Posts Tagged ‘turkeys’

The Turkey Who Lived, the story of Azul as told by the girl who loved her most,
© 2004-2009 by Dee. All rights reserved.

She was a blue so light she was almost gray. Jim got her at Miller Feed Shop in Albuquerque’s north valley after first buying and then losing a white baby turkey to a hawk. That turkey, we were later told, would have eventually grown so big that its weight would have broken its legs.

But Azul was a lean heritage turkey. She was made to roam fields. And roam she did. She had an easy relationship with our dogs, who seemed to know that she was as much a part of the family as they were. And she was docile with the girls, which put me at ease. A man I once worked with told me that you should never have turkeys around small children, as the turkeys would see the kids’ shiny eyes and peck them out.

Azul became famous ’round these parts. We lived within walking distance to the elementary school, and my daughters’ teachers regularly took their classes on field trips to our house. Twenty or so excited kids would stand at the fence around the bird pen to see Azul and the other turkeys, along with our chickens and Roosevelt the duck. We even had two bunnies, Diamond-in-the-Rough and Snowball, which if we could catch (they burrowed tunnels from the pen out to the yard) we’d let the students pet.

But Azul’s fame derived mostly because she survived an attack so severe that her innards were exposed. She had flown into the neighbors’ yard, not knowing that their dogs were unfriendly. Immediately a Bassett Hound and German Shepherd cornered and jumped her. The daughter was inside alone but had the wherewithal to call the police. She then went outside and chased the dogs away from Azul until Animal Control arrived and took the wounded turkey to the village offices.

Normally, with injuries that grave, Azul would have been put to sleep. But when the mayor of the village saw our daughter, who with Jim had pulled in seconds behind Animal Control, crying her eyes out when she saw how gory Azul looked, the mayor ordered Frosty, the head dog catcher, to rush the turkey to a local veterinarian. This mayor, who was also a sometimes-actor in Western films, then told Jim that the village would pick up the cost.

Lo and behold, Azul pulled through. She went on to live a relatively long life, giving birth to and raising three or four poults, a combined 20 to 30 turkeys.

Just a couple of weeks ago, however, Azul went missing. We looked high and low for her. She was always the leader of her flock, until this past year. We were down to four turkeys, one being Azul. The two males had plucked out large patches of her feathers. We let her stay outside the pen, being as how she roosted high in the trees to sleep.

One night we heard a commotion and chased off whatever it was that had come around. The next day Azul was gone. There were no feathers, no sign that she’d been taken or hurt. We searched for her for several days, thinking she might have laid eggs underneath brush and was hidden, safe and sound.

We still like to think she just flew high up into the trees where we can’t see her. But she was old for a turkey, and in our hearts we know that she’s gone for good.

Here is the story that Dee wrote about Azul back in 2004, just a few weeks after Azul was attacked by the dogs. Dee was 8 years old, and Azul was just over a year. I’ve corrected typos for ease of reading.

The Turkey Who Lived

One fall day, my dad, M., and me were shopping at K-Mart. We got a lot of stuff. Finally we were headed for home. When we turned on Mockingbird Lane, we saw the Animal Control leaving the road. My dad had a feeling something was wrong!

When we pulled up at our green gate, my dad saw a note left from the Animal Control which read “Your turkey has been attacked by some dogs next door. Sincerely, Frosty.”

My dad told us and I cried, but then I said, “I’ll kill those dogs!”

We met up with them [Animal Control] just in time. Before my dad got out of the car, he said Azul might be dead or dying. While my dad talked I could not tell if Azul was dead or alive, so I got out of the van and went to my turkey and cried when I saw her.

“We will put her to sleep,” the man said. “No!” the mayor said, “you will take her to the vet.”

So they did. The vet stitched her up. We had to put red medicine on her for a week. Now she is better, as if it never happened.

