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The Turkeys Got Out!

Posted 10/3/2017 11:19am by Kinley Coulter.


     About 6 years ago, we were raising turkeys outdoors in a fenced enclosure that we considered to be a ‘Free Range’ environment.  To be sure, they had lots of green pasture, bugs and sunshine.  This would be a pretty good life for a chicken, but we’ve learned that turkeys aren’t chickens.  A free range chicken is satisfied to fill his crop at the feeder and then go peck around at grass and bugs a little… then he is happy to settle down and take a nap in the sunshine.  Turkeys require a lot more ‘stomping grounds’ to satisfy their ‘turkeyness.’   A friend who raises his own turkeys saw my poor, penned up turkeys, and asked me why I bothered penning them up.  He exhorted me to ‘let them out.’  I had never heard anything so ridiculous, but I knew that his own turkeys ran wild.  So, we threw caution (and, perhaps, wisdom) to the wind and opened the fence, then watched in horror as the whole precious flock took off at a sprint for the woods.  Sigh… one more farming debacle to figure out how to pay for.  But… Wait!  When the exhilarated escapees got to the woods, they stopped.  ‘Hmmm…’ (Their itty bitty turkey brains did a little thinking)  'These woods are very dark...These woods are a little scary… These woods are probably full of ‘turkey eating’ monsters.  So, the whole flock stepped back from the abyss and set to happily chasing grasshoppers and gobbling up dandelions in the pastures where they belonged.  This was how our ‘Radical Free Range’  turkey flock came to be.  

     Every year we allow the turkeys to go farther in expressing their natural desire to forage 'far and wide.'  Last year I was operating a tractor and saw the flock had traveled almost a MILE from their ‘home’ feeding area… crossing our lane, and a township road, and ducking under four of our cattle fences.  I’m sorry… a mile is a LONG ways from home when you are only 18 inches tall… that would be the equivalent of you and I walking four miles to eat lunch!  I figured ‘this free range thing has finally gotten out of hand’… and I was brainstorming about how to get a livestock trailer out there and get these crazy birds loaded up and dragged home.  Anyway, I didn’t have time to mess with them, so I just mentally wrote them off as ‘hopelessly lost.’  Guess what!  That evening they were back, and we pulled their nighttime enclosure closed and all was well again.  The nice part about all of this is that the birds could have gone even further and still been on our Certified Organic Pastures… maybe this year they will go further.  I’m not going to waste any energy worrying about it until the first night they don’t come home.
      Did you know that Benjamin Franklin despised the Bald Eagle as a ‘scavenger’ that ate rotted, dead things?  He lobbied energetically for the nascent United States to name the Wild Turkey as our national bird.  While I admire our turkeys for their ability to consume up to 2/3 of their feed intake by foraging… the turkeys we raise are a ‘domesticated’ breed.  Although tremendously meaty birds, they seem to have most of the intelligence bred out of them.  I’ve not seen a turkey drown by looking up at a rain storm and forgetting  to close his mouth… but I have seen some other, impossibly foolish, turkey antics.  They seem to start their day with three goals:  1.  Stuff my gullet with bugs, grass and turkey food   2.  Digest the food.  3.  Use all of the energy from that food to cause trouble or make a mess for the poor farmer.   Our biggest problem with free ranging turkeys is that they like to come up on the porch at the house to hang out, and carpet it with a liberal coating of turkey manure.  Grrrr!  We have tried setting the Border Collies after them (bad idea...feathers fly), and shooting them with marshmallow guns (bad idea… they recover from the initial fright and then feast on the marshmallows).  We’ve thrown pillows, boxes, sneakers, magazines and even brooms and dustpans… but there is really no foolproof way to get them to abandon the porch.  The big boys have tried using a toy slingshot loaded with acorns.  Turkeys will gobble up the acorns, but it must hurt just enough that they wander off when the acorns are gone.  We also sic the little girls on them, armed with dish towels and looking as fierce as a 3 and 5 year old can look.   Anyway… if anyone has a better turkey repellent, we’re all ears.
      This year we have about 80 turkeys running around getting plump on our pastures.  We intend to process them on the Monday before Thanksgiving and have them ready for Tuesday, November 21.  They will be the freshest Thanksgiving turkeys available for your Thanksgiving meal.  If you’ve never had a ‘radically free range’ fresh turkey… you should try one.  You’ll be amazed at how good a fresh turkey, raised right, can taste… and I’ll have won a turkey customer for life.  We both win!  Pre-order yours at, in our online store.


Tags: turkeys