This year we are selling fresh turkeys again. I doubled my poult order(from 20 to 40) after last year’s successful harvest and it has gone well. We are taking orders for Thanksgiving and Christmas, though this is not meant to be a commercial. We have had a predator-free year, excepting for the barn kitties, Wasabi & Niska, doing in a few of the little poults in their first days here. That was depressing. And also in the arrival of the first batch of poults, 5 of them were dead and 2 more died within the first 24 hours which was also quite unfortunate. The company made good on them and claimed that it was likely they suffered stress in shipping and that they may have been next to an air conditioning vent which depleted them. Very sad.
My main complaint about the flock is that they could do me a favor by staying in one area so that it would simplify filling their waterers. However, they redeem their straying tendencies by greeting me with sweet singing and bright “how do you do’s!”
It is true, I love turkeys. I could extol the virtues of raising them here on Wing and a Prayer Farm, but I don’t want to brag. I would like to illustrate some of their finer points, though, which have nothing to do with being raised here in Vermont.
Song: Turkeys are lovely singers. Their tweedling is melodious and uplifting and when they all call, it is like a gorgeous chorus.
Sociability: Friendly to a “T.” In fact, one year one of our turkeys, a Chocolate, was named “Friendly!” They are so curious and enjoy being in your company, in each other’s company, in the rest of the farmyard’s company. If you throw an apple into a flock of turkeys, they’ll play with it together! Definitely imparting the feel-good vibe on whomever’s property they happen to be on.
Intelligence: I know, many would argue that they have very small brains. I disagree that they are not very intelligent. Yes, sometimes they are confused. But usually their decisions have much to do with survival instincts and managing resources. They can fly, if they need to, but stumbling around on top of each other works also. They could go up and over the gate or fence and be with their buddies if they needed to, also, but sometimes pacing and puzzling all day is a great way to pass time! Really, I don’t know what the answer is to the age-old argument that they are not very smart, but I tend to want to defend them. There is a popular misconception that a turkey will stare at rain until it drowns. Not true! I read that in the early 1990s, scientists discovered a genetic condition called tetanic torticollar spasms which means that sometimes they cock their heads and gaze skyward for 30 seconds or more. Additionally, I have watched them fall into my swimming pool and then do the breast stroke, so no fear of drowning there. No, they’re just misunderstood.
Beauty: Oh, not just because of their gorgeous plumage, but it is also their soulful, searching eyes that have me at “hello!”
I am fascinated by the large, naked reddish heads, throats and wattles on the Toms. On their heads are the fleshy growths called caruncles. When the Toms are excited, yet another fleshy flap on their bill enlarges along with the wattles and bare skin which will become engorged with blood that all but closes their eyes and covers their bills. Though not beautiful to me, it is quite a show! The Tom’s also have a snood which looks like a fleshy sock hanging over their beaks. And better than any mood ring, when the Tom is excited, his head turns blue and then red when he is ready to duke it out with the competition.
Efficiency: They forage and graze, fertilizing as they go. Of course they love it when grain flies their way, but they will also happily tweedle along while selecting tasty bugs, grasses and seeds all day long. They’ve also mastered pumpkin carving around here.
Delicious!: A free ranged turkey has a depth of flavor that is absolutely impressive as compared to conventionally raised birds. They rely on their legs to move all over the farm, not so much on their wings, and so their active muscles are full of blood vessels. The myoglobin in the blood vessels delivers oxygen to the muscles and the more that the muscles contain, the darker the muscle. Because the turkeys fly more than they would if they were raised in an enclosed area, they are using their breast muscles more. This means that the oxygen is distributed to the breast muscles and improves the flavor of the breast meat as well. Overall, the feedback from customers, and my own family, is that it is an unparalleled taste. I had easily lived without the main entrée at the Thanksgiving table, in the past, and ate my fill of squash, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. I hadn’t realized that I would enjoy turkey so much until I raised my own and now there is no turning back.
Ben Shaw at Garden of Spices in Greenwich, NY helps process my birds. Ben has about 70 acres and runs a great poultry business himself, which he markets in the City. His wife Jeanette and several children, (I think it was 11 last Thanksgiving), all help with the work and coming upon them you witness what it must be to see live Matryoshka dolls, lined up in overalls and pinafores with matching rubber boots. Ben is also very helpful throughout the year if I call him with any questions.
Jim made a snazzy truck-bed insert so that they can transport comfortably and safely. This is important because even though you may suspect they are going to their death and what does it matter, stress-free transport and handling up until that fateful moment all contribute to a better end product. Truly, if you have seen how bruised poultry dress out, it is most unfortunate that you would raise them their whole lives and in the end not have the finest to show for it. If the purpose of the bird is for the table, then take good care of them from beginning to end. And to sum it up, be good to them from beginning to end anyway, no matter what the purpose is of keeping any animal. Like I always say, “Peace, Love, and Turkeys.”