Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is Bart's flock USDA inspected?

On Saturday morning, Bart was raking out the turkey run as usual.  He saved this chore for Saturdays to avoid being dragged out to the mall by his wife or daughter, and stretched it out as long as possible.  He thought to himself this morning that after next week he’d need to come up with an alternate chore if he wanted to be able to stay home on Saturdays. 

Bart checked on the poult in the coop, and was surprised to find that she was looking pretty good.  Maybe he’d wasted money on that fancy broody coop and poult feed, but no matter – it was a moot point now.  He had become quite diligent in his daily search for eggs since she’d been hatched, but decided that this had just been a fluke.  Eggs were where they belonged, in the nest boxes.  Plenty of eggs, actually.  Bart thought that if the turkeys had enough brains, perhaps they were showing him what good layers they were, but everyone knows turkeys are just plain stupid. 

He was glad to see that he still had his full complement of turkeys.  He promised thirteen, he wanted to deliver thirteen.  He was considering whether he needed to change the straw in the nest boxes when his cell phone rang.  It was a local number, but not one he recognized.  Sighing, he answered the phone.   “Good morning, Father Michael – are you checking on the health of your turkey dinners?” 

Lemuel heard this and moved in closer to hear the conversation.  It was morbid curiosity, but if there was going to be a change in plans, he wanted to know about it.  “No, my turkeys are not USDA inspected nor are they inspected by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture under the ’Wholesome Meat Act’.  I’m a family farm, and I don’t need to follow those darn rules.”  After a silence in which Bart’s face began to turn a bright shade of crimson he said, “I’m donating these turkeys, not selling them!  I don’t care if the rules apply to donations even to food banks; your church is not a food bank.”  He breathed hard while listening a bit more.  “Well, the bottom line is this.  If you want my turkeys, you take them as they are.  It makes no sense for me to try to get approval for this flock in the two days until I slaughter them.  If I say they’re wholesome birds, they are.  Do you make people who donate pies get their kitchens inspected?  No.  My wife has been donating pies for your bake sales and coffee hours for as long as we’ve lived here, and no one’s ever asked to come inspect her kitchen.  Take them or leave them.”  After a very brief pause Bart said tersely, “Fine, I hope your budget can cover the purchase of all the turkeys you’ll need, and if it doesn’t please don’t ask me for a donation.”  He jabbed at the off button with his thumb and hurled the phone across the turkey run, nearly missing Betty. 

“They don’t want you sorry birds because I’ve never had all those government flunkies come and inspect my turkey operation.  You’re not good enough to feed to homeless people and folks who’ve lost their jobs and can’t afford a fancy Thanksgiving dinner.  Now I’ve got to keep taking care of you all.”  He stomped over, picked up his phone and jammed it in his pocket.  Sticking the pitchfork in the ground he left the run and headed towards the house.

Lemuel raced to the coop where he found what appeared to be a turkey ballet.  Five hens scratched, crowed and bobbed their heads in unison, intoning paeans to the Celestial Turkey in sing-song voices.  It would have been amusing if Lemuel didn’t have such momentous news to share.  “We’re saved!  I just heard Bart talking to the priest, and they’re not going to serve us for the Thanksgiving dinner.  We’re not injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected, so the church can’t use us.   Isn’t that great?” 

Lydia, who had been leading the hens in the ritual cried, “Oh, see I told you!  The Celestial Turkey did save us!  We asked correctly and with the right amount of reverence, and She spared us!”  She ran inside the coop to tell the others.  Lemuel looked at Brianna and asked exactly what they’d been doing.  She explained that Lydia had taught them how to worship the Celestial Turkey and beg that She intervene and save them.  She described a lengthy ritual that consisted of typical turkey behaviors, but done in a particular order and in unison by turkeys who were clean of heart and mind.  Lemuel personally thought it more likely that the government had more to do with saving them than the Celestial Turkey, but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about.  And furthermore, he knew that Bart was still planning to eliminate the turkey operation in the long run.  This was a best a stay of execution, with an eventual pardon unlikely.

It was time to tell Kid, if Lemuel could find her.  He walked to the section of the run closest to Kid’s property and called for her, settling down for what could be a long wait.  He figured he’d call for Kid every once in a while until Kid came over or Lemuel got hungry.  This was news he wanted to share.  As he sat there, he considered what Bart might do next.  Bart didn’t like to waste money or goods, so he probably wouldn’t just slaughter them and toss the carcasses.  He’d really liked the idea of a tax write-off.  Maybe there was some other place that would take them without an inspection, but Lemuel hoped not.  Lemuel called for Kid again and this time heard her respond, “I’m coming – is the coast clear?” 

Lemuel looked around and saw no sign of Bart and let Kid know that.  When she arrived he shared the news that they weren’t going to feed the parish next week.  Kid was overjoyed.  She let go a ‘whoop’ that scared some sparrows out of a nearby tree.  “That’s great, Lemuel!  And since we already know he doesn’t want *any* turkey for Thanksgiving himself, you and the flock are safe at least for a little while.  That will give us some time to come up with a new idea.  I know there has to be a way to save you and the flock.  I just know it.”

Lemuel wasn’t quite so sure of that, but between his own relief and Kid’s joy at the new, he decided it wasn’t time to discuss any long term worries.  They could wait for another day.

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