September 12, 2023

Rethinking Turkeys

Earlier this month, Dan's knee injury brought all of his projects to a halt. Of course, that initially led to frustration and eventually a discussion. We've periodically taken time to evaluate our original goals and analyze our progress. From the beginning, we wanted to work toward a simplified maintenance lifestyle. By that I mean we wanted to get our infrastructure built before our "retirement" years. We knew that as we got older, we wouldn't want to be tackling large building projects or taking on energy intensive ventures. So we've worked to get to a comfortable status quo.  

I think the greenhouse is probably the last of those big things. Not that we don't have tons of ideas. The ideas never stop! But eventually, we knew we'd have to reach a point where we could say, we can be content with what we've got. Things like injury or illness have a way of really bringing that point home. As badly as Dan felt that I had to do all the chores, it was manageable. I was exceedingly glad when he was out and around again, but everything got done and no one was worse for the wear.

Which brings me to the turkeys. Of themselves, they are an excellent addition to the homestead. They are easy to care for and have fantastic entertainment value. And of course there are the eggs and meat, of which we don't get a lot, but it's the reason we got them. 

However. It's impossible to evaluate any one element on the homestead as an entity unto itself. That's part of the equation, but in fact, each element fits into the homestead system. So the question is, how does it impact everything else? In the case of the turkeys, not as we hoped. 

Part of the problem is that every species of bird we've brought here wants to be in the chicken yard and the chicken coop. First the Muscovys, then the turkeys, each was given their very own area and accommodations, but they all managed to eventually make their way into the chicken yard and invade the coop (much to the indignation of the chickens). Now, if everybody could just be one big happy family, that would be great! But (for us, at least) it hasn't worked that way and we have constant squabbling going on over the coop, over the roosts, over the nest boxes, over the feeders, over the waterers, etc., etc.

The addition of Tom really changed our poultry dynamic. Poults came along, of course, but also a new challenge to chicken territory. Three times, Tom has gotten into fights with our two roosters (which fortunately Dan was able to break up). So, Tom is not allowed into the chicken yard. 

Then Jenny B (mother of our two poults) decided to take a stand. She made her way into the chicken yard and coop once her poults were big enough to fly. Since then, she's been dominating the chickens and frequently challenging Schooster, the chicken yard rooster. She's taken over the top roosting bar in the coop, so that none of the other chickens will use the roost. 

Most recently, we found our friendliest hen dead. Her head and eyes were pecked in, so we suspect Tom killed her. The sad part is that she lived in the chicken tractor with our second rooster because all the other hens were so mean to her. Dan let her out to enjoy a little freedom that day and then we find her dead. And with that we had to ask, are the turkeys worth it?

I think the tendency is to evaluate that from an economic point of view, i.e. comparing feed costs to egg and meat production. That's definitely part of it, but there are other considerations as well. That can include time and maintenance, but especially, how well anything fits into our homestead system. Some critters (or other things) fit in better than others. 

We haven't reached a decision about all of this yet, but I suspect that the conclusion we'll come to is that the turkeys would be better off some place else.

Rethinking Turkeys © Sept. 2023 by Leigh at 


Ed said...

Who needs televised soap operas!

I suspect if it were me, my turkeys would find a home in my freezer.

Leigh said...

Ed, that very well may be the case!

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

We have family that has a female and male adult turkey. They were laying eggs all over the place and one time the male clawed the female so bad, she bleed very badly. After seeing all of that, I have thought against having them here. Maybe if I didn't have chickens, like you said, it could work. I hope it all works out for you, and I am sorry to hear of Dan's fall. I will pray for a speedy recovery.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, I wonder if the size differential has something to do with it as well - turkeys can tower over chickens.

Your thinking in terms of getting the heaviest and most difficult projects out of the way is sound - this is what my father did as well. Time, age, and infirmity seem to happen to us all.

Then again of course, I think I just like chickens better than turkeys.

Rosalea said...

Sure hope Dan's injury is improved? Your turkeys do sound like a bit of a hassle. Thanksgiving is coming up!!
we have similar thoughts re getting things in order for the future when we won't be as able. Hope that is a long way off for all of us!

Agent X, not said...

