Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Unanticipated Addition to the Homestead

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!


patricew said...

Oh what fun! I would love to raise a turkey or two. I was under the impression though, that due to disease issues, one can't keep turkeys and hens in the same place. Guess I'll have to research that, cause now I am curious! Can't wait to hear how your turkey adventure goes!

el said...

I think you will love turkeys. Home-raised poults bond with you pretty firmly, and indeed, they will do just fine with chickens once they get to a certain size. Good luck sexing this one though: I have Bourbon Reds and I certainly cannot tell their sex until they're nearly grown. Our hen was a bit shy of 9 pounds at Thanksgiving but our tom last year was over 18.

Farmgirl Cyn said...

I can't blame you for tryin'! A "free" turkey, like pretty much anything else in this life, isn't really free tho! There's always some work involved, but a heritage breed turkey on the table for Thanksgiving sounds like a good thing! I might name it "Tasty" or "Delicious", or maybe even "Yum"! All pretty generic names and sure to please when on the platter!

Katidids said...

Oh, what a great friend! good luck, can't wait to see the growth.s

Michelle said...

Hope your turkey grows fat & healthy. This year I was given 2 Pekin ducks & golden comet chicks.
I am surprised how much growing ducks eat! A first grader I know asked if I would take the chicks they hatched in their classroom when school ends this year. I'm like you so guess what I said?

Anonymous said...

I like your policy of not turning down free handouts (I pretty much operate on the same policy), and what a great handout that is. I can't say I really know anything about raising turkeys, but I'm sure it'll turn out great.

Jennifer Montero said...

It's the sign of a good woman, having poultry in your spare room! And the sign of a thrifty one to say yes to a free offer and make it work. I expect the turkey experiment will go very well. I'm looking forward to the updates.

Andy Anderson said...

I would love to raise turkeys but I know they will not stay home. Mom in laws turkeys would always fly over the fence till it could put on enough weight to fly only into the fence. They would fly into the fence over and over till they would finally give up. Pretty cool for you!

Anonymous said...

Thats a bit exciting! Turkey meat isn't that big here in Australia, but I think the trend is slowly growing. I remember reading about the heritage breeds of turkey in the book Animal Vegetable Miracle, fascinated by these funny birds. May it grow plump and delicious for your plate.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, getting Thanksgiving sorted :o)

I never say no to freebies for the same reason, but it hasn't got me any livestock yet!

I have to say, I'm still not entirely convinced about the lopper method. I'm sure it's quick and I can see the advantage that you don't need to be practised to keep the knack, as you probably do to be good at dislocation, but isn't it....messy? I'm not especially squeamish, but I'd have thought the artery would spray everywhere, especially in a bigger bird.

I'd also think you'd have to be very detached from the process in hand to be able to chop an animals head off.
I'll be reading updates with interest!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I think it's great that you're game for anything! And there's something to be said for this method of livestock acquisition. I've found I can agonize for weeks, months, even years (in the case of pigs) about whether we should try to raise this animal or that. But if someone shows up on your doorstep with it, you just jump in.

As for naming, I think Drumstick can be either male or female.

Mountain Home Quilts said...

More and more people are raising turkeys this year! We just started as well with 2 Bronze!

Yvonne said...

Just discovered your blog! Wow! I have a lot of reading to do here! Great stuff!

Cute lil Drumstick! do you need town permission to raise poultry?
What does a turkey egg taste like?

*cheers and waving from your new neighbor in Delaware County*

Simply Natural Homestead said...

Cool! I'm going to try turkeys next year when we're settled. But I'm having fun with my chickens now!

Kate said...

Patrice, I don't know much about turkeys at all at this point, but I'm pretty sure lots of people kept mixed flocks in the past, and some still do. I think in general if animals are in a healthy environment, on the whole they can be healthy there.

El, this little one is already fairly interesting. It's just learning to hop-fly. I wonder if the weight differential for your turkeys was sex-related. Should I anticipate a small bird if I've got a female?

Cyn, yes, of course it's not going to be free. But it'll be a learning experience as well as a meal.

Katidids, yes, I've got a good friend. Will update from time to time about the poult.