In Memoriam

azul azul and baby in fall

fall humps goodbye azul

Azul and her flock on red Ravine

Postscript: Even though she’s no longer with our flock, we are grateful this Thanksgiving holiday for having had Azul in our lives. She taught us that turkeys were not just some dumb bird you eat once a year. They’re regal and sociable. They’re funny, and most of all, they’re tough.

We’re also thankful today for our family (including the furry, feathered, and scaly), friends, our readers, for nature, writing, art, and all that inspires us.

Happy Thanksgiving, QM and Liz, and both your families!

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Zzzzzz…. Ah, corn, cookies, mashed potatoes

Harumph…. Huh? Who’s there? Wait, where am I?

Wha? I was just dreaming…creamed corn

Oh my, what a big eye you have

Are you my mom???

Postscript: Six poults hatch from among the couple of dozen eggs the mama turkey lays on. Turkeys are big and clumsy, and the mama squashes her babies by accident, killing four.

Jim and the girls snap into action. There are only two poults left, one injured, the other tangled in the octagon of a chickenwire fence. Jim cuts out the trapped baby.

Both are just a few days old but already they eat and drink. Like most babies they sleep a lot. An old photography light/heat lamp simulates (as much as possible) the warmth of Mama’s downy feathers.

Jim says we’re nurturing the next generation of turkeys. Every day until all the eggs hatch he’ll be out there watching for the next set of poults.

Turkeys on red Ravine

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turkey love, two heritage tom turkeys in perfect silhouette in the Rio Grande Valley, NM, November 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

♥♥♥♥                                         ♥♥♥♥

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥                               ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥                     ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥           ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

For the ones we love and the ones who love us.

For this moment, and hope for the future.

For inspiration, practice, our mentors.

For our health and our work.

For beautiful turkeys.

For one another.

For all of you.


QM and yb

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My mother-in-law made this…

Happy Thanksgiving, handmade card from Celia, Thanksgiving
2009, image © 2008 by Celia. All rights reserved.


                                                         …which made me think of this…

Hand Turkey, remembering how we used to draw turkeys when we were kids, image © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

…which kind of looks like this…(although not really)…

Gray Tom, one of tom turkeys counting his blessings before Thanksgiving, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

                                            …and which looks nothing like this!

Black Tom, glad to be the clever turkey he is, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Will you be eating

             one of these handsome guys

                                   (well, not exactly one of them)

                                                                  this Thanksgiving??

*The Bald Eagle is the symbol of the United States, yet one person believed that the Turkey would have been a more respectable bird to represent our nation.

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Oh, look, it’s the humans. They’re watching us.
Let’s give ’em a show, BOYZ!

Exhibitionist Turkeys...Ready...

Strut, aha, strut, aha…
Funky turkey, yeah, funk it up, yeah…
Ready, set…

Oh, look, they’re running away screaming…
Mission accomplished. Good job, BOYZ.
Duck, get lost. You’re such a peeping tom.

Ready, Set, Mount…, Eagle Eye and her toms mating on the patio,
June 2008, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Other Things I’ve Learned:


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Azul in the Corner, the turkeys strutting in the new year and Azul giving Jim the eye, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

I remember spending Easters at my grandparents’ farm in northeastern New Mexico. My cousins who lived nearby invariably got among their chocolate rabbits and Peeps those live pink, blue, and green dyed chicks and ducklings. I longed for such an exotic pet.

Grandpa raised rabbits, sheep, and pigs for food, and before we loaded ourselves into the Caprice for the long drive back to Albuquerque, I’d begged my parents until I was blue in the face for a baby anything we could take home with us.

We lived in a bucolic neighborhood where, although it wouldn’t have been the norm, it wasn’t out of the question to have a pet chicken or rabbit hanging out in the backyard. But for the most part, people in our slice of suburbia owned dogs, cats, the occasional hamster, and for a short period of time while they were all the craze, a tiny turtle in a plastic aquarium.

I had two such red-eared slider turtles. I named them Gertrude and Henrietta. They lived a boring and tortured life on my bedstand. I regularly let the water in their dish evaporate until the poor turtles nearly dried out. Either that or I picked them up constantly, their little legs flailing in the air.

