Saturday, August 6, 2011

Talking Turkey

Yesterday we took our first batch of turkeys to be "processed". We had gotten them from a friend of my sister-in-law (normally when you buy turkeys from a hatchery, you have to buy a minimum number to ensure that they will stay warm enough in shipping. In this case, she'd been required to buy at least eight, but only wanted four. Purely by accident, we'd found each other through my sister-in-law's facebook page (both of us commenting on the same post), and I agreed to buy the four extra poults from her - a hen and three toms) so we weren't exactly sure how old or even what breed they were. By the time we got them, they were well past the poult stage and ready to go straight into the range pen (a.k.a. Salatin-style chicken tractor - which ended up being too short for them, so we moved them to a taller - also movable - pen later).

I had made an appointment to take the young roosters in ("When they start to crow, they need to go!" is my husband's feeling on the subject) so I decided on a whim to weigh the turkeys, too, and see how much longer they'd need before I should make an appointment for them.

My ten year old son went out, caught the hen, and brought her to me. I had him stand on the bathroom scale holding the hen (NOT in my bathroom - we brought it outside!) then put her back in the pen and stand on the scale again. A quick little bit of calculating (homeschool moment - Math In Real Life!) and we found our little girl weighed in at 17.4 pounds! I was thinking, for comparison, that I usually buy a 12-pound turkey from the store, so this seemed almost too big! Right away, I called in and added the turkeys to the roosters' Friday appointment.

After more than a few hugs and kisses (my kids love our poultry!) we loaded the turkeys into an old wire dog kennel in the bed of the pickup and left them there for the night. In the morning, bright and early, we headed down to the processor's and dropped them off. Five hours later, they were chilled and ready to go, and we were given our final numbers - 15.8, 13.4, 12.8, and 11.8 pounds (that last one was our little hen - she'd lost almost 5 pounds from her live weight; some of that, however, was giblets, which we were given in a separate bag). Not too shabby!

So, final thoughts on our first turkey-raising experience?

1) Turkeys are so much fun! They definitely have different personalities than chickens. They are much more curious, and completely fearless. At feeding time, chickens will flutter away from you; turkeys walk sedately up to check things out.

We also enjoyed their plumage. My ten year old thought it was particularly fun to run up at them, yelling at the top of his lungs, to get them to fan out and gobble (that was the only time we ever heard them gobble - most of the time they made small, contented noises). They did puff up without being "attacked", though, displaying at each other whenever the mood struck them. I never realized before that you can actually hear a whoosh of air as they fan their feathers out!

2) They were very easy. Granted, I didn't have to deal with the poult stage, which apparently is the hard part. But these four would stand outside in the rain, even through some pretty nasty storms, and look at me the next morning like nothing had happened. They were no trouble when I moved the pens - not flighty like the pullets; they just walked sedately along (trying to peck at my fingers, which apparently look very tasty to them! Their inquisitive pecking never hurt, though.)

If one of them got out of their pen (which happened once or twice) they would walk up to me when they saw me coming, and stand while I picked them up and returned them to their cage.

3) I would definitely buy a heritage breed again. Granted, I haven't cooked them up yet,* but as far as raising them is concerned, I had a wonderful experience. I don't feel like the grow-out time was too long (although perhaps I should have let them get a little bigger - I wasn't sure how live weight would convert to dressed out). Perhaps some Bourbon Reds next year . . .

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop on The Prairie Homestead.

*I did finally cook one, and boy, was it good! I wrote about it here.

1 comment:

  1. Really cute picture :) I've had Bourbon reds and quite liked them, and I love my Bronze turkeys. Turkeys can be a lot of fun, and tame quite quickly unlike meat chickens who are usually more flighty, the heritage turkeys are nicer birds overalll. Glad you had good luck with your first time!