Dead bird walking

We are within 24 hours of solving the Turkey Problem.

The Turkey Problem started in May, when we got a lone poult, of indeterminate breeding, from a clutch of a half-dozen fertilized eggs we bought from a local guy. Our trusty Buff Orpington hen, Queenie, did her level best, but she wasn’t able to manage both the early hatcher and the eggs that still needed her attention.

The Problem continued when we bought Standard Bronze poults from the feed store. They’d had a rough time in transit, and several of them died.

And then there was the raccoon, who figured out there was a source of tender young bird flesh in our turkey pen. I’ve repressed the details.

We augmented the flock with Narragansett poults from a lovely woman who raises them over on the mainland, and made the decision that the birds would be safest if we let them out of the pen to roost in the trees.

Safe, they were. And, when they were little, it was even charming to have turkeys roaming about the place. They followed us around, giving us that characteristic one-eyed stare. They made friends with the chickens. They came down to the pig pen at feeding time, in the hopes of snatching a few bites through the fence.

But then they grew. Once a bird hits ten pounds or so, it can do some serious damage. It has sharp talons and a strong beak, and we have a new Problem. Our turkeys scratched cars, ruined the hoop house, and stomped on all the flimsy little fences that kept the chickens out of the garden. And big birds have big poops, and our flock tended to congregate by the front door.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was finite. We figured we could tolerate it until the weekend before Thanksgiving, when we’d send them to the great turkey pen in the sky.

Then hurricane Sandy hit. It didn’t hit hard, and we had nothing more than a power outage and some trees down, but it disrupted the turkeys’ roosting routine. Whether it was because the tree over the chicken coop, where they’d spent every night since we let them loose, had all its leaves blown off, or just because they got discombobulated by high winds, they found a new place to overnight.

The first couple of nights, we didn’t know where it was. And then Kevin followed them to find out.

Our property is over two acres, and most of it is wooded. We have literally thousands of trees. But were any of those trees good enough for the turkeys? Nooooooo. They had to pick the beautiful majestic oak tree gracing our neighbors’ front lawn. That was definitely a Problem.

We are fortunate in that we have the best neighbors on the planet. Our animals don’t respect property lines, and trespass regularly. The birds scratch up their mulch and poop in their driveway and generally make a ruckus. Blondie once got locked in their garage overnight. We periodically go over with oysters or fish and apologize for our charges, and the neighbors are unfailingly gracious and lovely – they even send over baked goods for the holidays (and there’s this lemon bread …).

But we figured we’d push the limits of even their good will if we let the turkeys roost in their yard. The piles of poop that accumulate under a tree with six large birds in it just aren’t the kind of thing you want to inflict on your neighbors.

At that point, there was only a week and a half between them and the Cone of Silence, so we turned the hoophouse into a kind of avian death row. We cleared out the gardening stuff, and Kevin lured them in with a special treat. We closed the door, and put an end to their free-roaming ways.

Although our hoophouse, at twelve-by-twenty, is plenty big for six birds, I feel sorry for them. They’re a little bewildered at this new state of affairs, and there’s no question that they’d prefer freedom. But they’ve had a good run. A very good run.

Tomorrow is turkey slaughter, and it’s certainly not my favorite day of the year. But this is our third time, and the previous two weren’t as grim as I would have thought. While it’s no fun to kill your birds, there’s real satisfaction in completing what seems to me to be a constructive cycle.

Because we’ve had Problems this year we’re on the fence about raising turkeys again next year, but the six birds we’ll slaughter tomorrow had about the best life a turkey can have. We’ll do everything in our power to insure that they also have a good death. And, if you’re going to eat meat, that’s about the best you can do

5 people are having a conversation about “Dead bird walking

  1. “…the six birds we’ll slaughter tomorrow had about the best life a turkey can have. We’ll do everything in our power to insure that they also have a good death. And, if you’re going to eat meat, that’s about the best you can do”
    Beautifully said. (Of course)

  2. its pouring here in PDX today, as I’m off to go pick up Thanksgiving goods at the farmers market. And while I’ve bought a turkey from the best local place I can find where they butcher birds on the property under the teachings of Salatin, its still second best. Its just WEIRD not to be there on Turkey Doomsday.

    And you’ll miss it too, because really… who is going to provide the running commentary? You think THIS is a stuffed bird? Lemme tell you about this one time in Vegas….

    Send Red my regards. Be there soon.


  3. You’re incredible, Tamar. Thank you for sharing with us the story of your Thanksgiving Day mea- to-be. It’s good to know how much time, effort, and love have gone into those birds. If only all of us put that much work into our food!

  4. Since I’ve emailled you for your turkey wisdom, you already know we’ve branched out this year. We started with three which quickly became one (accidental hanging, Marek’s disease). I have since sourced two more – mix and match breeding and sizes too – and roosting is the issue.

    If I don’t get home in time to catch them before they roost (even with clipped wings they leap my meagre fencing attempts), I have to hook them off the roof of the porch with my shepherd’s crook. And I’m pretty sure they’ve picked there to roost because it’s the best view of the TV. Seriously.

    They are – dare I say – even more personable than chickens but I will take a lead from your turkeys and build next year’s pen around our apple tree, which I hope they will find suitable roosting, even without late night TV.

  5. A hoop house made this the easiest year of raising meat chickens yet. I couldn’t keep turkeys in for 20 weeks but it was a great answer for the shorter-term chickens. I’ve decided to not raise turkeys again any time soon other than our Bourbon Reds that are apparently going to live forever.

    I hope today goes smoothly and quickly. You’ve done very well.

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