The Universe has eaten my camera. What that means is that, even if I did take pictures of the turkey poults (that’s the proper term for turkey chicks) , they’re gone until the camera reappears. Ed says this is “third child syndrome”. Mom and Dad document everything about that first kid–usually more than necessary, do about half as much for that second kid, but the third kid, well, that poor schmuck is never blinded by the flash. The turkeys are #3, the Buckeye chicks being #1 and the Buff Orpingtons (their story coming soon) #2.
This is a terrible shame because the poults were about as cute as possible, mostly because they came in all colors and patterns. More importantly, they liked us instantly. Imprinting, it’s called. Every time I showed up to feed them, they came running to the side of the brooder (coffin, see the post about Ed’s rolling brooder) chirping in excitement. “Mom’s here!”
How oh how am I supposed to slaughter something that thinks of me as Mom? But that’s a problem that doesn’t have to be dealt with for months yet.
Of course, we made our usual raft of mistakes. First we put pine shavings in the brooder. Pine shavings are toxic to turkeys. That was two chicks even though I put all the poults back in their shipping box, turned the brooder on its side, dumped everything out, shop vac-ed it clean and filled it with apple wood chips. Then we had trouble finding turkey starter, the food they need when they’re little; everyone locally told us to feed them the same thing we fed the chicks, but everything we read said turkeys need a higher protein food than the chicks get. I solved that by making them fresh raw milk curded cheese and feeding that to them each morning until their turkey starter arrived.
Well, I didn’t actually quit after the food arrived. They were so cute about begging and so excited about eating out of my hands that I kept it up for almost a month.
Then the summer warmed up but Ed insisted they still needed the heat lamp. I think we lost the next two because they overheated. Ed maintains it was because they didn’t get enough electrolytes and water. WHAT-ever.
At this point they’d gotten so big that I felt they were too big for the brooder. That was a whole ‘nother argument. Ed: “They’ll be fine.” Me: “They’re not fine. They need to be out eating grass.” Ed, horrified: “They’re too young to be out on their own. The hawks will get them.” Me: “Make them a pen so they’ll be safe while they graze.” Ed: “I’m too busy.” Me: “Fine. You do what you have to do and I’ll do what I have to do.” Translation: I stuck some stakes in the ground, wrapped bird netting around and over them, and hand-carried the poults to their makeshift fenced-in pasture.
The next day Ed made them their own hawk-safe play pen. Actually it’s a pretty cool pen. It attaches to the brooder via a sliding door so they slept in their far safer brooder at night then could go out in the morning to eat grass. When they’d grazed long enough in one place we just disconnected the pen and moved it, then rolled (sort of rolled, it was more like grunt, shove, oh d*mn we’re stuck again, shove, grunt, ouch that was my foot, shove, ah) the brooder into place and reconnected it to the pen.
And then they got too big for the pen. That brought us to the next argument. Me: “They need to be back in the field so they have plenty of grass to eat.” Ed, horrified: “They’re too young to be back there by themselves.” Me: “You build it this week or I’m buying something on Craig’s List. You won’t like it if I have to do that.”
What can I say? I know how to light a fire under my man. He hates the idea of me using “junk” to house his animals. Take a look at the house he built for them. Mind you, he put in closet rods for their perches, then changed that out to 2 x 4′s when he decided his babies wobbled too much trying to perch on the round rods.
Now, all of a sudden these (not-so) little guys were living in that distant field after only knowing the brooder with its hardware cloth lid upon which the cats slept. Let me just say they weren’t very attuned to threats from above. Although the field is encircled with electric fencing, the air space isn’t. Within an hour our local Black Hawk came to sit above them in the sycamore. Needless to say the turkeys didn’t pay any attention until it dove at them. They raced to the coop, chirping like crazy. They stayed inside for a few hours, muttering to each other over this strange turn of events. When they started back out a swallowtail butterfly came drifting past. That was it. They were back in the coop for the rest of the day.
They’ve vastly improved over the past weeks. Now one turkey is elected “Skywatcher” while the others eat. They talk constantly, letting each other know how things are. Today a military helicopter flew over. They all stopped eating and cocked their heads to watch it pass–just in case.
And no amount of fear keeps them from flying out of the coop. The theory is that they’ll eventually be too heavy to fly. They haven’t gotten there yet, so up they pop and out they go. But being the social animals they are they can’t bear to be separated. The ones on the outside of the electric fence stay right beside the ones on the inside of the fence. What’s the point of escaping if you don’t go anywhere?
I think they got that concept the other day when all of them finally got out at once. They drifted from place to place, a flock of thirteen, until all of a sudden they got hungry. Where did they go? Not back to their coop where they have plenty of food. No, they made their way back to their infant pen. I’m sure they were saying to each other, “I remember this place! There was always lots of food here! You remember that cheese Mom used to make for us? I wonder why she doesn’t love us enough to make it any more?”