Let’s talk turkey.

I apoligise for the lame post heading. It’s early. I’m pre-coffee. It’s the best I could do.

I spent quite a bit of yesterday researching turkeys. I’m not quite sure why it is I’m so motivated to be caretaker to such endearing, charming animals, knowing that they’re to be dinner for people that are not me. And yet…I am.

Endearing? Charming? Turkeys? How can this be? Watch THIS.

I want turkeys, damn it.

It seems we need to challenge our good friend, Gertrude Stein, yet again. The most important piece of information I took away from yesterday’s research is that a turkey is not a turkey is not a turkey.

There’s the wild turkey, of course, native to North America and much beloved by Benjamin Franklin. These birds can fly, for short distances, at speeds of 55mph! Then there are the descendants of the wild turkey which fall into two main classifications: industry bird genetically bred for meat, and the heritage breeds.

All but a small fraction of one percent of turkeys sold for meat in this country fall into the former category. Gentle reader, I give you your Thanksgiving dinner…the Broad-Breasted White.

They call this the Dolly Parton of turkeys, because it has been genetically engineered to satisfy consumer desire for more and more white meat. The turkey has become so top-heavy it can’t fly, can’t roost, is prone to infection and leg injury, and can only be reproduced through artificial insemination.

I want you to reread that last bit for me. This bird has been bred to be so unnaturally malformed that it can’t even mate. The toms can’t get their ginormous moobs out of the way to do the manly. Every single turkey you see in your grocer’s freezer was created with a turkey baster. I think there’s some kind of irony prize in there.

But, wait! There’s more!!! To satisfy our insatiable desire for fast and cheap (and I am as guilty as anyone), the broad-breasted white grows to maturity in 16-20 weeks, in contrast to the heritage breeds’ 24-30. You could keep one as a pet, if you were soft-hearted, but it would keel over from a heart attack before it reached its first year, its heart unable to support its mass.

(The story is very similar for meat chicken breeds, which are even more prone to malfunctioning legs incapable of supporting their Herculean growth rates than their turkey brethren. Also, The Turkey Man, a doctor, told us that half the antibiotics used in the US are used on poultry. HALF.)

There is also a Broad-Breasted Bronze, by the way, but it is much less favoured due to the fact that its red feathers leave colouration under the skin after it’s been plucked. We like white skin.

I don’t mean to lecture. I was just astonished at how far removed I had become form my own food source, and it isn’t even my food. I’ve been using that fact as justification for my ignorance for well over a decade, but it seems that time is passed.

Then there are the heritage breeds. The beautiful birds I posted in my last entry are all heritage breeds. They are much more closely related to wild turkeys, and can fly, roost as high as possible, and can make their own babies without the help of IVF. In fact, turkey hens are wonderful broody mamas.

And here’s one more thing about the heritage breeds. They’re endangered. Actually rare and endangered, from lack of use.

It seems paradoxical to think that we might actually help a breed by raising them for meat, but it’s true. The slow food movement has done an admirable job setting the stage for a heritage turkey comeback; I read in my research that the tiny population of heritage turkeys has almost quadrupled in the last decade.

So, what does all this mean for us? The Man, after our debriefing (insert Valentine’s Day joke here), declared that, IF we get turkeys, they will be heritage breeds.

It would be fascinating to see how it goes, as we might not even need a coop once the birds reach maturity. I have read stories of heritage birds roosting in the rafters of barns, and high up in treetops to evade nocturnal predators, even in winter. Hey, it’s what the wild ones do.

We’d have to start in April to have meat birds for Thanksgiving, and we could keep two hens and a tom over the winter to make more poults. Yes, they lay eggs, but ~120 per year, to a laying hen’s ~300, and they tend to hide them.

The Man remains unconvinced, but he was like this with the chicks, too. I’ll let the information sit and simmer for a bit; that’s the best way.

Then we’d just need to get it past the girls…

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