November 22, 2007

So much for writing more frequently! Our transition to our winter garden has been underway for several weeks, and has (and still is) been demanding of our time. But lately, my attention has been on turkeys, not too surprising for this time of year. It all began about 5 weeks ago, when we found one of our hens with one of the worst injuries I have ever seen on a bird. Some predator had attacked, and taken a chunk out of her side about the size of the cut surface of a large grapefruit. Still not sure why, but we decided to try to fix it. It took a solid hour of two people, with the bird in the bathtub, irrigating the wound to clean it and remove the hundreds of….life forms….(think larval-stage-of-housefly……the “m” word……) that were roiling through. The grotesque little life forms probably saved her, since however vile they may be, they clean wounds of infected and dead tissue. Then, an entire tube of triple-antibiotic ointment was slathered into, onto, all over, every part of the injury. The ointment was reapplied as often as needed to keep the area good and greased up. 5 weeks later, the bird was healed, although she’ll never have feathers in that spot again. Next, it was time to clean the bathroom. No magazine has the kind of housecleaning tips I need. What’s the secret to removing dried persimmon and glued on turkey droppings from bathtub walls? (apparently, about an hour of scrubbing with warm water). When we moved here, I really had no idea that our bathtub would be used for just about everything except baths.

And, today is Thanksgiving. We went through our turkey sales gauntlet again, and it was a lot of hard work, but about 500% better than last year! We sold out, and had more customers than the year before. We have really improved our processing, and did 14 birds last Sunday with the help of some friends. The birds for the most part turned out very nice. We are still on a learning curve to avoid tears in the skin…this is a function of scalding bath temperature and how finicky the automatic plucker is at any given moment…but everyone received a bird that looked closer to ideal than we managed the year previous! We also had the experience of actually getting to meet most of our customers this year, which leads me into my latest preoccupation. Yesterday, I finally had time to read the latest newsletter from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). This is an organization we belong to, which works to prevent the disappearance of our nation’s imperiled ancestral breeds. This edition contained the data from the 2006 heritage turkey census, and for me, it was just shocking. I found out that one of the breeds we have, the Beltsville Small White, had a census population of 138. I called ALBC, because I wanted to ask if the number referred to the number of breeders or flocks. No, that was the number of BIRDS. We raise an animal that is so endangered that fewer than 150 known birds are in the hands of private individuals in the entire United States of America. That’s a pretty sobering thought. It’s a choice to take on a big responsibility when conserving these breeds, but I had no idea of the exact situation we were in. It means for us, that we will be focusing much more on the flock that we have, and doing as much as we can to get these birds in the hands of other breeders. Three of these birds were butchered for meat this year. Two hens were selected out because of non-standard body weight and behavioral problems, and one surplus tom was sold to a client. Unfortunately, this excluded the other tom we had that could not be sold because he killed himself by drowning in a mud puddle two inches deep (they’re still stupid, endangered or not!) Out of all the birds we processed, these were hands down the most attractive, well-proportioned birds. They look like mini-turkeys of the grocery store variety. So, while it’s not quite the same as the last 150 Bengal tigers, any animal on the verge of oblivion that needs extra help should get it. And, we send a sincere thanks to our turkey customers, whose support is so essential to the success of our conservation efforts.

Today it’s a nasty, icy north wind, and a great day to be in the greenhouse. We eat our holiday dinner tomorrow. Enjoy yours, whatever day you eat it 🙂

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