Turkey Come Home

We have an unusually large number of young turkeys this year. Long story, but it boils down to two things:

1) The hatchery we’d ordered from later told us the turkeys might be greatly delayed. I placed a second order with another — more reliable, but also more expensive — hatchery, to make sure we got the minimal number of heritage breed poults we need. My intention was to cancel the order with the original hatchery, once we were certain we had a good survival rate in the brooder. We ended up getting both orders coming thru a few weeks later, before I could cancel the original one, for a total of 35 poults shipping to our property.

2) We had far fewer brooder deaths than usual. I think that’s because we got the poults in later May, when the weather was warmer and the birds were less stressed in transit.

Anyway, we now have all the poults out in two portable 4×8 pasture pens. They’re thriving, with fresh air and fresh green stuff in their diet each day (along with some supplemental high protein grain ration).

And then, this afternoon, we ran into a problem. I opened the lid of one pen, to give the birds some grain. Two poults got spooked, and flew through the open top to perch on the lid. One small bird was easy to capture and replace. The other, a largish Bourbon Red (an older bird, from the McMurray order), flew away. He went over the fence to the garden, requiring me to walk all the way around to the gate to reach him. By the time I got there, and had him pinned against the fence, he spooked again. Big time. Somehow clawed his way up and over the fence…and flew off INTO THE HIGH BRUSH separating our property from the road.

The young bird was now in a 20 foot wide patch of 3-4 foot high grass and brambles and branches that runs the length of our property. I came in after him, but he easily evaded me in the weeds. Meanwhile, I’m stirring up clouds of dormant mosquitoes and running into big patches of poison ivy and nettles. Was about to give up on him, when I had an idea: go out to the road, and work my way back in. I had no idea where the bird was, but fortunately stumbled onto him before long. He ran farther into the weeds. I almost got him…and then he squirted away and disappeared, leaving me to contend with another cloud of mosquitoes. Try as I might, I could not find him again.

I’d hoped the chirping calls of the other turkeys — the ones still in the pen — would eventually draw him back. But I kept checking all evening, but he never did reemerge. Finally, when the sun was all the way down, I went back out with a flashlight…still no Bourbon Red poult. Hopefully he’ll be there in the morning, but I’m not counting on it. He’ll probably get eaten by a raccoon or fox.

This is one of those maddening, never-saw-it-coming disappointments of farming. Yes, we still have plenty of other turkeys. But, dang it, we raised this one and he was thriving and this is such a stupid way to lose him.

And then, as I thought more about it, something came to me: how often do we humans act like that turkey? We have a good situation going, we’re being taken care of, we’re living according to the Plan that a higher power has in mind for us…and then in a moment of passion we [literally, in this case] fly the coop, determine that we know better what the Plan should be, strike off in a radical direction of our own…and then, very quickly, discover that we’re lost in the high weeds with no simple way out. Because we blew it, and squandered the situation we had. And are too stubborn or proud or blinded to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who is calling and begging for us to come out and return to the safety of the fold.

Don’t mean to get too overly philosophical, but these are the sorts of thoughts a person can have when living on a farm. You really do develop a greater appreciation for the agricultural parables of the Bible. And quickly come to understand why the Bible has so many of them.

I went out to do the chores at 6:30 the next morning (Monday), accompanied by Scooter the Border Collie. As I was putting feed in one of the turkey pens, Scooter flushed the runaway turkey poult from the grass next to the pen. It’d apparently heard the other turkeys chirping, and come back from the high weeds/brush to rejoin them at first light. Anyway, Scooter chased the bird down and excitedly held it with his paws until I could come and grab it. It was damp from being out in the morning dew, but otherwise no worse for its night spent outside the pen. I’m just thankful it’s back.

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