With Respect To The Turkey: A Thanksgiving Tale

Header photo of our turkey protecting the drying laundry from flies (i.e. eating the flies that were attracted to warm clothes on a cool autumn day).

We raised our first turkey this year and it was heart breaking. The baby turkey came to us under suspicious circumstances, tucked under a drunk man's jacket. Let's just leave it at that. What does one do with a lone turkey? We put him in with our spring chickens, the ones destined to be butchered in 9 weeks as fryers. He grew at about the same rate and then began to tower over his flock-mates. As he did, he became extremely protective of the flock. And then the 9 weeks were up and "flock 1" went where all good chickens go...Ashby Minnesota. Ashby has the nearest USDA inspected poultry processing for small farmers like us. (Note: we make the 120 mile round trip twice, to drop off and then pick up our birds).
When "flock 1' was sent to Ashby, the turkey was at a complete loss. We put him in with our laying hens, but he would run back the quarter mile to where the flock had been pastured. He wandered around gobbling and searching our back yard for his lost flock. He was inconsolable for about a week. The windows were open to let in the summer breezes and we could hear him as he walked back and forth beneath the dining room window mourning for his lost flock.
So we put him in with "flock 2", which he mightily towered over. He became their guard and protector, standing between the flock and any dog or human who came near. He was not threatening or mean but a natural at using his body as a barrier. When a hawk perched nearby to eye the chickens, the turkey jumped on top of a waterer and spread his big wings over the birds.
We really came to enjoy that turkey. He'd make his way around the farmyard checking things out, including us. I've never raised a turkey before, but this was an interesting, honorable creature who was protective and cared for his fellow birds.
And then this week the temperature dropped to zero and the winds howled and snow blew horizontally across the prairie. The Ashby guys had delayed processing our birds by a week (they're doing big business there these days) and so we found ourselves in a chicken crisis and had to move our birds from their fall pasture into the barn. Mike and I carried, 6 at a time, nearly 100 birds to the barn. The turkey watched over the last few birds huddled under him. We carried him into the barn last. All in all, he was a beautiful bird. The above picture doesn't do him justice. In his final days his lovely white feathers fanned out and he was majestic and calm.
May we all be grateful this Thanksgiving for the many gifts that come to us in such an array of splendor and humble beginnings and endings.
For all thy gifts of every kind
We offer praise with quiet mind
Be with us Lord and guide our ways
Around the circle of our days
Happy Thanksgiving.
Kathy Draeger, her husband Mike and their three children moved from St. Paul to live and farm 320 acres in rural Big Stone County. They are workong to practice what they preach and are re-establishing wetlands, farming a portion of the farm organically, growing local foods like eggs, chicken, grassfed beef (look for it in 2012), and produce, and producing wind power on a spanking new turbine. Kathy chronicles their adventures online at Resettling Big Stone County. Kathy works at the U of M as Adjunct Professor of Agronomy and Plant Genetics and is Statewide Director for the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.