How the Hen House Turns: Turkey Two

How the Hen House Turns: Turkey Two
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Turkey Two, these days, like Turkey One, barks at me when I open the back door, but it is only one small sound in a chorus of demanding honks, croaks, and quacks from the pen, insisting, “Let us out of here. Now!”

Since Turkey Two never quite bonded with me, the whole pecking order thing took a bad turn when she matured. Having been raised by a devoted white Silkie chicken, Turkey Two knew me only as a big female creature who daily invaded her territory and stole eggs from all the birds.

Her challenge, like Turkey One’s, was not a sudden pinch that left a white triangular mark on the back of my hand for days. She gave me the full song and dance, feathers erected in ominous challenge, her tail feathers beautifully spread to their full glory, her warning a threatening warble somewhere between a gargle and a foghorn.

Once, when I had ignored her long enough, she got up her nerve to strike. I struck back with the time-tested whap to the top of her head. That was no solution to her. It was a call to arms, and she came on even more aggressively, her feathers at full tilt, her sharp beak determined to do me in—or at least take me down a notch on the pecking order.

One day I mocked her ineffective warnings. I put hands on hips and flapped my elbows back and forth, imitating her huffy stance. Big mistake. The war was on.

Months later we were still at it, the stand-off getting nowhere. The threatening gargles continued whenever I was in her territory, the pen, and the occasional whomp only egged her on to peck at me with more determination to do damage.

I thought of using the dogs’ toenail clippers to dull her beak, but I Googled beak-trimming and discovered to my horror, that researchers had recently identified the nerves in the beak and concluded that de-beaked birds probably suffered with ghost appendage pain all the rest of their lives. Forget that.

I did remember, at last, from our months in dog school, that timing is everything. It had to be especially fast to catch a puppy’s fleeting glance. Eye contact is required as a first step in training a dog to look and wait for command.

That’s why I reacted as fast as I could with my whomp when Turkey Two took a tentative peck at me. It seemed to work, at least for a moment. She backed off, her feathers collapsed into their slick layered cape mode, and she went about her business looking for non-existent grasshoppers in the yard.

The next day, however, all was forgotten. I had no imprinting in my favor. The huffy stance, the threatening gargle, began again. She even took to following me, gargling and huffing all the way up the hill.

Later in the day, however, all was peaceful. Turkey would look at me out of those big browns with nary a gargle. I could pick her up and carry her anywhere. She was as docile out in the yard as she was at Aspen School surrounded by a gym full of kids who had never seen a live Thanksgiving dinner before. They took turns, all 150 of them, petting her brown and white plumage, while Turkey Two stood still, proud and calm.

Only on the back porch while we are eating lunch does she get aggressive now—no, not aggressivejust insistent to have a bite of bread.

Has she ever huffed and puffed and pecked at men? Never. Not even when the neighbor worked at the pen, replacing a fence post. She sat quietly beside him all day, watching him work. She gives husband Don the same treatment whenever he is working outside on the wood pile. She knows the difference. She prefers men.

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