I don’t understand poultry. If I could look at a chicken and read what passes for its mind, life might be a lot easier around here.
Explain to me why, when we introduced a new batch of three-month-old chickens into our flock of two-year-olds last summer, there was all-out gang warfare, but when we toss a couple of turkeys into the mix the chickens don’t seem even to notice.
The two turkeys that remain from our various attempts to cobble a flock together have taken to free-ranging with the chickens. All the birds wander around during the day, sticking pretty close. And we don’t even try to get the turkeys back in the turkey pen at night. Now that they both fly well enough to roost high in the trees at night, we let them. Although “let them” isn’t really an accurate description of what we do. “Can’t prevent them” is probably closer to the mark.
Chickens and turkeys lie down together under the same bush when it gets hot out, and they all drink from the same waterer. The turkeys eat some of the chickens’ corn, and the chickens eat some of the turkeys’ feed. They collude in finding ways to breach the garden fence. There’s the occasional kerfuffle, but most of the time peace reigns in the barnyard.
We hadn’t realized the extent to which the flock had become integrated until yesterday, when we had to keep the chickens in the run all day because we wouldn’t be home to lock them up in the evening. The two turkeys spent all their daylight hours hanging around outside the chicken coop, like it was like visiting day at the penitentiary.
We had peace, we had interspecies amity, and we had what appeared to be a system that kepts all the birds relatively safe. What we didn’t have was enough turkeys.
To go through all the trouble of raising turkeys for just two birds seems like a waste, so we decided over this past weekend that we wanted to beef up the flock. Trouble is, finding 2-month-old turkey poults for sale in July isn’t so easy. At least, that’s what we thought.
It’s funny how, once you start engaging in an activity that is new to you – chicken raising, beekeeping, gardening, mushroom hunting, whatever – you find there are lots of other people who discovered it a long time ago, and that you’re late to the party. I wouldn’t have imagined that eastern Massachusetts has a robust turkey-raising population, but evidence suggests that this is indeed the case.
We went to Craigslist, we searched on “poults,” and there they were. Not one, not two, but at least three people who had turkey poults to sell. We narrowed it down to the right age (about two months) and the right number (four), and Sunday found us heading off-Cape to pick up four Narragansett turkey poults, with maybe a little Bourbon Red mixed in.
The question was, what do we do with them?
We didn’t think we could just let them out of the cage to join our integrated flock. They’d never seen our house or our birds, they’d just had a scary truck ride, and the world was probably looking like a pretty threatening place.
For the first 24 hours, we put them in the treehouse in the turkey pen, which we can secure. We gave them a day to calm down, and then opened the door into the pen. They came out, and never looked back. So far, they’ve stayed in the pen – that’s three days, now. But we don’t know what they’re thinking.
For all we know, our four newcomers will be happy in their pen, and stay there for the duration. But I doubt it. Every other turkey we’ve ever had has figured out how to get out (although not a single pea-brained one of them has figured out how to get back in), and we figure these guys will be no exception. We have, in previous years, tried to put a roof over the part of the pen they’re most likely to fly out of, but it’s not a terribly effective strategy. We’re also a little reluctant to try this year, give the trouble we’ve had with raccoons. The turkeys’ best defense is their ability to fly, and we want them to have an escape route.
Give them an escape route and they will, inevitably, escape. But then what? Will they find the other birds, and join in just as seamlessly as the first turkeys did? Or will one side or the other initiate hostilities, and we’ll end up with an avian West Side Story? Or will they simply head for the hills?
I don’t understand poultry, so I have no idea.