A week and a half ago, when I wrote about our efforts to keep our turkeys confined to their pen during the day and their treehouse at night, I was leaning toward just letting them run free, trusting that a regular food supply would keep them coming back, and their two months with us would have established our property as “home” in their little pea brains.
It was a very tempting idea, mostly because our other idea – teaching them to roost in the treehouse at night – didn’t seem to be working.
We’ve set chairs out by the pen so we can watch them at sunset – Turkey Theater, we call it. When they fly over the fence, we corral them back in. We encourage them to go up the ramp into the treehouse. When all else fails or the charms of Turkey Theater start to wear thin, we pick them up and put them bodily in their house.
None of this seemed to make them more inclined to go in of their own accord, so I thought we could just let them do their own thing, and bank on the draw of food, water, and familiarity to bring them back to their pen.
I have since thought better of that plan.
For starters, I’m pretty sure that, as appealing as the prospect of unlimited food is, turkeys are certainly capable of being distracted enough by something compelling – a nice roost, a good view, a bright shiny object – that they forget that we are where that unlimited supply is.
Then there was the comment on my last post, left by Holly of NorCal Cazadora, one of my favorite hunting blogs. She knows a lot about wild turkeys, and she warned me that they have a range of some 1200 acres.
The prospect that our turkeys could end up being the Thanksgiving dinner for someone across town made me a lot less sanguine about my laissez faire turkey rearing plan.
But that wasn’t what put me over the top.
Two days ago, the turkeys did what they always do. As it started to get dark, Kevin and I were too busy preparing dinner to attend Turkey Theater. Sure enough, we heard a bark outside the kitchen window, and there they all were, investigating the strawberry beds.
We thought about herding them back to the pen and doing our usual evening turkey-sitting, but we just didn’t feel like it. There are only so many evenings you can spend trying to teach turkeys to roost in their treehouse before you start to feel like there are better things to do with your time.
“Let’s just leave ‘em,” I said to Kevin. “Let them roost where they want.”
He wasn’t any keener on our evening ritual than I was, and we sat down to our dinner.
There are three window boxes outside our kitchen window. They’re empty, because the chickens like to fly up there so they can look inside. While they’re there, of course, they need snacks, and the herbs I planted didn’t last long.
We could have put some chicken wire around the window boxes, and I suspect we’ll do that next year, but one of the reasons we didn’t is that chickens are charming and engaging and funny, and seeing chickens in the window box, peering in at the proceedings, makes us laugh.
Not so, turkeys.
We’ve owned turkeys for all of two months now, so I suppose it’s a little early to generalize, but what the hell. Turkeys are charmless birds. Charmless. They’re unattractive and ungainly, and imitative to a fault. They peck at you without ever seeming to notice that you’re a living creature. They smell bad. And, despite my earlier defense of their intelligence, I’m beginning to believe they’re dumb as doorposts.
So, when the turkeys flew up to the windowboxes, it was the last straw. I tried to eat my dinner, but having those four beady-eyed, beaky-faced little bastards watching through the window was more than I could bear.
I put my fork down. “They’re going in!” I said to Kevin, who didn’t object.
We herded them into the pen and up the ramp to the treehouse. They were in for the night.
“Tomorrow, the net goes up,” said Kevin.
Conveniently, we happened to have a 100’-by-20’ clam net lying around, and yesterday morning Kevin attached it to the fencing of the pen. We were limited by ladder height to about twelve feet, and that is now how high our pen walls are. The lower five feet are fence, covered by net, and the upper seven feet are nothing but net.
Last night, unlike the previous few nights, we eagerly anticipated Turkey Theater.
We opened the wine, and took our glasses out to the pen.
Sure enough, as the sun began to set, the turkeys started looking up in the trees for a place to roost. We watched them, craning their necks and trying to find a trajectory that would take them up. We weren’t sure whether they could see the top of the net; turkeys are reputed to have excellent eyesight, but a black net at dusk is tough to make out.
Eventually, one of them made the attempt. He (She? We’re not sure yet.) flew into the net, and then tried to climb up it, flapping his wings madly. He only made about a foot of progress before he gave it up and half fell, half flew back down. There were two other forays, with similar results.
And then, miracle of miracles, one of the turkeys went into the treehouse. Nobody else followed, so he came out again, but after a while he went back in. Then a second one joined him. Then the last two. They were all in, with no help from us. Hallelujah.
We’re not quite ready to declare victory. We think the turkeys could, in theory at least, fly over the net. (“Stalag 17, it’s not,” said Kevin.) But they’d have to calculate their own capabilities, figure out how to get to the top of the treehouse, and then go over the nearest point from there. We’re banking on the fact that they’re dumb as doorposts.