So, I’m at a Christmas party a few weeks ago, and who should be a guest at said party but Doctor Turkey, the father of one of The Stepdaughters’ friends, who got my whole crazy turkey fever started in the first damned place. And he tells me that the farmer who got him started, neighbour to Doctor Turkey, is also at said party. What an opportunity!
Now, this man is not a dilettante, like Doctor Turkey and myself; he is A Real Farmer, with turkeys and cattle and pigs (oh my), and I looked forward to hanging on his every word, sucking the wisdom from them, like the lime after the tequila. I tell him my whole stupid story, and how it’s really his fault, if you think about it, that I’m doing this colossally reckless thing, and I sit back and wait for the juicy, golden wisdom to descend upon mine countenance.
And the first words out of his mouth are “You know your turkeys are all going to fly away, right?”
While I’m stammering and choking on this, he tells me that, while he has a proper farm with proper meat animals and broad-breasted white turkeys, his girlfriend has a “zoo” (his word, not mine) across the street, where the animals are pampered and (insert grimace) named. When his girlfriend (who is sitting next to him at the party) got Blue Slate heritage turkeys, they ALL flew away and joined the local wild turkey population, never to be seen again.
She chimed in with a (pretty funny, I thought) story of someone who had brought their heritage turkeys to slaughter only to have them take flight and get out of Dodge while they were in line.
See, these turkeys, unlike the genetically-modified broad-breasted breeds, can fly. And not little take-offs like chickens, but serious flying. They sleep in tree tops, given their druthers. He warned me that I would need to keep my turkeys completely, utterly confined, with sturdy tops to the enclosures.
Now, that’s not how we roll here at Heedley’s Hens, and if I can’t have free, pastured turkeys, I’m not sure I want them at all. There’s always wing clipping, of course, and it may come to that, but I have this little fantasy of the turkeys sleeping in the trees, saving me the struggle of getting them in the barn at night (and where, exactly they would sleep in the barn, I have no idea, as at printing), and the hassle of cleaning up after them. Turkeys have massive, epic poops, by all accounts.
So, I turned to the best resource on the internet, the wise, experienced, friendly heritage turkey peeps at the RareHeritageTurkey chat group, on Yahoo. These people have heritage turkeys all over the country, from Oregon to Alabama to New York; I already owe them debts of gratitude and I haven’t even got the damned birds yet.
I didn’t want to shrug off the advice of an experienced, local farmer, but I wanted second, third and fourth opinions. The stories they had to tell were reassuring, hilarious and very informative:
I have NEVER had one of my turkeys leave, and I’ve had heritage turkeys for over 10 years. I also don’t have any wild turkeys roaming about, or neighbor’s with turkeys (I think that is the second main reason turkeys leave… to visit other turkeys). OR… if you have a very friendly neighbor, that encourages the turkeys to visit… but they usually go back home to roost.
Yes, they will fly over fences. Yes, they will fly out of some enclosures. Yes, they will fly up to your rooftop and do a little dance. They will fly, but they don’t fly away.
And this one:
I’ve free ranged my birds for the past ten years and I’ve never lost one bird to the wild flocks, which occasionally will go right through my yard. They are, however, quite oriented on me, so if I go out the back door the call usually goes up “There she is! She’s coming! Does she have food?! Yes, OMG! She has a fifty pound bag of Blue Seal feed on her shoulder!” Etc, etc. And even if there is only a few turkeys in the yard that observed me, the others that might be 500 feet away in the pasture across the road will be at the barn before I get there, or coming at a hard run when I reach it.
So, no, I wouldn’t worry too much about losing them to the wilds.
I think it really depends on how much fuss you make over them while they are little. If you throw feed in the brooder twice a day and pay no other attention to them, I could see them thinking the grass on the other side of the fence looking pretty good when they grow up, but if you have only a few and make a fool of yourself over them when they are little, you probably will never have any trouble.
I have had turkeys wander away in the fall following the apple trees, and being away for a few days, but never because they joined wild birds. I had four that did that this year, and when they came back a week later (apples were gone) they were happy at home again. They were never over 1000′ from home, either, but stayed out all night on their own roosting in trees.
And my personal favourite:
Mine will take off and come back home bringing the local wilds with them…..sigh.
So, will I lose birds or gain them?
It seems the best approach is to emphasise socialisation when they are babies. As they will be in the house for the first two weeks, this should be easy to do. Also…fun.