A Turkey Story

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/raising-thanksgiving-turkeys.aspx

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.