It was March 27, 2008. It would have been my father's 74th birthday, but it was Day One of my life as a non-employee of Wyeth. I had been laid off the day before and was devastated. I had been taken out to lunch and we made a stop at the feed store. Doesn't everyone? Springtime means baby chicks ... and ducks ... and geese ... and TURKEYS! I sure did want something to care for and take my mind off of my unemployment. Big John was working in the Valley for a couple of weeks, and I KNEW he would say no to any baby poulty ... but maybe not to turkeys! Sure enough, when I brought it up that night on the phone, he agreed. I think he was feeling pretty bad for me - Lord knows, I was feeling sorry enough for myself.
Can't you just hear it? The theme to "West Side Story" or "Grease?" Fingers snappin' and hips a-swayin'! I'll bet there was some trash talkin' going on here!
Unfortunately, captivity was not what this turkey had in mind, so Big John set him loose before he killed himself trying to get out. Unlike our big fat turkeys, this bird FLEW up into the top of an oak tree across the creek - a very safe distance away from us!
Fall was upon us, and I'd had a great idea for Christmas cards. Most of you reading this know the outcome - you got one in the mail! I headed to Hobby Lobby to find some "props" and had a dress rehearsal to see what would look the best. We had so much fun trying on the costumes! I finally settled on Santa hats and the slogan, "Hope you survive the holidays!" Get it? And NO, IT WASN'T PHOTO SHOPPED! No turkeys were harmed in the making of these Christmas cards!
Once the girls started laying, they began to try to find better hiding spots for their nests. It became a daily evening chore to track them through the pasture and herd them back home. Ever hear of "herding cats?" It's kind-of like that! I tired my hardest, but there were occasions that I couldn't find a turkey and she spent the night out on her nest. It never failed, though, that she'd be waiting for me by the chicken coop door early the next morning. Until the time that it did fail. I found feathers from the first massacre. It was pretty awful. And then her mate was next. Again, more feathers by the road.
We were down to four at this point, 2 males and 2 females. About the time the hens started laying, the jakes began to grow their beards. We had one that was about 2 inches long and curled up at the bottom. The other jake had a longer straight beard. We named him George (Strait) and his mate was Norma. They were by far the most docile of the bunch. If you sat out in the yard, both of them would come right up to you and get in your lap. That's not as easy or comfortable as it sounds, as they each weighed 15 to 20 pounds! George and Norma turned out to be the two on the Christmas card.
As time went on, we lost another female - to the coyotes, I'm sure. She had a nest of 16 eggs by the time I found it out in the pasture behind the house. It was like pulling teeth to get her to leave it and come to the coop at night. Turkeys can get down low in the brush and are very camoflauged. She escaped me one night, and we never saw her again.
The next loss was the worst. George, by far everyone's favorite, was run over by one of the horses. Not only are the turkeys too fat to fly, they're also too fat to move quickly. If you've seen turkeys in the wild, you know they can run like the wind. And when they can't outrun you, they just fly away. Well, George could do neither, and I witnessed the awful incident. He had a compound fracture of his ankle joint, and almost bled out in my arms while Big John was racing home. He had to be put down, as there was nothing we could do to save him. He was sorely missed by all.
The last two girls hung pretty close to the house - and to each other for a few weeks. Then the urge to nest hit again, and one disappeared in a matter of minutes. They were both on the patio one evening, and when I went out to put them up for the night a couple of hours later, one was gone.
So we were down to Lucky. She finally had a name - turns out there aren't really any identifying marks on turkeys. We gave her the name in hopes that it would be a good luck charm. Instead, it turned out to be a bad omen. Lucky was very lonely, as the only one of her species left on the farm. She spent a lot of time on the patio and became less affectionate as time went on. She'd have her moments of crawling up underneath you to be petted, but would just as quickly start pecking you for no apparent reason. She loved eating cherry tomatoes from the garden, and got along famously with my sister last month when she came to watch the animals during our trip to Arkansas. It was hard to blame Lucky for her moodiness. I'm sure she was wondering what we'd done to her clan and when her time would be up. In the last couple of weeks she'd started wandering farther out in the trap toward the pasture. This morning as I was getting ready to go to school, I just happened to look out the window at the wrong moment. I saw Lucky being carried away by a coyote, followed by the rest of the pack. There had to be 5 or 6 of them. My first instinct was to go after them (much to my Trooper-husband's dismay, it was not to grab the shotgun by my bedside table.) I ran out as far as I could, but was in no danger of catching them. At that point, I knew I couldn't save Lucky, so I went back in and got the 12 guage. I got a shot off in their direction, but was no where near close enough to hit anything. The shot scared them off for the time being. I'm sure they'll be back tonight. The drought is so bad that they are hunting CLOSE to the house in broad daylight. Big John is planning a couple of nights of varmint huntin' this week. There will be a few less coyotes in Jackson County by week's end.
So that's the story of my pet turkeys. They were wonderfully sweet animals with distinct personalities. Who knew? I just hope they enjoyed their time on the ranch as much as we enjoyed having them.