….they were dogs.
…or possibly cats.
…or even, perhaps, a boy.
If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that my friend and I raise turkeys. They come to us as day old poults, and usually leave in time to be nicely dressed for Thanksgiving dinner.
We treat these turkeys like we treat most of our animals: like family (with the big exception that on Thanksgiving day the rest of the family is gathered around the table). We talk to the little birds, cuddle the babies, worry over tummy aches and too many green apples, sing the chicks to sleep at night, and make sure they are all eating a healthy diet.
Turkeys and other precocial birds—those born or hatched already able to feed themselves—often identify with the first object they see. This object is usually their mother or another adult bird: one that will provide them safety. This habit is called “imprinting”, and occasionally the first thing a new chick sees is NOT an adult of the same species, but a human, or even an inanimate object. An interesting experiment was even done with ducklings imprinting with a white ball. (Read about it HERE.)
Now, our turkeys haven’t exactly imprinted with us, but they have come to think of themselves as part of the family. They wait by the side door in the morning while the cats are being fed, and then they hustle around to the back door when the dogs are fed. They check to see if there are any pups in the dog coop, and test the drinking water along the side of the horse pasture. On hot summer days, they sometimes duck under the fence into the yard with the bassett hound, and sit with him in the cool breeze under the willow tree. Like a pack of dogs, they race to the side of the road when the mailman slows down, or when someone drives in. They might just think they ARE dogs.
Or, they might believe they are all cats. These five Broad Breasted White turkeys like to chase strings and wiggly ropes, just like the cats pounce on a ball of yarn. They would happily eat cat food out of the barn cats’ dishes…if they had a chance. They will sit on the bottom porch step and clean themselves, investigate strange noises and rustlings in the tall grass, and curl up in a patch of sunshine on a warm afternoon.
Personally, I believe they identify with the farm family. They gobble “hello” when a family member appears, and trot along companionably while the pigs are fed. Not unlike human children, turkeys are happy to help in the garden by pulling weeds, tasting tender vegetables, and walking across nicely planted rows of beans. The five oldest turkeys we are raising this year would even be willing to go for a ride in the family vehicle.
Imprinting? Well, probably not. I think they have just been part of the family and farm from the time they first arrived.
If you would like to read more about imprinting, though, this is a fun and informative article: “My Life As A Turkey—Who’s Your Mama? – The Science of Imprinting”.
If you’d like to read more about our turkeys, I’ll be writing more about them over the next few weeks.