Eventually Gertrude and Henrietta died. Tiny turtles as pets came to an abrupt end when the adorable reptiles were linked to salmonella and banned. From that point on, I was allowed no pet more exotic than our black mutt, Gilligan. Even my tom cat, Tiny Roy, was secretly exiled to the animal shelter.

As an adult who is now free to have any pet I want as long as it’s legal and I can care for it emotionally, physically, and financially, I’m finally in a position to live my childhood dream. So it is with some sense of bafflement that I look around me and see that, besides the bullsnake we inherited, our pets consist of two dogs and six turkeys. Well, and one duck. (OK, we also have a horse, but he won’t be living here with us until spring.)

I guess I thought that by now I’d have a wildly diverse menagerie. Talking birds, giant lizards, colorful fish in a big glowing tank. A hedgehog, pot-belly pig, pygmy goat, and miniature donkey. Not to mention a herd of mustangs and possibly two llamas. Maybe even an ostrich.

What happens to a kid’s sense that anything is possible? Do we grow up and figure out that nothing is pragmatic?

Sure, turkeys are unusual. I always heard that they’d peck out a child’s eye thinking it was a shiny button. Ours are not nearly so dangerous; they won’t let you get close enough to their beaks to poke out your eyes.

I suppose there’s still time to grow our petting zoo, although I have a feeling it’s as big as it’s going to get. My own kids aren’t begging for any animals other than what we have. By satisfying their wishes for chickens, turkeys, and ducks, we’ve inadvertently pre-empted the kind of longing I had as a child for something — anything — more exotic than a dog or cat.

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Happy Turkey Week, Mama Azul on the plum tree, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

Last Saturday my friend Jana L’Esperance, who goes by the Flickr moniker blueskydesert, came to the house to shoot the turkeys. “What’s she gonna shoot ’em with,” Jim asked, “…her huntin’ rifle?”

We — Jim and I — had reached the end of our rope as far as the turkeys were concerned. Much as we tried to keep them in the orchards, the turkeys insisted on spending most their time on the back patio, where they could watch us through the sliding glass door or have us watch them perform their amazing tricks. “Check your shoes for turkey poop,” had become our most frequently uttered sentence.

Then one evening a few days ago, we saw a news story about Frank Reese Jr., the turkey farmer responsible for saving heritage turkeys — the breeds raised for Thanksgiving Day since 1850 — from extinction.

Today’s commercial turkey has been genetically modified to get so fat in such a short period of time, the bird can hardly stand on its feet. It’s raised in confined spaces inside buildings, and it tastes nothing like bourbon reds, blacks, or any of the other breeds Reese Jr. raises.

Commercial turkeys produce more white meat than heritage turkeys. According to Reese Jr., most people today don’t know how real turkey tastes. The heritage turkey — that is, the real and original turkey — has darker, juicier meat than the Butterball that usually shows up on Thanksgiving tables. 

Well, the girls won’t have anything to do with our newfound interest in our, yep, heritage turkeys, so we’ve struck a compromise. We’ll keep the two mamas and one tom. That way we can have more turklets next year, now that we know more about what we’re doing.

A friend, Trish, who is the kind of woman you could drop into the wilds anywhere and she’d survive, is going to slaughter two turkeys for her family, and in the process she’ll teach Jim how to do it. He’ll slaughter two for our Christmas dinner. The rest we’re selling, and we’re not being picky about who buys them.

So far, one local guy bought three bourbon red toms. He raises turkeys for pets; actually looked at me askew when I told him I’d heard they were excellent eating. Said he’s had turkeys since he was a boy — he looked to be about 50 — and he told us we could come visit them any time we wanted. We know where he lives; seeing his heritage turkeys is what interested us in getting our own in the first place.

And, we managed, thanks to Jana’s visit, to get our entire flock back into the pen. So, this Thanksgiving Day morning, all is peaceful.

