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Talking turkey

May 31, 2010|By TIM ROWLAND

When a friend told Mark Twain that he was going to a Yiddish theater to dine with a party that included a minister, a Catholic bishop, an Indian Buddhist and a Confucian Chinese scholar, the great writer replied, "Well, there's only one thing you need to make the party complete -- either Satan or me."

This is sort of why we got some turkeys.

We already had noisy chickens, obnoxious geese and a wild mallard that seems to be willing to trade in the uncertainties of nature for a seat at the domestic corn trough.

With turkeys, there are two ways you can go. Commercial hybrid varieties grow rapidly and provide an abundance of white meat. Heritage breeds, on the other hand, are said to have a richer flavor and they are better at foraging off the land, meaning they are cheaper to feed.

The commercial breeds aren't as self-sufficient and, as I understand it, have nothing in the way of survival skills. They tend to sit around and swell up to massive proportions, sort of like an above-ground rutabaga.

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This is where Beth and I part company. I view the above statement as a positive, while she likes critters with a little more character. To me, character is another word for trampling all over the farm and getting into trouble. But, being a dark-meat fan, I was finally won over to a heritage breed known as Bourbon Reds.

Through the first few weeks of their lives, I didn't get much involved in their upbringing. Every few days, Beth would implore me to come out to the turkey barn "to see how fast they're growing," but other than that I was pretty much like the father in "Cats in the Cradle."

It couldn't last, and it didn't.

By the time they reached the size of elongated softballs, my dubious skills were called upon to build them an outdoor enclosure so they could get some sun, eat grass and bugs, and pitch horseshoes, or whatever it is turkeys do for amusement.

So we spent the better part of two days constructing what I believed to be a state-of-the-art turkey yard, complete with easy-access doors to the barn, catwalks to the pasture and an electric-net poultry fence.

On completion, we rousted them out of the barn and into the grass, which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Satisfied, we walked back to the house. But on hearing something out of the ordinary, we turned around to see the whole flock of long-necked little buzzards standing there in the yard and staring up at us quizzically in order to learn the next activity, as if we were social directors at a day-care center.

Turns out, turkey feathers make the birds impervious to electric shock, and even if this were not the case, the heritage breeds are good fliers and have no trouble gaining the necessary elevation to foil any fence.

Worse (for me anyway, Beth thinks it's cute) these speckled, strawberry blond little varmints are like dogs -- they follow you everywhere you go. You can't shake them. And at this age they chirp with the consistency and melodiousness of a chronically squeaking wheel.

They find everything interesting, which would indicate intelligence, but this is not the case. Although superficially curious, you learn pretty quick that the switch is on, but the batteries are dead.

And they're kind of eerie. There's something very "Jurassic Park" about the raptors and they seem to share one brain among them -- "Jurassic Park" meets "Babes in Toyland" might be more accurate. So they robotically follow me, and all of us are followed by the cat, who Does Not Approve of this latest development.

Can't say that I do, either.

Tim Rowland is a columnist for The Herald-Mail.

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