Category Archives: Turkeys

Notice: More details added to turkey butchering post.

I’ve added some more photos and more detailed description about certain parts of the procedure that I thought were missing from yesterday’s post on butchering turkeys. These additions should be helpful to those ‘not in the know’.

Butchering Turkeys, a photo documentary

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Food Security, How to..., Preserving the harvest, Turkeys

Butchering day: turkeys (graphic photo documentary)

Warning: If you are not seriously interested in learning about turkey butchering, seeing the process documented in photos, then I suggest you do not read or look any further.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

I have, up until today, learned most of what I know about farming, animal husbandry, animal veterinary care, and butchering from a book. When you have been raised in the city, don’t have a farming background nor access to someone knowledgeable to teach you, this becomes the only way to learn.

My friend Clarence was butchering his turkeys today, and upon hearing his technique, my ears perked up and I asked him if I could help. Not only was it a chance for me to learn by doing, but also it was a chance for me to get behind the camera and document the process!

We had discussed the various ways of killing a turkey and when he asked me how I did it, I told him we cut the heads off. ‘That’s how we did it on the farm’ he told me. ‘I don’t do it that way anymore’. A long time ago, an old Jewish Rabbi taught Clarence how to butcher turkeys the kosher way. Since learning from the Rabbi, Clarence has never looked back. ‘You sever the jugular’ he said, gesturing to his neck  with a slicing motion, then telling me how this technique keeps the bird from flapping around, risking hurting itself and/or you in the merry dance. ‘They only flap a bit at the very end of their life this way’ he told me.

Until today, I had only read about this technique. This not only sounded like a much better way than I had been doing, but also it was the way that Joel Salatin described dispatching chickens and turkeys in his books. According to Salatin, it is the most humane and effective way to do it; the animals fall unconscious and die, but their heart works until the end to pump all the blood from the body and veins. Thus, the animal is clean for the rest of the proces; the part that makes it kosher I imagine.

I have been thinking about attempting the process of Salatin’s description since reading about it. However, I have previously had terrible experiences with attempting to slaughter animals by following a book’s description and had tried all sorts of ways to kill chickens. I found that there is technique involved in each form that simply does not get translated well, or I didn’t understand clearly. Finally, after putting several chickens through misery in my attempts to dispatch them ‘ethically’ and ‘bloodlessly’, I decided I would simply cut the heads off, and keep the suffering to a minimum. At least that way, I reasoned, they are dispatched quickly. It might not be very artful, but it was effective.

However, here was an opportunity to learn first-hand a better way under the guidance of someone well versed in the art; so I leaped at it.

Photo documentary: The slaughtering process (graphic photos included)

NOTE: this documentary and step by step will work for turkeys, chickens, and ducks (and their wild equivalents).

Step one: catch the bird by the legs and tie it up from its feet, high enough over the ground so its head is up off of it by about 6 inches (see fifth photo below). When catching the bird, grab it by one leg, then the other, being careful not to get hurt by the wings. Most turkeys are pretty benign once you get a hold of them by the feet, but you should be cautious during the process of catching them because their wings are powerful and the claws on their their feet are sharp.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Step two: grab the bird by the head and sever the jugular vein, do this on both sides of the neck. The jugular is on either side of the wind pipe which runs along the centre of the neck, below the beak. Be sure to cut deep enough to have the blood flowing fast, not a slow drip. You will know that you have cut the jugular when the blood-flow is strong. It may even spurt a little. Once the jugular is severed on both sides, step away from the bird, out of the reach of the wings. During the bird’s  ‘last gasp’ they will flap their wings several times and you don’t want to be in the way. You could be hurt, or they could break a wing.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you've cut into the jugular vein correctly.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you have cut into the jugular vein correctly.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, and performing his 'last gasp' flapping.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, this Tom is in the 'throws' of death.

