Raising Backyard Turkeys

Social
on August 1, 2010

When we need advice on foraging mushrooms, harvesting oysters or gathering eggs, we turn to our favorite city chick–turned farmer, Tamar Haspel. Since Jan. 2009, Tamar has eaten one thing every day that she has foraged, farmed or fished. To read more, go to starvingofftheland.com

Thanksgiving Arrives Early
By Tamar Haspel

You know how the grocery store puts things like M&Ms and People magazinee right near the checkout? This is to maximize the chance that, after you’ve made the carefully considered decision to buy green beans ad The Economist, you have one last chance to be undone.

Our local feed store, Cape Cod Feed and Supply, employs the same strategy. Yesterday, we went in for chicken feed. We told Anita, the woman who sold us our chicks last year, and has been listening to our stories ever since, that we needed a 50-pound bag of layer pellets. She rang it up and told us we could pick it up on the dock.

And then we turned around, and there they were. The feed-store version of People. Cute, fuzzy, baby chicks.

There were two brooders of them. On the right were chickens, and on the left were turkeys. Turkeys! Standard bronze, straight run. $14.99 each.

Kevin and I have talked about turkeys. We even thought about having them this spring, but we’ve adopted a rule that Kate of Living of the Frugal Life uses – one new species per year. This year, we got bees, as did Kate. Turkeys were to be considered next year, as were pigs, which we will probably consider every year from now until Doomsday.

But there they were, cute little mottled brown chicks a little over a week old. They looked very small and low-maintenance. Besides, I’d just read Kate’s post about how a friend of hers offered her a turkey poult which she, of course, accepted – thereby violating her own rule and leaving me without a leg to stand on.

I thought, when I read Kate’s account, that this was an excellent way to acquire livestock. No considering, no debate, no endless lists of reasons pro and con. Someone just shows up at your door with a bird, you take it, and you figure it out as you go along. People have been raising poultry for millennia; it’s not that hard.

We bought four.

We dragged the brooder we’d used for the chickens out from behind the garage and washed out a spare waterer. We had half a bag of pine shavings leftover from when we changed the litter in the chicken coop, and an old cast-iron pot we could use as a feeder. We had our turkey set-up set up in the garage in about ten minutes. They’ll probably outgrow the brooder in about three or four weeks, which means we have three or four weeks to figure out what to do next. At the moment, we have no idea, but we’ve solved much harder problems in much less time.

The chicks have gotten the lay of the land in their new brooder, and all four are eating and drinking. One managed to escape through a hole in the chicken wire, which we had misjudged to be smaller than a 10-day old turkey, but we caught him and closed up the hole. The chickens wandered into the garage and cocked their heads at the sounds of baby-chick peeps, but didn’t seem to notice the big cage with the turkeys in it.

So far, so good, but I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time before this turns out to be a mistake. If there were an award for Worst Impulse Buy Ever, livestock would definitely be in the running, and I’m not at all sure we can expect to get away with this.

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