The Perils of Turkey Farming - The Last Laugh

Before he found his way into moonshine, a prominent resident of Plumtree Crossing took an ill-considered stab at turkey farming.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1980

Turkey farming is apt to be a source of laughs for everyone if the farmer isn't really a farmer.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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"Promises are kinda like babies: They's fun to make, but they kin be hell to deliver."  


Well sir, I don't know if I ever told you thet there's a editor-type varmint what peers over my shoulder ever' time I sit down to write up one of these yarns ... fer the reason mainly of makin' sure I git the durn thing done! But this restless critter — a member of the badger family, I'd say — jist informed me of its intemperate opinion thet recent tales in this column have overindulged in one partic'lar belly-ticklin' subject. So this month I intend to take a stab at lubricatin' yer funny bones without passin' around a mention — nor even a sub-tile hint — regardin' thet henceforth not-under-discussion topic.  

I guess I'll jist have to resort to some dry humor, instead!  

Now it so happens thet — on the warm November day I'm fixin' to tell you about — Purvis Jacobs was outa town visitin' his rich widdered grandma. The rest of the Plumtree Crossin' Truth an' Veracity League was sittin' around the Gen'ral Store's front porch — feelin' pretty dispirited you might say — an' wonderin' when the heck thet travelin' grandson were goin' to return. (You wouldn't think one individual would be so sorely missed by the assembly ... but Purvis does have a tonic effect on a group.)  

Ennyway, with the honorable intention. of killin' time, Ott Bartlett piped up, "You know, fellers, it's true thet our absent friend Mister Jacobs is a level-headed businessman — with a lot of liquid assets, as it were — today, but 'twern't always so. Fact is, once he even got involved with a entyprise worse'n trying to sweet-talk ticks off'n n varicose-veined bloodhound!"  

Well, as ev'ry one of those porch squatters knows, Ott's such a born liar thet he has to git somebody else to call his hogs. Still, they's almost nothin' the ol' boys enjoy more'n a round of exaggerated fabricatin', so Lafe Higgins obligin'ly inquired, "Shucks, Mister Bartlett, what project could thet have been" ... an' here's the story Ott told in reply.  

He were turkey farming, o' course! An' to understand how Purvis ever got stuck rearin' those domesticated dodos, you need to know a bit about one Geo W. Owenby. Geo — his real name is George but he claims he's too busy to write it all out — lives next to Purvis's grandma. He's the kind of self-appointed "agribiz expert" what carries around a note pad 'stead of a slop bucket ... would rather lose money raisin' 80 acres of beans to sell than crop a winter's supply of the vegetable fer hisself ... and figgers thet the only way to make up fer last year's farmin' mistakes is to make bigger ones this year!

Now ol' Geo used to spend a fair portion of his "workin' " hours explainin' his various entyprises to Grandma Jacobs ( an' offerin' thet lady a chance to invest in 'em). Well, one spring day — whilst Purvis was visitin' the old lady hisself — thet Owenby started goin' on so much about the fy-nancial killin' he was goin' to make raisin' 2,000 turkeys in a bunch of aluminum pens (outfitted with mechanical feeders and drippydroppy waterers) thet Purvis finally opened his mouth. "Shoot," he said, "I could grow better birds rearin' gobblers in my back yard than you'll bring up with yer whole operation!"

Faster'n a New York minute, Geo snapped back, "Well then, how much will you pay fer 36 starter poults?"

Well, thet remark touched off a round of hagglin', argufyin', and outright blue-faced hollerin' thet woulda drowned out the love calls of a good dozen amorous sows! In the beginning, Purvis were unwillin' to swap more'n four chews of terbaccy an' a worn sun hat for the young birds. But Geo knew his opponent was too prideful to crawfish his way outa the deal. So when it got down to the lick-log, thet Owenby rascal had milked our boy outa $13 an' his new pair of leather shoes ... an' tied him into a one-sided wager thet if Purvis's best turkeys weren't better'n Geo's come November the first, Jacobs would fork over his prime-runnin', fire-engine red '52 pickup truck!