Step three: place the bird in hot, nearly boiling water for about 10-15 seconds. Be certain the bird is dead. He will have his eyes closed and there will be no more movement from him. Carefully take him out of the half-hitch knot and place him in 180 F degree water, not boiling; you don’t want to scaled the skin or meat. Be sure to completely dunk his body for 15 or so seconds (Clarence says 10, but he counts slow!).

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Step four: remove the feathers and the pin-feathers (re-dunk the bird if the feathers do not come off easily).

Let the plucking begin.

Let the plucking begin.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

Step five: Remove the head and neck. To do this, you want to cut the skin around the neck and pull the beard back over the head. Then, find the aorta and windpipe, get your fingers under them. Then, cut into the chest wall, careful not to rupture the stomach and spill the content. Cut through the layers of skin, and then rip the fat with your hands, pulling it gently away from the stomach which will be located behind a wall of fat. Once you have located the stomach, pull gently on it and get it out of the chest cavity. Then hold  the aorta and wind-pipe and and cut them off as deep into the chest as you can get. Then, peel it all back over the head, turn the head gently to find the joint where it attaches to the neck and cut between the head and neck joint. This will sever the head without having to cut through bone.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Stomach, head and neck, ready for severing.

Stomach being pulled out of chest cavity.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Cutting off the neck.

Cutting off the neck.

Step six: Remove the lower legs. To do this, cut between the joint and sever the cartilage. This way, you don’t cut through any bone and the leg comes away easily.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Within minutes of his death, the Tom begins to look a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.

Step seven: remove the oil sac. At the base of the bird, just above the tail is the oil sac. It is under the skin. Cut the skin, and gently pull away the skin and the oil sac as you go.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

Step eight: remove the anus, being careful not to cut through the colon. To do this, cut the skin on either side of and around the anus. At this point, Clarence tells me that it comes in handy not having his left thumb and index finger tip, ‘I can use it to remove the stomach contents and not worry about my nails rupturing the contents!’ Incidentally, he did not lose them to the butchering process, but to a dynamite mishap as a young child.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Anus and colon tube.

Anus removed and colon tube exposed.

Step nine: Remove the innards. To do this, reach into the cavity with your hand. Roll your hand to one side, detaching the innards from the chest wall. Repeat towards the other direction. You should then be able to feel the heart and lungs. Take hold of these and gently pull your hand out from the belly cavity, pulling the contents with you.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Step ten: Once the innards have been removed, carefully cut out the heart, liver, and gizzard. Slice the heart in half (butterfly) and rinse of blood. Cut the liver away from the gall, careful not to spill the gall bladder contents, rinse. Cut the gizzard away and then carefully butterfly the meat, being sure not to cut into the  crop and spill the contents, rinse. Put these items to one side with the neck. These pieces are kept for cooking and are cut up small and used to make the stuffing.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, heart, and gizzard.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, then heart, and gizzard.

Step ten: cool the bird. Place the bird in cool water to chill the meat completely and give it a final rinsing.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

Finally, you have your turkey ready for the table or the freezer!

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Educational, Ethical farming, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys

A time to kill

I shot my first live animal yesterday, and I was not on a hunt. I caught a young red fox trying to dig his way in to my turkey pen. This was the same little fellow that had been prowling around my place every night for several weeks now, keeping me awake thanks to the vigilance of my dog. I’d seen him on several of his mid-night ramblings but not bothered to try to shoot him; I just let Tui (our dog) out to take care of him, and she was enough to chase him off.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. He showed up around 3:00 in the afternoon, give or take. I’d just sat down for coffee with my husband, when we noticed the turkeys’ sudden agitation at something. They were ringing their alarm bells, pressing themselves up against the near fence-line and generally making it well known they were not happy about being captive.

My husband ran towards the turkey pen and shouted that he’d spotted the fox. Upon hearing the word ‘fox’, I leaped into action and ran to the house to get my gun (a Ruger .22 semi-automatic). When I returned and closed in on the turkey pen, the little fox was still trying to dig his way in and wasn’t at all alarmed by my presence: not something you want in a wild animal. I took aim through the fence. Once he felt my presence, he stopped digging, sat down, and looked at me, unblinking.

