Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It is 6:00 a.m. and I’m jumping on a four wheeler (with my helper for the week). I am heading up to where the turkeys are countering their way back and forth across the face of a small hill, and it’s a beautiful morning.
I’m in charge of the turkeys these days, and it has been quite a joy. Back towards the beginning of June, when we first put the turkeys out, I had no idea that the responsibility would be placed on me to care for them once interns arrived. After I heard the news, I was optimistically hopeful that this new task would prove to be entertaining.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
From Polyface Farm Intern to Apprentice
I was an intern here at Polyface Farm during the summer of 2014, and I had the privilege of being chosen to stay on as an apprentice for an additional year. During my time as an intern, I helped with the turkeys for a few weeks and found it enjoyable, but I never was able to grasp the turkeys as my personal responsibility.
Now things are different. Being an apprentice, I have much more responsibility here on the farm, including the task of conveying the vision and reasoning for our actions to this year’s intern crew.
I get one helper each week during chore time, and the interns all rotate around, so I get a chance to work with everyone. Every morning is an exciting time for me, and I look forward to teaching my helper something that I have learned over the past year here.
Flock of Goofy Sidekicks
Since taking charge of the turkeys, I have been known to describe them as “A Flock of Goofy Sidekicks.”
Picture your favorite book/movie/poem/video-game that features comic relief in the form of a sidekick. Now, picture that same goofiness, quirkiness, and lovable nature all bundled up and placed into the form of a turkey.
Now, picture a herd of three hundred and fifty of these feathery individuals, each one with a unique personality, yet all of them moving together in one large white mass. Sometimes they chase bugs, sometimes they all run to the shade of the Gobbley-Go (their shade/ roosting structure) in unison, and sometimes half of them rush the netting that contains them, knocking it over, leaving them outside where they wait for me to come let them back in to rejoin their gangly companions.
Moving Turkeys for Soil Nitrogen Managment
The turkeys come into view as I crest a small hill, and I can see the impacted footprints of the progression of paddocks that they were in. The turkeys are housed within electrified netting that we use to define their paddocks and what grass they have access to.
I move the turkeys every other day, a task that’s as simple as opening up the fence that they are in, allowing them to walk to the new paddock that I have waiting for them. I then use a tractor to move the Gobbley-Go and feed buggy through. Because I am moving them every other day, I use the chore time in the mornings when I don’t move them to set up the net for the next move.
From my vantage point on the four -wheeler, I can see where they have been via the grazing line in the grass, and I can visualize where they are going. It excites me to think about how I can use the netting to manipulate the placement and distribution of the nitrogen that they drop via their manure. I know that there will be an especially dense patch beneath the shade-mobile, because that is where they spend the most amount of their time. They enjoy ducking into the shade during a sunny day, and they perch on the roost bars.
Since they will be spending a good amount of time in the shade, I tempt them to other parts of their paddock with the feeders, their water pans, and the grit pan. This allows me to better control their nitrogen deposits, and I can leverage that capability to my advantage, helping to bring fertility to soil that might need a helping hand.
These little nuances pop into my head, and I voice them over the sound of the rushing wind as my helper and I drive up to the turkeys. When we arrive, the turkeys all run up to the netting.
They love me, what can I say?
Well, they love everybody. They are extremely social creatures, who would rather follow me around than focus on eating the feed that I fill their feeders with. This is one of the reasons that I love the turkeys. They have gobbled, peeped, popped, and squeaked their way into my heart. Did I mention that they make the best noises? They do.
Yes, they make me smile because they are so goofy.
Yes, they frustrate me when I’m trying to move the shade structure and they don’t seem to have enough brains to move out of the way.
And yes, I have come to love being among the turkeys as the sun is rising, and bringing them joy as I escort them to a fresh new patch salad bar of grass.
Today, for myself, my helper, and (greatest of all) the turkeys, life is good.
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