As you may know, your standard Thanksgiving turkey is a genetic mutation, developed to produce the most food for the least money and effort. The resulting creature cannot carry its own weight after a year and is unable to reproduce naturally, in addition to being flavorless and shot full of hormones and antibiotics. Heritage breed turkeys are making a little bit of a comeback, and we have jumped on that bandwagon for the past few years.
Each year, we order turkey chicks from several states away, and they are shipped to us in a box through the U.S. postal system (which seems none too happy with the arrangement.) There are always a couple of dead or dying chicks in the box, and we usually lose a few more before they stabilize in a warm spot in our bathroom.
My goal has been to get them to breed, and eventually eliminate the need to order and ship live baby animals, because it just seems so ridiculous. They are expensive, too, at about $15 per chick. However, they no longer possess their natural instincts. Males often can't figure out what to do with their hormones, females think I am their mate, and eggs get dropped randomly in the yard, left to quickly grow cold.
This year, I managed to get one still-warm egg under a broody hen, who successfully hatched and raised it. It was a female, and I had high hopes that she might have some inherent maternal instincts, and my plan would finally begin to work. But, just now, when I opened the coop to let the flock out for the day, I found a bloody, headless body on the floor. At first, there was no sign of a break-in, but I finally found a spot near the roof where the chicken-wire had been pried apart. I am grateful that only one of our 6 turkeys was killed, but it appears to be my baby. My one hope.
Butchering will take place sometime this week, by my good, efficient friends at Barnyard Gardens. I'm taking the whole bunch in, and will start again in the spring. I can't imagine the amount of work and investment involved in a real business raising and selling free-range, organic, heritage turkeys, but I am certain that those doing it deserve every penny of the steep price.