One of my favorite times to be at Katama Farm is on Saturday mornings. As I bike down Aero Ave the usual weekday hum of camp, revving up to prepare for the day’s activities, is absent. Instead of being surrounded by dust from the cars of my colleagues I am immersed in peace and quiet. I softly get off my bike, artfully open the gate to Pumphouse Road, and tranquilly walk through a clover patch, where I am loudly greeted by seventy turkeys who break me out of any trance I might have been nurturing.
It’s not the fault of the turkeys — but anyone who grew up with a younger sibling can empathize with me — although I love the curiosity and exuberance of the turkeys, it can get old pretty quick. Recently not only have I been greeted with a chorus of “gobbles”, but also a few odd escapees who have learned to use their wings.
At the FARM Institute we buy turkeys as hatchlings, just a few days old. They come (believe it or not) in the mail, in short cardboard boxes with measured air holes and a myriad of stickers and notices to handle the boxes gently and not flip the turkeys over. The post office then calls us, and we come pick the little turkey chicks up, who reward us with very cute excited peeping. We rush the turkeys into our climate controlled Brooder A, make sure everyone’s comfortable, and then watch them grow. Once the turkeys are old enough to not need the heating, we move them to Brooder B for a few weeks while they’re still a little young to let outside. Then it’s off to the pasture as we load the turkeys up in the livestock trailer and release them into a new paddock after clipping their wings.
The excited peeping grows and it’s difficult not to feel some pride for bringing a bit of joy to the lives of the little birds.
At this point in the summer the birds have been out on pasture for about a month. They still explore the grass, bugs, and weeds, but those points of interest can’t hope to compete with the Canada Geese which have taken up residence at the farm this past week. More obtrusive than the turkeys (and uninvited guests), they are a perennial source of annoyance for us in the Farm Crew. For the turkeys they’re demigods.
Geese do everything turkeys do, except that Geese fly. Turkeys think they can fly, but can’t. Our turkeys can get up to 30-yards when a gust of Katama wind blows, and in an attempt to keep their foraging focused in one area and predators in another, we clip their wings.
This sounds horrific initially — I can see it now, PETA commercials showing sad turkeys with bloody wings — but it is actually less traumatic than one of us clipping our fingernails. The turkeys can’t feel their feathers just like we can’t feel our fingernails. We clip the flight feathers off both wings, set the turkeys on the ground, and the turkeys walk away their usual exuberant selves. We walk away with long scratches on our arms and legs and the turkeys kick in an attempt to flee from a totally benign procedure. Turkeys aren’t known for their wit, and unfortunately in the 4 or so annual wing clippings we do the turkeys don’t make it any easier for us.
This is one of the most rewarding activities to involve campers in. As the Farm Staff grab clawing turkeys the kids can stand totally safe and clip the turkeys wings with a pair of regular scissors just like cutting a piece of paper. Watching the turkeys try to get enough purchase to hop back out of the fence to imitate their Canadian role models is humorous enough to make us forget any scratches — until we have the clip their wings the next month, when they’re several pounds larger…