It was about a week ago that Kevin finished building the turkey pen, and it’s beautiful.
The fence is made from cattle panels, fortified by chicken wire on the bottom half, so the turkeys can’t squeeze through the holes. The gate is made with 1×3 lumber, with a portion of a cattle panel, and attached to the fence with hardware we bought at a yard sale.
But the pièce de résistance is the treehouse, made almost completely of scavenged materials.
Since we moved here, I have become an avid scavenger, but I think I always had the tendency. Way back in the ‘80s, when I lived in San Francisco, there was an annual garbage pick-up of oversized items. On that one day, you could leave absolutely anything at the curb and the sanitation crew would take it away. My friend Lisa Menna and I used to treat it like a national holiday – Big Trash Day – and we’d go out to see what we could find.
Lisa always hit the jackpot. She’s a professional magician, and could turn almost anything into a prop or a trick. I didn’t fare as well. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, already fully furnished, and I had a regular job. I didn’t need much that was likely to make its appearance on Big Trash Day. Still, I loved the experience.
Out here on Cape Cod, there isn’t much in the way of garbage pick-up. Most of us take our garbage to the dump, and we pay extra to dispose of oversized items. As a result, people tend to leave those items by the side of the road, with a “Free” sign on them. Businesses usually hire private sanitation services, and so there are also dumpsters galore. While residential cast-offs run to sofas and dishwashers, business debris runs to building materials and fixtures. Every day is Big Trash Day!
But scavenging seems to be something some people are good at and some people aren’t. My mother knew a woman in New York who found a museum-quality antique bed in the trash. My little brother Jake once found a brand new wetsuit – in his size.
My skills need some refinement, I’m afraid. It was a few weeks ago that Kevin and I were driving over to see my parents when I spotted a large, clay-colored dome with an opening just the size of a pizza peel – and it had the “Free” sign.
“Kevin, Kevin!” I said, very excited. “They’re giving away a wood-fired oven insert!”
Because he has bionic peripheral vision he had, of course, seen it.
“Honey,” he said, clearly trying to break it to me gently. “That’s a doghouse.”
Kevin is very good at scavenging. We were on the way to Home Depot to get a few odds and ends for the turkey treehouse when he suddenly slammed on the brakes and pulled a hard right. I had no idea what he had seen until he pulled up behind a building that had housed a carpet business that had gone under. There was a dumpster. In the dumpster were several sheets of quarter-inch plywood – exactly what he had planned to build the treehouse out of.
We loaded them into the truck and crossed that item off our Home Depot list.
When all was said and done, the only part of the treehouse we paid retail for was some of the framing lumber. The floor was made from a pallet that we scavenged from the dumpster behind the equipment rental place near us. A lot of the other lumber came from an ancient treehouse the neighborhood kids had built on the empty lot next to us. We cut the roost bars from trees. Kevin gave the turkeys a window that he’d paid a dollar for at a yard sale, and you know where the plywood came from.
Once it was done, all it needed was a door to go over the open spot where the turkeys go in and out. Luckily, the compost sieve was a perfect fit. Two nails, two hooks, and a bungee cord, and it was done.
It’s a great pen. It’s got a nice, sturdy, fence, and a treehouse that serves the dual purpose of giving the turkeys a high roosting place and providing some shelter from the rain underneath. It’s big enough to accommodate an expanded flock, and the whole thing was done for something in the neighborhood of $200.
There’s only one problem. Turkeys can fly.
I’d read that, if you keep turkeys fenced in from the time they’re very young, they’ll respect fences. And, for all I know, our turkeys do respect the fences. They may even esteem them. All I can tell you is that they fly over them.
Our birds hang out in the pen until they decide it isn’t fun anymore, and then they fly out. Usually, this is because we come to visit them and then go away again, or because they hear the sounds of interesting activity they want to investigate.
At night, though, we planned to secure them in the treehouse, away from predators. The first night we were planning to try this we went out to put them away a little before sunset only to find that they had disappeared. We looked in trees, and bushes, and in the garage where the brooder that had been their previous home still sat. No turkeys.
We were worried about them, and I went out early in the morning to look for them. As soon as I walked out of the house, they came rushing out of the woods, half running, half flying. One went on the boat. One went in the bed of truck. Two came over to see if I had anything to eat.
Penmanship, Round One: Turkeys.
We herded them back into the pen, where they stayed for most of the day. Periodically, one or two would fly over the fence but, once outside, they didn’t seem to take advantage of the opportunities freedom afforded them. Instead, they hung around by the fence, trying to get back in. Although every one of them has flown out of the pen, none of them has managed to figure out how to fly back in.
I’m tempted to take this is a sign of turkeys’ vaunted stupidity, but I have to be careful with that. I find myself grateful that I already wrote a post about how intelligent the turkeys seem because now I’m writing about our efforts to outsmart them.
That night, we put them in the treehouse an hour or so before the sun went down, so they didn’t have a chance to find roosts out in the wild. We did it again the next night.
Penmanship, Round Two: Humans
The night after that, Kevin was bound and determined that the birds would go in the treehouse of their own accord. As soon as the sun started to set, we put chairs outside the pen to watch what the turkeys would do.
As it got darker, they were clearly looking for a place to roost. They were pacing the fence, looking up in the trees, and making their weird croaking sound that sounds more like a seal’s bark than a bird’s peep. And then one made a break for it, flying right over the fence and landing near the mushroom logs. Kevin corralled it and threw it back in.
We waited. And then another one, or maybe the same one, flew up, over, and onto the woodpile. Kevin corralled it and threw it back in. After the third breach of the fence, Kevin stood near the point they seemed to like to fly over and glared at them, willing them to go into the treehouse. One of them flew right in his face.
Eventually, we decided to put two of them in the treehouse bodily. Once we did, the other two followed.
Penmanship, Round Three: Draw
It’s been about a week, and turkeys have yet to go in their treehouse of their own volition. Most of the day, they stay in the pen, but occasionally we’ll get an escapee. All of this raises the question: why bother?
Our turkeys are a breed, Standard Bronze, that’s reputed to be closely related to wild turkeys. Wild turkeys clearly fend for themselves outdoors. They probably don’t have many day-time predators, and they roost in trees at night. Here I am, worrying about my turkeys, but I don’t give a second thought to the ducks or geese nesting out there, unprotected. Big birds that can fly are pretty well-defended.
Kevin’s original idea about turkeys was to keep them in the brooder until they were big enough to be outside, and then just let them go. We’d give them food and water, and otherwise let them fend for themselves. No pen, no treehouse, no coddling.
Too bad that plan only starts to make sense to me after we’ve built the pen and treehouse.