November 13, 2008.
The mobile turkey processor is coming next Tuesday and so goes the end of the year......so to speak. When we started this little adventure, we had NO IDEA what to do or how to do it. Having grown up and worked in a farming family (uncles & cousins) I had lots of experience with raising, milking or processing cows, horses, pigs chickens, and large gardens, but NEVER turkeys! In spite of all that I have read, researched and spoke to folks, you have to experience turkeys to understand them. The good news is that we have buyers for all but one of our birds. Ol' one eye is going on my table for Thanksgiving!!! He was injured as a poult just after we got them in early June. You would have thought having only one eye would have slowed him down. Hardly! He is my biggest tom! Walks around with his head tilted to one side and eats/drinks kind of strange, bit other than that he is normal. For a turkey, what is that?
This adventure all started last winter when a bachelor "farmer" friend of ours came over for dinner. Somehow the topic of raising poultry came up. He mentioned that he was ordering his yearly flock of chickens and ducks - what the fox doesn't get, he puts in the freezer. So we spoke to the people at the local hardware store in Franklin County about ordering poultry for our farm. We knew we wanted chickens (still needed to finish refurbishing the old coop) to sell the eggs on our farm stand. We spoke about ducks and geese, but never turkeys. When the time came to order, I stopped by the store alone - mistake #1 for my wife. When I left, we had on order chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys! How do you know what you like if you never try......or that was my logic. Well, let the learning curve go into over-drive. Baby chicks need a brooder, so I built two from plans on a website that used 40 gallon plastic tubs from Wal-Mart. When they out grew these, I built one out of plywood from a book called "Success with baby chicks" by Robert Plamondon. I moved the not-so-small baby chicks out to the newly renovated coop. I raised the building and installed a new foundation sill, repaired the concrete floor and installed fenced windows covered in plastic to keep out the wind. Success! We did not lose a single bird and the chicks were turning into chickens! Then the ducks and geese came. I was able to use the tub brooders for a while, but geese grow very fast! Lesson learned.. So I fenced off a section of the coop for the ducks and geese. That went well, except ducks and geese make a royal mess with their water..... Lesson learned. Then the turkeys came. By this time, my wife was getting a bit frazzled. But I was still optimistic we could pull it all off. Having read that turkeys and chickens should not be mixed, I kept the turkeys in a large plywood box in the coop feed section. And I thought geese grew fast..... Lesson learned again - be prepared. I am an Eagle Scout so you would have thought I would be, but I was not. Off to the local lumber box store with plans that I drew up for a mobile duck/geese/turkey shed on sledges. My plan was to move the "Ark" around with my tractor as the birds grew...... You guessed it, it was in the same spot all summer and fall. I found it easier to just let the ducks and geese out in the morning and back in at night. The turkeys I did not trust out on their own. Why? Well, we raised Broad-Breasted Whites. When we started I did not know a BBW from a Bourbon Red or Narragansett or Midget Holland or the other breeds. And what was a Heritage breed? Lesson learned. So the mobile processer is coming next Tuesday and my turkeys are going into the fridge. Customers are contacted, ice is made (to cool the birds after processing), feed is almost gone and the farm bank account needs an infusion of funds!!!
What lesson were learned?
* Hauling water is a joyful drudgery
* Chickens do NOT like to be inside buildings even in bad weather, at night or in the cold.
* Ganders (male goose) are sneak attack experts and only attempt the ambush when you aren't looking.
* Hawks do kill chickens! I heard a squawk and ran to the coop to find a small hawk tearing into one of my prize layers. I have since found a great use for old software CDs. Seems the light flashes scare the hawks and owls away.
* Ducks disappear. No trace, no feathers, nothing! Think it was a fox or something big enough to cart it off. Looking for animal box traps, but how do I keep my cats out of them????? Or do I????? Hummmm.....
* Raccoons will eat a goose through the fence. We rescued a blind goose from a neighboring farm. She was 90% blind and would not stay in the barn and tended to hang out in the corner of the 5' fence. Sad but inevitable ending.
* BBW Turkeys eat and poop A LOT! Just think what a 50 lb dog will do daily and then multiply by how many turkeys you have !
* Get smarter turkeys next year and let them roam free for food in my meadows during the day. We are picking up a breeding pair of Narragansetts next week and ordering 25 Narr poults & 15 Holland Whites next April. Hope my new Mom and Dad take to the kids...
* Convince my wife to let me process the Chinese goose Gander and Embden geese. Then pick up some African geese to keep my lone African goose company. I give myself a 20% chance of getting the OK..... But my college daughter counts the ducks and geese everytime she comes home. Drat!
* Need fencing before sheep, Llama and beef cows.
* Need access to hay.
* Need better more joyful watering method.
* All of this costs money, takes time every day-morning-night, smells, noisey, soils good shoes and is a joyful experience that keeps us sane and balanced !!!
So the processer comes next week and the cycle begins yet again. Not bad a bad year. Learned a lot, worked a lot and now know enough to grow it a bit more each year.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone;
John and Penny