How The Hen House Turns: Turkey Poults

How The Hen House Turns
By CAROLYN (CARY) NEEPER Ph.D.
 
Turkey Poults

From May 26  to June 1, 1982, I traveled to Española with my friend Marge.

At the Country Farm Supply, all the turkey poults were crowded together at one end of a large metal tray in the chick room. Their feathers stuck together. The storekeeper tried to relieve their crowding by pulling them apart, but they continued to crowd themselves together. Finally, he put some older roosters in the tray to keep them stirred up.

“I need a turkey hen,” I said, out of ignorance.

“We don’t sex turkeys,” the clerk said.

I took two, when he said one would die alone. I also took three chicken chicks: one Buff Orpington pullet, one Rhode Island Red and one Brown Leghorn, a variety I have never heard of. We carried all five chicks to Kolomeyka dance rehearsal in a cardboard box, gave them water and grain off the top of the feed sack and left them in the shade in the back of Marge’s car while we danced the Hopak.

Within days, they were spouting new feathers all over, leaving their down looking scruffy. The chickens spent all day hurrying around looking for something better to eat than chick mash. The turkey chicks, however, sat around looking puzzled.

They looked so sleepy! They would peep loudly, until they were cuddled or rocked to sleep—several times the first day. On the second day, one started pecking chick feed with the chickens. Their slow motions were hopeful but ominous.

On the third day, outside, within a chicken wire enclosure between the picnic benches, one began hunting and successfully caught a few gnats. We fed her many grasshopper parts, and that did the trick. She decided to live. She also sprouted a new layer of wing feathers.

Our daughters and I fed the other turkey chick with an eyedropper, and he eventually learned to take the baby cereal, but within the week he died. He never woke up enough to join the hunt for grasshoppers with his fellow turkey poult and the human named Don.

Later, we learned that turkey poults are fed from long feeders enhanced with jumping red beads to stir their hunting survival instincts.

I have used “he” and “she” to designate the different poults, but we’ll never know what “he” would have been. Not even the book on sexing birds dared try to describe a way to tell who was what.

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