We’re up and getting ready to spend the day with Jim’s family. We’ll be eating a commercial turkey, but until we’ve tasted better, we’ll think it’s the best food we’ve ever had. Our turkeys will spend the day free, so to speak. No, they’re not out picking apples off the ground at their leisure, but they’re alive on a beautiful Thanksgiving Day morning, and I don’t think they could ask for much more than that.

Thank you, Jana, for “shooting” these gorgeous pictures of our birds. No matter what becomes of them, we can look back and admire their beauty.

Two bourbon red toms posing (both since sold), November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

      Mama Eagle Eye on the flagstone near the pond, November 2007,
      photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

Follow the Leader, baby following Mama Azul, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

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Turkeys Greeting #1
Hey, look, it’s Mom, she’s home for lunch!

Turkeys Greeting #2
Hi, Mom, d’ya got anything for us? What d’ya got?

Turkey Greeting #3
What d’ya got there, Mom? D’ya got anything??

Turkey Greeting #4
She dudn’t got anything, let’s get the flock outta here.

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Um, hel-loooo… can someone let me in?
They’re lining up to do a drumline.*

Hey, you just let Rafie in. Come on, you guys.
Don’t leave
me out here alone with ’em.

OK. Everyone into formation. Not you, duck.

Quacky idea…stupid turkeys. Hmmph!

Line ’em up, turkeys, straight and narrow!

Watch this…they’re fluffin’ up for the finale…

Woo-hoo, show some tail! Duck, get out!

We’re done…let’s get the flock outta here.
Wait a sec, is there any food?

*Drumline = a name suggested by one of red Ravine’s readers during a lively conversation about what to name our 11 “turklets.”

These turkeys are so advanced that they took it upon themselves to learn amazing turkey tricks, such as “doing the Drumline.”

Perhaps they were scared into action upon hearing some of the other names suggested, namely Butterball, Giblet, Barbie-Q, Stove Top, and Drumstick.

Although we’d like the turkeys to be wild, they haven’t taken well to the idea. Still, we have high hopes that these turkeys will make a mark in this world (and I’m not talking about turkey scat), forever burying the notion that they might be better served on a platter this Thanksgiving.

[Oh, and, the photos? Taken with my cell phone camera. Still waiting…]

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Wild Turkeys At Morning Asking Themselves, Are Those Cornflakes
They’re Eating?

Wild Turkeys Reflecting On Turkey Concerns, Such As Grasshoppers,
Coyotes, And The Comfortable Chair By The Door

Wild Turkeys In Mid-Morning Repose While Nature Rages On

Wild Turkey Scat Discovered On The Patio

Other titles I considered for this post:

  • Turkeys for Sale, CHEAP!
  • Friendly Turkeys Free to a Good Home
  • U Pick ‘Em Turkey Farm
  • Gobble, Gobble, Gobble ‘Em Up

Other post title suggestions, anyone?

-related to post, Wild Turkeys Of Rioteague Island

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Turkeys Wild among the Geraniums, letting the turkeys loose on the land one morning, photo © 2007 by Jim. All rights reserved.

It’s been about ten or so weeks since our mama turkeys hatched a bunch of babies. We call them “turklets” in our household, but they’re really called “poults.” They’ve grown a lot since the last post about them. I imagine they’re about 16 years old in people years.

For a few weeks we talked about giving them away to people who would raise them as pets and promise not to eat them. But it looks like we’re going to keep them instead. Jim has this idea that he’s going to let them run wild on the land. That we’re going to start a whole colony and that years from now, long after we’re gone, people will wonder where the wild gray-and-brown turkey flock came from. For all we know, books will be written about them and their fame will rival that of the wild ponies of Assateague Island.

For now we are working on making them as wild as possible. Every morning Jim shooshes them out toward the field. So far, they have learned to circle the house several times a day. Mostly they hang out on the back patio.