Admittedly, he was a cute little thing, so I paused to consider what I was about to do.  Should I shoot him? Should I let him go on his way? He’s so cute, can I really do this? But I knew I had to shoot him now. He would be back, and if bad luck would have it, it would be when I’m not home to deal with him. It was a case of killing a fox to save my turkeys: my animals, my livelihood, my food security. Typically, you know when a fox has been in the chicken house because they kill everyone in there. It is not enough for a fox to kill just one chicken or turkey and leave, like an eagle or a hawk. It is the signature of a fox to kill everyone, and I could not risk losing my turkeys to him.

After considering all this, again I took aim. I was about to shoot when I realized the shot I had was not a good option. There were two layers of cross-wire fencing to shoot through, so it could end up in disaster. The bullet could hit a wire, ricochet and miss him all together, or worse–hit one of my turkeys. I decided I would risk letting him escape this time, and tried to get a better shot.

While I was repositioning myself, he went around the barn and behind the paddock fence-line. I ran around the other side of the paddock and into it, so I could take aim through the fence and not have it in my way. Meanwhile, he took off to the other side of the slough.

Once across to what he thought was safety, he sat at the base of a tree and, again, turned and looked back at me. Yes, he was cute. Yes he was a young one–probably only a year old. He had such a sweet face, I almost lost my nerve. Again I took pause for a brief moment, but ultimately mustered up the courage to shoot: he would just be back if I let him go. I hit him in the chest and he barreled over backwards, recovered his footing, and took off at a lope.

Now came the really difficult part: I had to try to find my way across the slough (not an easy task) and then track him through extremely dense bush. I got my dog and my husband rounded up to help with the job. We found the blood trail and followed it, but it was rough going. The undergrowth here is full of brambles and –worse–Devil’s Club, which can take out an eye if you are not careful.

I now know that following a blood trail sounds easier than it actually is. I had never done it until yesterday. It was not easy–even with the dog trying to lead the way. We got caught up for far too long trying to get across the slough and even longer trying to get through the dense brush. Finally, we got through the bush and came out on my neighbour’s driveway. We followed the blood trail along the driveway, through the back of my neighbour’s garden, and finally out in to the field that he’d crossed and into the deep forest at the edge of the field.

He’d obviously come to the farm along a similar path, and so, once in the field, the dog got confused and we lost more time–tracking him back and forth along the two paths, coming and going. Eventually, we passed a patch where he’d urinated on his way to my farm. I knew it had to be on his way to the farm and not his return route because the urine was still wet. Not only that: when we finally picked up the blood trail again, it was along a slightly different path. We backtracked along the blood trail and followed it to where he crossed another slough and continued deeper into the forest.

It was not long after this point that I decided to give up. The dog was beginning to look uneasy, the light was going, the rain was coming, and, having passed two fresh piles of fresh bear poop, I figured that being in this dense forest with nothing more than a .22 was not wise. If the dog was nervous walking in the footprints of a bear, so should I be.

I felt bad for not being able to make sure I’d finished him off. There is no doubt in my mind that he will bleed to death, but I would have liked to have finished the job myself. The downside of this is that he’s out there suffering; yet there was and is nothing more I could do. To have continued to track him that late in the day, and with such fresh bear sign around, would have been dangerous. Furthermore, it has rained hard overnight so the trail of blood and scent will be gone today.

The upside of this event, however, is twofold: he won’t be back, and last night I got my first whole undisturbed night’s sleep in weeks.

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Turkeys

A pig in a poke

the cages in which the pigs will spend their whole lives.

Factory pig farm: the pigs may spend their whole lives in these confined conditions.