Michelle, thanks. My plumber is now in the same situation as you. He wants to come by and see our mobile coop so he can take his daughter's classroom chicks.

urbanadaptation, I really hope so. I was told that poults are considered fragile until they reach six weeks of age. After that, they're pretty hardy. So two weeks to go until we can reasonably count on a home raised Thanksgiving dinner.

Jen, I'd say it takes one to know one, in both cases. Will keep you posted.

A & C, we're not allowed to free range poultry in our township. So I'm going to have to build some sort of shelter for the poult until it's big enough to join the hens. I may have to clip its feathers too, as the little thing is already showing signs of wanting to use those wings.

cityhippyfarmgirl, thanks. As I'm sure you know, turkey is obligatory here in the States for our high holy day. I find the prospect of raising our own more than a little exciting. I just hope it goes well.

Hi Hazel, I have no direct experience with the lopper method, but at least with chickens there isn't a huge spray of blood, even when the chickens are hanging upside down. I'm definitely going to be asking around for slaughtering guidance if we get to that stage. HFW writes of hanging turkeys up to 10 days, which I'm curious but also chary about. I do have to remain detached from animals I plan to slaughter. I've been surprised to find that taking good care of them and yet not becoming emotionally attached to them has been much easier than I imagined. Naming is right out. But I can handle the animals and enjoy watching them without becoming too invested in them. It's a big dividing line for me between livestock and pets.

Tamar, that's a good point. I don't think I ever would have made the decision to have a turkey. It wouldn't really have made sense to have just one, because if you get them as poults, they're so fragile. If you order one and it dies, you've got none. If you order more than one and they don't die, well, we'd have a situation with that on such a small property. So this is probably the only way it ever would have happened. We'll see how it goes.

MHQ, good for you!

nutty professor, thanks and howdy, neighbor! Our township allows four "outdoor pets." So technically we'll be over the limit, given our four laying hens, when the turkey goes out on the grass full time. So far the neighbors have been very cool about everything, so I hope the turkey doesn't create any problems. No idea what a turkey egg tastes like. I've never even seen one offered for sale.

SNH, that's a good progression. It's best to work up the stamina to handle more species rather than jumping in too deep all at once.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,
I'd say you've got the difference between pet and livestock pretty well sussed! You'll have to convince me about the slaughter method when the time comes ;o)

I just stopped by to say I've been given some free livestock....a bucket full of crayfish! Signal crayfish are a non-native species here, and they are wiping out our native crayfish, so once they're caught you can't return them to the water. I've acquired a (freebie) crayfish trap which I've applied for a licence for, but in the meantime these came from a friend of a friend. Caught this morning, now cooked, shelled and in my fridge! Not quite on a par with a turkey, but it's a start...


ChookChick said...

We've had heritage Bronzewings for the past 3 years with only a couple issues. They do seem to be susceptible to "turkey pox", an unsightly series of warts/boils that strikes at the juvenile stage much like teen acne. Most weather this with little ill effect. They also seem to be bent upon self-destruction, and will find any and every means of committing hari-kari. Just keep a close eye on them, at least up to about 6 months (whereas a chicken is absolutely fine by about 6 weeks!). Ours reach full (table or breeding) size by about 9 months, and the toms are at least 40% heavier than the hens. Enjoy your gobbler...it should be a fun learning experience at very least!

Kate said...

Hazel, I think I'm going to shoot Novella Carpenter an email about her method, but I'll wait until the poult is a bit older. Once they reach 6 weeks old they're considered pretty hardy. At that stage I figure it's worth troubling someone else to answer a few questions. I'll definitely post about the slaughtering and hanging if I decide to go that route.

I wonder if your invasive crayfish are what we have here. We caught them as kids in the creek, but only to play with bit before releasing them again. It would take a mighty large number of those critters to make much of a meal. In any case, I hope yours were tasty. Always good to eat the invaders.

Chookchick, I don't think ours is going to make it to six months. If it's four weeks old now, it'll be six months just as Thanksgiving arrives. It's just possible that we may save this for a Christmas dinner, but I'm hoping our poult is a male that will be nice and big for the family gathering at Thanksgiving. If it's a female, it sounds like we'd have to get a second bird to feed everyone anyway, so we might just get one big one and then save our poult for a smaller meal at Christmas. We shall see!