Homesteading and Livestock

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A Turkey Story

11/18/2008 10:25:13 AM

Tags: Thanksgiving, turkeys, poultry, livestock

Thanksgiving Turkey
  PHOTO BY JENNA WOGINRICH
   Will this turkey become Thanksgiving dinner?

Back in May when I was driving to pick up my spring chicks, I wasn't planning on also picking up dinner to-go. But when I arrived at the feed store I discovered I could go home with a free-range turkey dinner for five bucks. Well, if I wanted to raise my own that is...

Inside the brooder crates holding their chirping throngs there were a half-dozen random turkey poults for sale. They were orphans from an abandoned order and had no farmer to raise them. In an act of homesteader-impulse I took one of the broad breasted white poults home with my laying hens and goslings. The plan was to raise him along with the other birds, but unlike his egg-laying siblings, he would be for the holiday table. On the ride back to Cold Antler, I called my parents in Pennsylvania to announce that Thanksgiving Dinner was on me this year. Which is a weird call to get if your daughter is a vegetarian. But that's another story.

Raising a turkey turned out to be an easy and rewarding experience. Since it was the lone gobbler in my chicken coop, it seemed to get along fine with my flock. Some farmers warn never to mix your turkeys and other poultry together, and I suppose in larger numbers that is sound advice. But my little guy never showed any aggression or caused any problems in the henhouse. He lived out his summer as a free range yard bird, plodding behind the geese and chickens. Spending his nights in the safety of the coop on soft straw. I was proud to have him here on the farm, which generally only produces eggs, wool, and vegetables. And being able to hold a three-day-old poult in your palm in the spring, and then help pluck its feathers on harvest day in late October was a wholesome lesson in the source of one family's entree. It felt really good to know I was producing food for the holidays that lived such a great life. TD, as I came to name him (an abbreviation for his destiny) was a gentlemen to the end.

Alas, it didn't pan out. The turkey I raised won't be adorning my family's Thanksgiving table (there was some discomfort from some family members about eating someone they knew, and my offer was respectfully declined) but I did get to trade the 26-pound bird for an hour of private herding lessons with a sheepdog trainer. So TD not only helped teach me about raising a healthy meat bird, but in his own way taught me how to work with a border collie on a small herd of sheep. Which in my book is a hell of a trade, and that's a lot more than most people are getting from the Butterballs in their grocers’ freezer.

Jenna Woginrich is the author of the forthcoming book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Publishing. Want to hear more about Jenna's turkey? You can visit her blog at Cold Antler Farm or hear her talking turkey on NPR's Morning Edition here.



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Post a comment below.

 

brian
11/19/2010 9:49:24 AM
http://amzn.to/aV2dQa Funny, touching, memorable short Thanksgiving stories about holiday disasters, family & friends.

jmsiowa
12/4/2008 11:15:03 AM
This T-day we bought a turkey from my in-laws. They have a hobby farm and decided to raise some turkeys this year. We get plenty of free chicken eggs from them and decided a free bird was to much and paid them. It was the best turkey we've had for years. And have told them we would do it again. My son and 3 neices just love playing with the birds all summer, then they go on HOLIDAY. When he gets older we will tell him the truth about where his food comes from.

EquinoxMoon
11/28/2008 5:35:33 PM
For more on this story, visit NPR's Morning Edition. Jenna was interviewed about this experience for the Thanksgiving Day show and you can read it or listen here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97511513

grizgrrl
11/27/2008 4:13:54 PM
OK, I have to admit to being a little perplexed by this story. Unless you're a vegetarian for health reasons alone, why on earth would you volunteer to raise an animal for slaughter? How about just raise it and let it live? They eat bugs and such, so you don't have to use sprays on your garden. I've known some very cool turkeys who were amiable companions on the farm where I was raised (that's right, I'm not a city dweller, but was raised on a farm where I got to see lots of animals meet their ends in grisly ways). When I went vegetarian it was for many reasons, but primarily I made the decision because I didn't want to eat the flesh of fellow earth dwellers, or contribute to their slaughter. Plus, I went to this young woman's blog site to learn more about her turkey, kinda hoping he might have gotten a reprieve. Couldn't find anything about him, as was stated above. So, was this a gimmick to promote her blog and book?

Raven Ivanov_1
11/26/2008 11:58:14 AM
I have experienced the same thing with my chickens! Bought a couple of cockerels that were suppose to be dinner....we had two roosters then till the coyotes got them.

sdelvecchio
11/19/2008 10:35:15 AM
It's funny how some people who find it perfectly normal to go into any grocery store and purchase their food knowing full well that it wasn't raised in the best conditions. But have a terrible time mentally if they have known the animal while it was still walking around, I'll bet that if those feelings were across the board we wouldn't have so many fish eaters or fishermen for that matter. From one of your first articles on why more people don't raise chickens we have finally taken the plunge and are raising 3 Rhode Island Red hens (Still waiting for the first egg), but my 5 year old is already telling everyone that once they stop laying, they will be food. She already understands that they are living a wholesome well cared for life without the use of pesticides in the yard, overcrowding, caged home or the many other horrible things that can bestow a chicken's life if raised on a feed lot. You are such an inspiration to those of use who can only dream of getting back to New England and living life the way it should be.







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