How the Hen House Turns: Hunting With Turkey One

How the Hen House Turns: Turkeys are not Chickens
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Turkey One, we called her Turkey, arrived from the feed store with one other turkey poult and three chicken chicks. She didn’t bond with the latter three, not even after the second turkey poult refused to live.

They do that. Some newly hatched turkeys give up. It doesn’t make sense after all that work getting out of the shell. Some simply refuse to eat. Websites tell me that commercial turkey raisers run colored beads through the feed so they will be stimulated to “hunt.”

When our two new turkey chicks started to fade, refusing to eat the expensive chick feed we had purchased, my husband Don realized they needed to be taught to hunt.

He took the two turkey chicks to the front yard near the fence where periwinkle was beginning to take over, got down on his hands and knees, pecked the ground with his fingers, called “ark ark” like a mother fowl and caught a grasshopper.

One chick, Turkey One, responded with a half-hearted peck, and when an ill-fated grasshopper jumped, Turkey grabbed it, nearly choked, but managed to get it down. The hunt was on and Turkey survived, while her feed store companion faded away.

Meanwhile, the three chicken chicks were thriving on dry chick mash. At night, all they required was a holey warm box, a bed of straw and a flannel rag to snuggle into. When a lid shut out the light, they quieted right down and slept until our morning kitchen noises woke them up.

Not Turkey. She couldn’t sleep without a mountain of feathers or flesh for reassurance. So I cuddled her in a flannel rag on my shoulder and rocked her to sleep every night for several weeks until she was fully feathered out and itching to perch at night. Then she happily took to the roosts in the Hen House, and learned to put herself to bed, so to speak, at dusk.

Since I rocked her to sleep every night as an infant, the bonding with Turkey One was complete. All her life, every time we went out the back door, she would fly toward us, barking joyously, her huge wings flapping in a vain attempt to get airborne.

Don bonded with her as a hunting companion. He spent a good deal of time hunting grasshoppers with Turkey. To this day, 40 years later, we have no grasshoppers in our yard. The population, so abundant in the 70s, has never recovered.

When Turkey One grew up, her pecking-order instincts kicked in and I found my hand, the one that fed her, attacked whenever it poured lay pellets in her dish. Her attacks never broke the skin. I believe she didn’t mean to draw blood, just establish dominance. Stupidly, not realizing this, I got annoyed at the insult one day, and whopped her three times across the top of her head.

That was it. My place at the top of the pecking order was secured. She never attacked my hand again, and she continued to run across the yard with joyous barks whenever I appeared at the back door. 

 

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