Wednesday, August 09, 2006


It's easy to take pictures of turkeys. They see you coming and they all crowd up close, curious, eyeing you. They want to know: Are you bringing us food? (No, you already have a full feeder.) Water? (Nope, the waterer's full, too.) Shiny rivets on your clothes? (Yes, but don't even think about pecking at them! Hey! Back off, buddy!)

Now, taking good pictures of turkeys--well, that's another thing entirely, a thing that I'm not sure I will ever figure out.

This morning I was feeding the ducks when an ambulance wailed past. The ducks waddled and flapped at top speed into their night pen, and then when that failed to accomplish anything, they waddled back out again. The turkeys froze, stared, and then in unison, called out


I love that about turkeys. Gobbling is their version of barking.

Then I saw something I haven't seen before in our ten-week-old turks: One of the Bourbon Reds slowly, ostentatiously puffed up its body, fanned out its tail, and started strutting. I watched, transfixed. And then our meek little Blue Slate turkey (the s.o.'s sentimental favorite) walked up and pecked the offending Bourbon Red on the ass. The nail that sticks up will be hammered down!

We seem to have established an uneasy truce with the neighborhood dogs and cats. The turkeys and the ducks are protected by our portable electric fence--you know, the one the sheep jumped over. The ducks run loose within the fence, since they can't fly. The turkeys can fly, very much so, so they are confined to the turkey tractor, which is sort of like a gigantic parrot cage. It allows them to live three-dimensionally, roosting way up high. It's pretty big, but not as huge as we'd like it to be; there was a limit to how large it could be built and still be portable (the s.o. and I can just barely drag it by attaching straps to its eye-bolts). But the situation will be ameliorated soon. For one thing, the two big, heavy broad-breasted bronzes are due for slaughter, and that'll free up about 50 percent more space. For another, the s.o. plans to make a giant net-topped playpen for them.

It's a tricky thing, this free-ranging business. We'd like to let the turkeys really roam around, but that would involve clipping their wings, and they are creatures who love to fly and roost. Our Storey's Guide says when you clip turkeys' wings, there's a risk of them injuring themselves trying to fly; they simply won't accept that they can't do it.

Of course, we could really let them roam. But then we'd never be able to lay hands on them again, because they'd be up in a tree somewhere. Maybe in the National Forest. Probably in Crazy Neighbor Ed's yard. So barring that, we are doing the best we can do.

Anyway, I was talking about the electric fence. We put it around the turkeys and ducks when I got tired of being awakened at 4 AM by packs of feral dogs. Now we have no problems. The dogs figured out once and for all that they couldn't get into the henhouse. And early one morning we heard a distinct, satisfying yelp! as a neighborhood dog learned about the miracle of electricity. Since then, nothing.

Meanwhile, we solved the chicken problem by learning the dogs' schedule. Our neighbor Eddie Lee (a completely different person from CNE--in fact, someone we like very much) told us that he saw a pack of dogs return to our yard at about 8:30 or 9:00 every morning. They kept trying to get into the chicken-wire run, and eventually they would surely succeed. So I simply started waiting until 9:30 to let the chickens out. Again, so far it has worked.

Not all dogs are created equal. Silver (no feral chicken-hunting mutt!) is so good that she is allowed to be my Partner In Chores. She and I have developed a little chicken-releasing ritual. I take her out to the chicken area and put her in a down-stay. Then I go inside the henhouse and open up the door to the run. All the chickens flap and squawk and cock-a-doodle out into the sunlight, and Silver watches, completely fascinated. Of course, she didn't hold her down-stay very well the first few times, but soon she learned that if she was good, she could watch Chicken TV for as long as she liked.