse words.  Fairly frequently, actually, but never in the presence of children or company, or people that I don’t want to think badly of me (of course, my BFs don’t care, but anyway).  Well, my dears, let me tell you that ‘gathering vines’ is work.  Saying, “I gathered vines today.” sounds like something that comes out of Martha Stewart’s mouth, and certainly not mine.  Saying, “I gathered vines” is like being stranded in a boat on the Pacific for 3 months with no water, no food, while being sun-bleached and having to eat seagull poop, and telling everyone upon your rescue that, “I took a little seafaring excursion for the last several weeks.”  Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but let me tell you, I figured out what kind of vines Tarzan swung around on.  That would be called the rattan vine.  I don’t know if that’s the proper name, but it’s a green, smooth vine that has the tendency to twist around a tree, cutting into it, and eventually weakening it to the point of death.  How befitting!  This same vine is the one that I scraped my arms, bruised my calves, and worked up a gallon of sweat trying to rip it out of trees.  I decided that if I ever made a grapevine wreath, it would go for about $435,000.  My God, I don’t know if there are anything tougher than vines.  Naturally, as I was pulling with all of my weight, one of them came loose, and I flew backwards and bruised both of my calves on a log.  And then that vine broke in half, so that added insult to injury.  Anyway, I was down in the bottom for about an hour and a half, swinging, quite literally, from these titanium vines.  But, I did manage to get a pretty good amount of them to use in my fence.  It’s pretty cool, and I’ll have to post pics soon. Oh, and back to my cursing….throughout my vine ordeal, let me tell you that the woodland creatures really must have gotten an earfull that day.  It’s a good thing that Bambi doesn’t know English.  His father would wash out his mouth and send him to bed with no supper.  It’s also a good thing that my woods are not close, at all, to anyone’s home.  Also, may I add that no children were at home that day to hear my tawdry use of language. 

Well, my fingers are tired, but I hope to get some pics and post more tomorrow.