Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Posted by Kate at 6:53 AM
Farming friend has this wonderful knack of calling me up and saying, "Hey, do you want _____?" What she's offering varies wildly, but it's always awesome, and always something I've never considered before. Last fall it was the unloved bits from her hogs, which went into making my first batch of guanciale, or cured hog jowls. They turned out really well, and I was sorry when they were gone.
This time she outdid herself. She called me twice on Sunday with two of her characteristically amazing offers. The first offer I'm going to hold in reserve, and write about it later if it works out. But secondly, she asked if I wanted a three-week-old turkey poult. Now, as you know if you've read my blog very long, I have a policy of not turning down free handouts, which I think has a lot to do with why these offers keep coming. However, farming friend's offers this time around were a bit of a challenge. While I didn't want to say "no" to either offer, neither did I feel ready to say "yes" on the spot. We'd never considered getting a turkey, so I really hadn't the slightest idea how to make that work.
This poult had either arrived as a hatchling at my friend's farm with a deformity, or had been abused by its flockmates. In any case, it ended up blind in one eye, and was being picked on to the point that it was going to take some serious damage or be killed outright. So farming friend isolated it in a separate brooder box, but didn't want the added chore of dealing with a single poult when there were so many other animals to attend to on a daily basis. Of course, in principle I'd love to raise my own Thanksgiving turkey. But I had so many questions! Could the turkey stay with our laying hens? (Not at such a young age.) Do turkeys roost at night? (Sometimes. Our coop is very small, and the turkey will get pooped on by the hens if it's not up on the bar with them.) Can it eat what the laying hens eat? (Apparently not immediately; it'll need a higher protein feed for a while.) Will the turkey take until fall to reach a good size for slaughter? (Pretty much.) Will it be able to hold its own with the hens? (Probably, once it reaches a certain size.)
Farming friend assured me that she would bring all that was required to take care of the poult for the next few weeks. And that if it just didn't work out for us to keep it here, she'd take it back. With that sort of offer, I couldn't see any reason to say no. So I said yes, and she came by Monday afternoon. So now we've got a poult upstairs. In a room with a door that latches securely (young cats in the house, you know). It'll go outside in a week or two, in its own makeshift pen. Right now it still seems to want the warmth of the heat lamp in its brooder box, despite the sultry summertime weather we're having. When it's quite a bit bigger than it is now, I may try keeping it with the hens. Farming friend figures they'd eat the turkey at this stage if they had the chance. I don't know how fast it'll grow, but by its looks I'd guess it needs at least a month before it's bigger than the hens, maybe two.
This turkey is a Bourbon Red heritage breed turkey, so it'll put on weight slowly compared to the industrial standard, the broad breasted white. We don't know yet whether it's male or female, which makes my decision not to name it that much easier. I might - might - relent so far as to start calling it Thanksgiving. Sex characteristics should begin to show in another four to five weeks. Provided nothing goes wrong, we've got the main course for my favorite holiday meal all squared away. I'm glad we've some experience slaughtering chickens already, because I don't think I'd want to start on a turkey. If all goes well, I'll be able to try out Novella Carpenter's branch lopper execution method.
A turkey was not in the homestead plan for this year, but what the heck!