At least once a week a car stops in front of our house to look at our flock of turkeys free ranging in the yard. They roll the windows down so the kids can see in the backseat or they pull out their phone to snap a few photos.
At times, when I happen to be outside, I often bring the turkeys treats. Crusts of bread, veggie scraps, fruit cores even stale oatmeal cookies. I need only open the screen door and holler “Turkeys!” for them to come running across the yard to see what I have for them.
Often this spectacle is witnessed by a passing car which usually prompts the car to pull in the driveway and spark up a conversation about “how we trained the wild turkeys to come when called.” I explain they aren’t in fact wild, but a breed that we raise called Black Spanish. I’ve met many of our longer distant neighbors because of our turkeys, given many impromptu tours of our farm once they realize we have goats and chickens as well. A few older gentlemen have stopped in and after discussing our turkeys, have gone on to inquire about our tractors or farming equipment. I invited one lady in for coffee and scones I had just pulled out of the oven and many have left with a dozen eggs.
It’s an interesting way to meet your community, but it’s ok by me.
The one question I almost always get asked is “Do you eat them?” And to be honest, that question is getting harder and harder to answer.
To answer truthfully, yes, we have eaten them. The first year we raised turkeys we processed 5 and left 4 to be our “breeders.” We kept 4 Jennys and the most strapping Tom among the males which we creatively named Big Tom…I know, brilliant right?
The processing was hard, I’m not going to lie. But we went into raising turkeys with a common understanding that we were raising them for meat. So though we felt that sinking feeling that we do each time we process birds, I reassured myself that they lived a great life, and that they were treated wonderfully till the day they passed on.
After the deed was done we could relax and allow ourselves to become attached to the remaining flock because we knew we weren’t going to process them. We were also comforted by the fact that our turkeys were the most delicious birds I’ve ever tasted. The following year we hoped our turkeys would breed and sustain the flock so we would have more to process and fill our freezer.
To our dismay, the following spring our hens ended up being terrible mothers and abandoned nest after nest. Determined to let the turkeys hatch and raise their own young, I never filled an incubator…and as luck would have it, we didn’t have any turkey poults. So no homegrown turkey dinners. I vowed not to make that mistake again.
In the mean time, we enjoyed another year of bonding with our turkey flock. Zach taught the females to perch on his arm, and we both worked with them to come when called and out of habit, they greet us at the car when we pull in the driveway.
This year I successfully hatched out 4 poults using our incubator. We lost one a week after hatching and the remaining 3 grew and were accepted into the flock without a hiccup. Our hens even took over sitting on the poults to keep them warm on cool spring evenings.
And here lies our problem. The original flock…well lets just say it…they’re pets! They even go for walks with us around the property with the dog. The problem is that the new turkeys…the ones we raised to eat, they’re even friendlier than the old ones. They’ve been raised by a flock that is completely comfortable around humans and they trust and follow us even more.
So what’s a sappy mush-hearted farmer to do?
At this point all I can say is that it’s a good thing that Zach’s work gives its employees a turkey for Thanksgiving each year, because otherwise we might be eating a soy loaf come the 27th of November. I don’t think our turkeys have anything to fear as far as getting the axe this fall. Our “breeding” flock just went from 4 to seven. And as I write this, I can hear a tapping on the screen door, no doubt, the turkeys asking for treats.