The Enlightened Turkey

A turkey flew up out of the tall hay field right beside my tractor.

I stopped the tractor and haybine and looked at the clutch of turkey eggs I had run over.

Most of the eggs were broken and I could see half-developed chicks inside the broken shells.

I looked at the freshly mown hay and realized this was just the first of many trips across this field.  We had to rake, bale, and haul in the round bales of hay.  And if the eggs were not run over by then, there was still no way a turkey would come back and sit on a nest that was out in the open.

I opened the tool box on the tractor and spread out the grease rag.  I found three eggs that weren’t cracked and swaddled them in the rag and went back to mowing hay.

I had a Dark Cornish hen that was broody.   I placed the three eggs carefully under the hen and she pecked my arm, but didn’t leave the nesting box.

I checked the eggs every day.  Most of the time I had to reach under the hen to check.

One morning I heard a peep and spied a little head poking out from under the hen.

I knew the poult would need time to dry off its feathers so I left it under the hen and waited until afternoon to check again.

This time I moved the hen and found one strong poult, one dead poult, and one egg.  The egg felt empty so I cracked open the hard shell.  It was rotten.

I carried the hen and the poult over to my brooder house so they wouldn’t be bothered by the other chickens.  I set up a feeder and water for the hen and poult.

The hen covered the poult with her feathers.  I tried to catch the poult to make sure it knew where the water was and the hen ruffed up her feathers and attacked me.

I kept the hen and poult in the brooder house for the next four weeks.  They were doing fine.  I decided it was time to let them out and see what they would do.

The hen moved out into the yard and clucked to her poult to follow.  After meandering through the yard eating grass and bugs, the hen took her poult into the chicken barn.  The hen  kept other chickens away from her poult.

When I went to shut the door to the chicken barn at dusk, I was surprised to see the hen and poult roosting on the old dairy stanchion four feet above the ground.  That little poult could fly and wanted to continue sleeping under the hen for warmth and comfort.

As summer turned into fall, the poult grew into the turkey it was meant to be.  Instead of sleeping under the hen, it would sleep beside the hen and put its head and neck under the hen’s feathers.

It was larger now than any of the other chickens.  But if the chickens noticed, I couldn’t tell.

Once the snow came, I kept the chickens locked in the barn for the winter.  I could tell the turkey was from wild stock because it was more skittish than the chickens.

When the snow melted, I started letting them back outside in the daytime.  The turkey really started to come into her own and express the urges she had felt all winter.

She ran fast.  She flew up into the tree limbs.  She even flew to the top of the barn.

She started to range farther in the field than the chickens.  And one night she didn’t come back to the barn at all.  The next morning she was outside the barn waiting to rejoin the flock.

But a week or so later she was gone again and this time for 36 hours.  She continued to repeat this pattern until her absences grew longer and she never came back at all.

But I thought I spied her with the wild turkey flock throughout that summer and fall.  She had found her kind.

2 Responses to The Enlightened Turkey

  1. chainey says:

    Good for you. From time to time I rescue a baby bird from my cat, but I’ve never been able to keep them alive, even if uninjured they seem to succumb to shock.

    When I started reading I thought it was going to be an “Agriculture is as murderous as animal farming” post a la Lierre Keith.

    I haven’t read her book yet – I’ve reserved it at the library. Interestingly, there’s one copy for all Auckland libraries (catering to ~ 1m people) with 7 people in the on-line waiting list, whereas, by comparison, of The China Study (pro vegetarian) they have 7 copies, of which 3 are languishing on the shelves.

    Not that I’m suggesting bias ….

  2. Karen Ferguson says:

    Well, how kind of you to go the extra mile. I’m sure that hen was happier, pecking at you to leave her “chick” alone. I guess they’re used to their brood leaving, just as my foster “cat moms” are used to their kittens being adopted. I kept a kitten and the mom once: there was certainly a bond there: they’d groom each other now and then and Mum would still bat the ‘boy.’
    Nature runs its course as she sees fit.
    Have you seen Food, Inc? I’ve been invited to a showing. It’s taken me so long to NOT be a vegetarian, I certainly am not up for seeing traditional slaughter houses. Perhaps, I’ll go anyway and just “buck up.”
    Chainey: there’s an interview w/ Keith on “livin’the loca vida low-carb” site. Quite good, on the whole.
    Buen Dia!
    Karen in CAlifornia.

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