I was recently talking with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. He had asked me what I was up to and so I told him about my small farm, my homesteading work and my provisioning project. Interested, he probed me further:  Was I growing my own veggies, how about wheat, did I have fruit trees, what about protein? and so on. Inevitably, the conversation settled on the horrific revelation to a contemporary ‘civilized’ person: “You mean you kill your own chickens!?” Yes, yes I do.

The tension mounted as the conversation took the obligatory tour through the all too familiar terrain one gets dragged over by uninformed–so called ‘civilized’–hypocrites: ‘Oh, I could never kill an animal… Oh, those poor chickens (rabbits, cows, pigs, etc.)’ and my favorite: ‘How could you kill the animals you know and then eat them?’ All this from the mouth of a meat eater.

I have had it with the selective morality of animals rights proponents, both professional and amateur: there are no moral lines in the sand to be drawn on this issue, only varying degrees of complicity and awareness. At one end of the spectrum are those ‘friends’  who insulted their friend and would-be hostess (see the Yellow Legs post for this background story) by rejecting her home-grown lunch in favour of an anonymously raised and slaughtered (and quite possibly factory raised and processed under abysmal conditions) pig at the neighbourhood pub. At the other end are those who have chosen to walk the talk: those small holders who know first hand just how intelligent, curious, funny and, yes, tasty pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows and the like can be.

In Western cultures, animals were once honored and looked upon as spiritual forces and/or god-like creatures: serpents, cats, doves, lions, and (where I’m from) wolves, ravens, coyotes, eagles and so on. But agricultural peoples have never anthropomorphized the animals they worked with every day, and eaten. Sure, the Hebrews told stories about sheep and goats, and the Greeks told stories about hares and tortoises (Aesop), and the First Nations told stories of raven, coyote, and salmon, but only to illustrate important lessons and human concerns; the animals themselves were not sentimentalized into humanoids.

In nineteenth century Britain however, under the influence of the Romantics, animals were enlisted into the newly fabricated ‘cult of childhood’. Generations of children have, since then, grown up surrounded by humanized animals: in England, Kenneth Grahame’s Ratty and Mole, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle; in the USA, Brer Rabbit, Roosevelt’s Teddy Bear, the Forrest Service’s Smokey the Bear, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and the ultimate avatars from Looney Toons, Walt Disney and Pixar which infest our imaginations. As a result, we in the Western world have difficulty avoiding the anthropomorphized animal–it’s everywhere, from cereal boxes to toilet paper.

Here on my farm I not only name several of my animals but also I anthropomorphize the heck out of them through my story-telling. I certainly don’t make a habit of naming everyone, but it sometimes just happens; Yellow Legs was a good example of this. I watch them all, and by observation I learn about their unique personalities, their likes and dislikes. The old adage that you can’t eat an animal that you’ve named is almost true, and the ones I do name are often not eaten, but kept as breeding stock or egg layers.  However, I am able to eat those animals I have named (‘Yellow Legs’ for example) because I am aware of the hypocrisy and pernicious sentiment of any other option.

None of this detracts from the wonderful fact that these animals can give such joy when they are alive. Who knew that a chicken has a personality, that turkeys are curious and intelligent, that a goat can have an eating disorder, that a dog would like morning coffee (so long as it is instant), or that a duck would mope for days after its mate got taken by a fox? It’s ironic that this close observation which comes from closing the loop makes it even more difficult for me to consume these animals, yet consume I must, because the alternative is to go back to purchasing from the factory system, when my new intimate knowledge of farm animals and the fact they have personalities makes me even more horrified by how they are treated by corporate agriculture’s factory systems!