The advice is applicable to all things in life I suspect; one constantly pivots and evaluates advantages against challenges. Whatever the decision, I agree with Ed, quite the soap opera if it were not real living. Love your info, and your thoughts! Onward!!

daisy g said...

You’re smart to tackle the bigger projects now. We never know what the future holds.
Sorry to hear about your hen. Looks like you may have a freezer full of turkey for the coming year.

Leigh said...

Kristina, that sounds very unfortunate. I find myself wondering what are the species traits, the breed traits, and those of the individual. Our chickens lay the most eggs (both in terms of amount and consistency), so they'd be the last to go (even though we like their personalities the least - chickens are ruthless!).

TB, that could very well be part of it. Tom was easily able to pin the roosters down. Not sure why he doesn't like chickens. I researched this before we got the turkeys, and many people keep peaceful mixed flocks. We aren't having that experience!

Rosalea, Not sure what will happen for Thanksgiving dinner! Dan is pretty close to normal with his knee. For him at least, since they often bother him.

X, I agree. And yes, we have quite the 3-ring circus going on! Gives us entertaining tales to tell at least. :)

Daisy, you are so right about the future. We've had enough ups and downs to personally understand the wisdom of preparedness and balance.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I had some sympathy for the turkeys until I got to the murder. I don't blame you for rethinking them! Maybe the birds need something more important to occupy their time? There are things online about making food/treats harder to get or giving them more things to climb on (, but that might only work if the turkeys/chickens/ducks like different things. If they all like the same treats/activities, it could just be something else for them to fight over!

Leigh said...

It's worth a look! The turkeys pretty much spend their day roaming the yard, so they don't really mix much with the other birds except at feeding and roosting times. So most of the time they don't pay much attention to the other birds. But they really do want to rule the roost!

Cederq said...

Leigh, I must have missed Dan's knee injury. Did he damage his ACL, PCL or his meniscus? Knee injuries aren't not fun. Praying hard for his recovery!

Turkeys. I had them wild on my property down a bit south of you and they were a problem with my hens, same thing taking over nesting blocks and roost bars and fighting my chickens. You are right, they are bigger and use it like bullies. I finally shot enough of them they started shying away from my property. Beside, I have never been really fond of turkey.

I parrot that it is good to get your buildings and big projects in as you are younger, beats taking twice or three times longer to do when older and having to pay someone to do what you did as young 'uns.

Leigh said...

Kevin, he twisted it. Considering his knees took a lot of abuse in his younger years (high school football, and umpteen military jumps). He's pretty much back on track now, but remembering to wear his knee brace to remind him of his movements.

In spite of what's been going on, I have to admit that we rather like the turkeys in many ways. They roam the yard and trim the grass. They do scratch some, but aren't destructive like chickens. Dan's the one who likes turkey, but once a year is plenty for me (including leftovers, of course). One question is how much room we have in the freezer. We have a yearling buck to dispatch as well.

Nina said...

Pecking order really is a thing. It's amazing how mean poultry can be. I've had enough issues with bullying within our small flock of chooks. As much as I wanted to try turkeys when we first moved here, that whole bullying aspect as well as processing plant access was the reason I didn't try. I figured better a small flock that's happy and easy to care for, than the stress and issues of a more varied and larger one. Whatever you decide will be the right answer-

Leigh said...

Nina, you mention a very important word - stress. Poultry are incredibly ruthless and the turkeys are stressing everyone else out. That's a big factor in our decision making now.

Quinn said...

Leigh, you got me thinking. I should probably take economics as MORE of a factor than I do, but to me, a reasonably peaceful population is critical. (One reason I will never call myself a "farmer.") But with the normal shifts in livestock dynamics, sometimes I've found it hard to see a negative situation as more than intermittent, until something happens and it's suddenly clear that, without intervention, the negativity is going to be permanent. And when that happens, it's great to have options, and it sounds like you do.

Leigh said...

Quinn, I wonder if that isn't the difference between a production farmer and a homesteader. Or should be. Social dynamics amongst the individuals in the group is key to health and happiness of the animals. I've gotten rid of more than one bully! The interesting thing is that, after re-homing, many of them don't bully any more.