Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meeting the rest of the flock

Lemuel was rudely brought back to the present by a fight between two of the jennies. They were squabbling over a patch of ground where each of them wanted to scratch for bugs.
“I was here first. Find your own spot!”

“No, I was here first. You kept sneaking closer and closer as you scratched. This is my spot!”

Sighing, Lemuel walked over and sharply pecked each of them. “Mind your manners. You’re not a couple of squabbling chickens you know. You have the blood of the finest turkeys in North America running through your veins. Your pedigree goes back over 200 generations…”

Both jennies gave him a bored look and turned their backs on him and walked away. “Yeah, Dad, we know. Blah, blah, blah, aristocratic turkeys, the true first Americans. Whatever.”

Fatherhood and the founding of a new turkey dynasty weren’t working out the way Lemuel had envisioned. He had been raised on a farm specializing in heritage turkeys - Jersey Buffs. The farmer knew the pedigree of each of his birds and proudly informed them of their lineage as he cared for them. While some of his fellow jakes had made fun of the farmer, Lemuel listened to every word and took it all to heart. He would continue the line of Jersey Buffs proudly.

Bart, the farmer who’d purchased him had other ideas. It turns out that he’d bought a heritage tom only because the farm had a surplus of them and was selling them at a bargain price. The hens that Bart had purchased were common Holland Whites, and they certainly were common. They had no idea of their heritage and had been raised on a factory farm with no close contact with humans. Their manners and language were atrocious, and when he tried to impart information on basic turkey etiquette then hens just laughed at him and turned their backs, scratching dust in his face.

Furthermore, since they’d been raised in some sort of building with access only to a covered porch, they’d had no idea what to do when released into their turkey run. Bart had purchased fifteen poults and raised them up at the house until they could be released onto the farm. Lemuel would remember that first day with them for the rest of his natural life. Bart had carried them down from the house, one at a time, and dumped them into the run, saying each time, “Here’s another lady friend for you, Tom.”

The first hen had looked around with wild eyes and started running. She ran until she hit the wire fence, bounced off it and ran in the other direction. After doing this three or four times she just sat there dazed and gabbling. “This can’t be happening to me. Why the hell am I here? Where are the walls? Where is my feed? Oh, take me hooooooome!”

Lemuel walked slowly over to her so as not to scare her any more than she already was and introduced himself. He then offered to show her the coop, where she might feel more secure.

“Why dincha show me that when he dropped me in here. Some help you are, you big lunk. Take me there. NOW!” The hen stood up and glared at him.

Lemuel led her to the coop entrance, telling himself he needed to make allowances for her behavior. This must be a traumatic experience for her. A new place, separated from her friends and relatives; all would be well once she settled in a little bit.

The hen ran into the coop, and when Lemuel tried to follow her she screeched, “Stay out of here - this is the hen house. No toms allowed. Shoo!” Lemuel backed off, completely confused. While he was still trying to figure out what to do, Bart dumped another hen into the run. The first hen screeched, “Penny! Henny Penny – over here! It’s safe in here. Just watch out for that nasty tom.” She turned to Lemuel and said, “Fine, you’ve helped me. Now get lost. Go away. Leave me and my sisters alone.”

Lemuel retreated to the far end of the turkey run where he could watch without being scolded and vilified. Bart dropped one hen after another into the run, and each time the first hen called to the newcomer, who ran quickly to the coop. After Bart dropped in the last turkey he called to Lemuel, “You’ve got your harem now, Tom. I expect to you produce me lots of chicks. I fancy being a turkey farmer these days. These ladies are going to need to be taken in hand – they’ve never had a run like this before, so I expect you to show them how things are done around here.” Bart turned and walked back towards the house, and Lemuel heard him say, “As if that dumb cluck would know his tail from a hole in the ground. He wasn’t even smart enough to come back home right away when he flew off God knows where.” He chuckled all the way back to the house.

It didn’t seem the right time to tell these hens anything. He could hear them all screeching in the coop about what a dump this place was – no central heat (whatever that was) and why couldn’t it be a nice cinderblock house like their old one rather than this ugly tongue and groove construction. Lemuel sighed and hoped that it wasn’t going to be too cold tonight. He didn’t think he’d be sleeping indoors any time soon.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Reeder -

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