An' all Purvis got outa the settlement were a passel of limp-necked little critters whose three dozen brains — put together — weren't no bigger'n a drop of mouse spittle. Oh, Purv tried rearin' the scrawny fowl to grown health. But three of 'em got squashed by their own kindred ... six starved to death 'cause they couldn't ever quite figger out how to eat (Jacobs finally learned the others to chew by offering 'em crumbled-up Moon Pies!) ... two stayed out on their roosts durin' the last hard spring frost an' turned into frozen minny-ture weather vanes ... one got so spooked by a thunderstorm thet it ran into a coop post and clubbed itself dead ... an' the rest came down with swell eye, blackhead, fowl pox, and so many other illnesses thet it seemed the flock had more diseases than turkeys!

Poor Purvis was so busy tendin' those enfeebled fowl thet the rest of his truck farmin' operation (what provided him with a little spendin' money) were about to go under. In fact, he claimed thet his wife had to skin fleas fer their tallow jist to make ends meet! The old boy was down to a scant nine hens and one gobbler on the day he sat on this very porch with me an' Newt Blanchard — feelin' sour as pelican's breath — an' declared thet at least things couldn't git worse.

"I suppose I oughtn't ask," Newt spoke up, "but have enny of 'em catched purple belly pneumonia yet?"

"Purple belly pneumonia?" squeaked Purvis weakly.

"It's one o' them bugs what ain't got no cure," said Mister Blanchard. "One day the birds' fronts change color, and then — a week er so later — they all keel over so fast they're dead afore they hit the ground."

Purvis looked skeptical, so thet night me and Newt sneaked over to his place, crawled into thet turkey pen, and — whilst the snorin' tom's beard flapped back and forth like a flag in a breeze — spray-painted each an' ev'ry one of them birds' chests a nice bright purple. Then we tippy-toed out slick as mornin' dew ... fergettin' to fasten the latch.

The next day Mister Jacobs woke to find his whole slew of birds roamin' free and obviously afflicted with fatal cases of purple belly pneumonia. Well, Purvis's hopes curdled when he seen thet. In fact, he decided thet, since his turkeys was all goners ennyhow, he might as well jist leave 'em be.

Turned out, though, thet a bit of wing room and free-range grazin' did more fer the birds' spirits than gittin' a two-week job with a 50-week vacation! Thet poultry started plumpin' up like first-class table fare ... especially after they cleaned out Miz Jacobs's vegetable patch!

By November 1, the ten fowl had even wore the paint off'n they chests. Still, Purvis was sure thet — with thousands of birds to pick from — Geo W. could find plenty of dinner-makers superior to his own ... so with a heavy heart he crated the puny flock in the bed of his soon-to-be-forfeited pickup an' drove over to Owenby's farm.

But Purvis hadn't hardly pulled to a stop afore Geo ran out — punchin' at his pocket calcylator — and said, "How much you want fer them turkeys?"

"You bloat-brained billy goat! " Purvis cried as he hurled his vehicle's keys at the electronical finger-counter. "You already won my truck! You want the birds, too?"

"You kin keep thet four-wheeled eyesore, you dung-heeled dirt farmer!" Owenby shouted as he threw the keys back. "Those birds of mine weren't smart enough to appreciate their space-efficient housing, so they started peckin' each other an' — afore I could put a stop to it — cannibalized theyselves right outa existence! But I got too much money in this operation to back out now, an' I need to buy yer birds for breedin' stock!"

Soon as Purvis heard thet, a smile wider'n the bride-kissin' line at a county fair queen's weddin' spread over his face. "Well," he said, "how much will you pay for 'em?"

So once agin the two scoundrels lit into a heap of hotheaded hagglin', only you can bet yer last stick of stovewood thet Purvis made out a mite better this time than he had the last. As a matter of fact, of Jacobs got enough on the exchange to more'n make up for the loss of his wife's garden, an' to replace some of the money he woulda earned from thet summer's truck farmin'.

But even in spite of the added pleasure of watchin' Geo W. Owenby personally spit-polish the pair of leather shoes Purvis had "lent" him the spring before, you better b'lieve thet on the very same day our friend Mister Jacobs took a shine to a diff'rent — more fool proof — line of work!


"Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. " — Knight's Law 


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