We’re hopeful. They all have learned to puff up big any time the eagle comes flying ’round. We know we might lose one or two before they are fully able to survive the wild. But some day, hopefully in our lifetimes, we will see gray-brown turkeys roaming the Rio Grande Valley.


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              Azul Stepping Gingerly, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved      
              Azul Stepping Gingerly, August 1, 2007, photo © 2007 by
              ybonesy, all rights reserved.

The girls are bopping around the house these days saying, “Azul’s a better mother than Eagle Eye.” Azul is the slate blue turkey who on Monday hatched a batch of 11 poults. Eagle Eye is the brown turkey who a few weeks ago brought seven baby turkeys into the world, proceeded to step on (and crush to death) one of them, lost two to something that looked like a virus, and let another become “disappeared.”

I hate the labels: good mother, bad mother. Yet, here I am, going along with them. Azul does seem to walk gingerly around her brood. She hasn’t lost any babies yet, and it’s true, she was a mama last year. This was Eagle Eye’s first round at mothering.

Azul’s Babies, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedStill, it’s a horrible judgment. Good mother. Bad mother. If you’re a mother, you know exactly what I mean. There is no role more scrutinized, criticized, revered and reviled. Who do we adults blame for our neuroses? Our mothers. Who do we make jokes about and love to hate? Our mothers-in-law.

I gave birth to my first child 12 years ago this September. I remember how nervous I was holding my newborn Dee. She weighed seven pounds. She cried and cried in those early days, and we often couldn’t figure out what it was. We ran through the basic stuff — nursing and changing diapers — before ending up fluttering all about her. Is it her ears, her tummy, what is it?? Most nights we just held her, swadled and bright red with fury, all of us miserable, especially me and Jim.

Azul and Babies, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedI do have to wonder what it is, if not differences in mothering, that explains Azul’s apparent ease with her babes. She does seem to be sure-footed, literally, with her 11 poults. Azul’s a different breed — lighter in color and weight — from Eagle Eye. Azul’s also older by a year. In turkey years I bet that’s something like a decade.

I was a more relaxed mother the second time around. Jim, too, was a more skillful parent. Em was independent, not so clingy. She stopped nursing at eight months, even though I wanted to at least complete a year. We doted on her plenty, but we didn’t freak out. Dee screamed and cried whenever we went somewhere in the car; she protested the entire drive, near or far. I remember one time pulling over on I-25 and letting my sister take over driving to Santa Fe while I climbed into the back and took Dee out of her carseat to nurse her just so she’d stop screaming. Never mind that I put us both in danger during that little episode. She stopped crying and that was all that mattered.

It’s been a tough lesson having our miniature farm. We’ve lost many animals — chicks and a baby duck, three rabbits, too many turkeys to count. Dee herself buried the last poult that died from Eagle Eye’s brood. We’ve taken extra precautions with Azul. Early on, Eagle Eye’s babies escaped their pen, got exposed to cool nights and hawks. As soon as Azul had her babies, we moved them into the most secure spot in the pen.

Azul checking things out, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedI hung out with all the turkeys for a while this evening. I wanted to observe them for myself. I shot a few photos of Azul with her 11 poults all scrambling about her, weaving back and forth between her feet. Eagle Eye seemed pretty easy-going with her remaining three babies. They’re getting big. Soon we’ll have to start finding homes for some of these babies. No way we’re going to get into the business of turkey farming.

I have to admit, Azul struck me as being the wiser of the two. It’s not a judgment against Eagle Eye, though. Azul just has a certain gentleness about her. She always has. She lets you hold her, and she doesn’t fret when you get close to her babies. Eagle Eye was raised under different circumstances. She’s a turkey’s turkey. There were lots of birds in the pen by the time she came around. But that doesn’t make her a bad mother. Nature is nature. No one ever said it was easy.

                         Eagle Eye on the other side, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
                         Eagle Eye on the other side of the fence, July 2007,
                         photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

posted on red Ravine, August 1, 2007

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