Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life on the farm 111609: Turkey Tips

It's that time of year again. The corn harvest is near completion; it's time to fill the bird feeder, knock down the hollyhock, and mark the main driveway with reflective staves for when the snowdrifts erase the entrance to the farm. We don't want the milk truck getting mired down on the lawn.

It's also the time of year that it's all about the bird - you know the one - that holiday turkey.

You can't open a magazine or watch television without being bombarded with hints and tips on how to prepare a T-bird or conjure up a stress-less (or simplified) Rockwellian gathering, but instead of delving into any of that, my husband Dan is offering his tips on how to grow your own holiday bird.

We've raised American Bronze, Narragansetts, and Red Bourbons. They were all delicious, but the one we like the best are Broad-breasted Bronze. They dress from 21 to 40 pounds and compared with the others, are easy keepers.

Dan's advice is twofold:

The first rules apply to all livestock raised for meat.

1) Have a plan on how you are going to do it in.

2) Don't make pets out of your food.

Practical pointers pertaining to turkeys:

1) Order more birds than you think you need (if getting day-old chicks) because they die easily: they can tip over onto their back, get stuck in corners, injure a leg = dead.

2) They jump and fly after a few days, so cover the hot pen until they have real feathers. Cold chicks = dead chicks.

3) Check on them multiple times a day because they attract predators with unhappy peeps and movement. Owls, snakes, cats, rats, falcons, fox = dead.

4) Once they no longer need heat lamps for warmth and are larger than a quart of milk, put them on grass during the day. They love to graze, and will keep their area neatly mowed down. They eat weed seeds, too. Bring them in at night because of predators, and keep a watchful eye and ear out for circling hawks and eagles.

5) Separate hens from Toms when they start breeding and sparring, because injuries will ruin the "eatability" of the birds. Slashes, bleeding, infection = dead.

6) Finish the turkeys on cull apples and cracked corn, because that's what they'd eat if they were living in the wild. You can see native turkeys in alfalfa stands and cornfields all over the county.

Don't let this discourage you, because turkeys really aren't all that difficult. They don't overeat and are pleasurably social, running across their pasture to greet visitors. Mature hens can even give you an egg a day.

It's become popular to keep a few laying hens in the backyard, but if you have the room and a processing plan, a turkey or two is a nice addition.

Like any meat bird you raise yourself, your holiday turkey will be more flavorful, moister, and cook faster than what you can buy in the stores. Just ask Dan.