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Birds to be thankful for at Thanksgiving

Let’s talk turkey, and by that I mean, let me tell you about the turkeys that we raised here on our farm. I’m talking about a massive flock of five.

Farmer Jim and I decided in the spring that we would get a few turkeys to raise for our family and for a few friends for Thanksgiving. We purchased the basic white turkeys from the local ag-store in April. This breed turned out to be steady growers and the biggest tom (male) weighed about 25 pounds. We did roast one of the turkeys a few weeks ago and it was very tasty. We have been asked so many times since then, and more frequently now that Thanksgiving is approaching, if we have turkeys for sale. We say, “Not this year, but perhaps next year,” and kindly offer a roasting chicken as a smaller substitute.

It seems to be common occurrence that farmer Jim and I have differences of opinions on how things should work around the farm. I wanted the turkeys in the field in their own fenced-in area. He wanted them near the barn because they were amusing. And, yes, they were amusing and curious, but they also have the biggest, most smelly droppings of all the fowl that we have raised yet. So while they were curiously wandering around the barn, they were leaving a trail behind them, literally. I have a hard enough time trying to hammer or screw something together with a very helpful five-year-old, I don’t need to have a large bird at eye level watching my every move, wondering if he is actually looking at what I’m doing or if he is trying to figure out if that freckle on my cheek is actually a bug that he could peck at and eat.

These birds were stubborn, too, or not very smart, I couldn’t really tell. At night, chickens naturally follow the light and roost inside their coop where they are safe from predators. These birds, though, have to be brought in each night to their coop. They would not go in on their own; they would have stayed out all night, if had let them. Well, we did leave one out all night because we couldn’t reach it and he didn’t make it through the night. A larger creature obviously took him away for its own meal.

My eight-year old son thought it was funny to charge the turkeys and make them run away. But, he didn’t think it was funny when they grew bigger and the males charged back. I couldn’t leave the kids alone in the barn because they were always thinking that the turkeys were “looking at them in a mean way,” which would cause them to scream, which would then cause the male turkeys to gobble a response and puff up. This led the kids to scream again and run with the turkeys, chasing after them. Any other animals caught in the crossfire, dogs, cats, or chickens, would scatter away, leaving feathers and dust flying everywhere.

This continual saga does not make for a very productive day in the barn. So after playing maid and mediator all summer, I made my point that next year: The turkeys will be in the field.

We processed these birds ourselves as we did our meat chickens with the same equipment — cones, scalder and plucker — and had minimal issues. We found out after the first turkey that they were too big for our mechanical plucker so we ended up plucking by hand. Our friend, John, came over to help and, with the three of us working on one bird at a time, it didn’t take very long to remove all of the feathers. The eviscerating took a big longer than it does with a chicken, but let’s face it, it is a bigger bird with more to remove.

I would like to raise turkeys again next summer for a larger amount of customers, but the final decision will have to wait until the financial statements are finished and we see some final numbers on labor and grain costs and our potential sales. We will probably spend some time over this winter researching heritage breeds and perhaps we will purchase a breeding pair next spring. I am not sure if self-sufficiency with turkeys is high on the priority list, but wouldn’t it be fun to learn as I go?

Speaking of learning, I have learned a lot this year and I could not have learned as much as I did without the help of my farmer friends. I am very thankful for their friendship and guidance. I am thankful that I have a husband that lets me run this business the way I want to and who allows me to be creative and take risks. I am thankful that my children are kind and respectful little human beings. I am thankful that I have such great friends and neighbors that came to my aid during Hurricane Sandy and my recent car troubles. I am thankful that my big momma pig came home after wandering down the road, and I am thankful for the neighbors who stopped by to tell me that the pig was wandering down the road. (Read about that crazy story on our website). And I am thankful for the supportive readers that I have who follow this monthly column.

In the end, whether you have on your Thanksgiving table, a farm raised local turkey, a traditional store-bought turkey, tofurkey (a vegan option made from tofu, usually shaped into a loaf) or a roasting chicken, I wish you the best this season of Thanksgiving has to offer to you and your family.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com.

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