In the case of my farming colleague whose ‘friends’ decided to turn their noses up to the food she presented to them, ostensibly because they ‘knew’ the pig, I have to ask: How hypocritical can you be? Animals in agri-business suffer terribly in life and in death, but, unlike the gorillas of Burundi, the grizzlies of the Great Bear Rain Forest, or the baby harp seals of the Canadian Arctic, they usually don’t get the publicity, the sympathy and the cheques. While there are those who might self-righteously have an owner arrested for the way he or she treats their dog, but ignore or simply not respond to the concentration camp-like conditions behind the walls of intensive livestock operations. What are the criteria which put an animal into the ‘food animal’ category rather than the ‘pet’ category? And what makes even a food animal like a pig into an animal those ‘friends’ refused to eat? And why does someone consciously monitor where their money goes when once a year they cut a cheque to some ‘animal issues’ organization, but not pay an ounce of attention to the abysmal conditions for animals which their expenditures support three times a day?

One of my motives for starting to farm as I am, was to close this loop of hypocrisy. I had gone from meat-eating to vegetarianism to veganism and back again. I had realized that there is no clear line on one side of which lies digestive virtue. After all, even a vegan must consider the loss of rain-forest to soy bean fields, the environmental cost of transporting that soy bean to their plate, or the inordinate amount of energy used to convert it into tofurkey, wrap it in attractive packaging and get it to the store-nearest-you-in-time-for-Thanksgiving, and so on. The least hypocritical position is to make one’s ecological footprint as small as possible; this means extracting oneself as much as possible from the corporate agricultural system. In other words, get out of the supermarket and into the local farmers’ market, and/or grow some food yourself.

Eating is a political act. When I kill and eat the chicken which was happily grazing outside my door in the sun yesterday, I am keeping my ecological footprint small, and in terms of eating, I am not being hypocritical. I am also not supporting the corporate agricultural system and its innate animal abuse. How you spend your money on the food you choose to eat has direct influence on how agriculture is practiced and, ultimately, how hundreds of thousands of animals are treated. If you care about animals, then go find out what your hard earned money is supporting, three times every day.

Today, few of us have the opportunity to know the animal that nourishes our bodies. Few of us even consider the animals we eat in the same category as the bears, gorillas, or baby harp seals.  But we should; they are all animals worthy of the same ethical consideration and humane protection. If anything, our food animals deserve more from us. In the food factory system they are not free, not in a natural environment, their bodies are doctored by humans in many ways, their natural life cycle of reproduction and mothering is denied, interrupted or distorted: their sole purpose for being is to be turned into food. Knowing these facts should be the ground of any ethical decision-making. I wish I had been with my farming colleague’s group of ‘friends’ ordering their pork lunch at the pub. I would have explained how their food was made, and if one of them said, “What are trying to do? Put us off our lunch?” I would proudly answer, “Yes.” With a bit of luck, we’d all end up back at the hostess’s table where they’d started. If you eat, knowing agriculture and its practices is your responsibility; it’s your money that is supporting it–spend it consciously.

Please see the Humane Farming Association for information on the realities of factory farming. They have very good educational packages available for purchase and/or download for those who teach or work in food related education, or if you are simply wanting to know more about where our grocery store food actually comes from.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Turkeys

Life and death (and housing) on the farm

It is a typical west coast, gray, autumnal day here: pouring rain–in fact, a fall day, as in, rain falls from the sky, fall day. I went out this morning to do the farm chores, squishing my way across the sodden lawn. The chickens are hardy, and the wet weather doesn’t seem to bother them at all. The ducks, ditto. In fact, they seem to relish all the extra wet and delight in bathing and showering at the same time. It is pure bliss to watch and even charming listen to, as I move on to the next item on the list of things to do. Goats.

Goats in the rain are another story. They hate everything about it: wet ground which leads to wet feet, and wet sky, which leads to wet feed; God forbid their hay might get some raindrops on it! Normally, I have a rack that I put the hay into which they then spend the day kicking around the yard. Each morning it is like an Easter egg hunt: I spend valuable time searching for where they left it this time. In this weather,  however, if I want the goats to eat the hay and not just watch it rot in the rain, I have to evenly distribute it among what are actually dog houses but function as goat ‘day-beds’. There are three ‘day-beds’ for the five of them, so they spend these wet days jockeying for position in the best one (the one with the window in it). Ruminants with a view–who knew goats could read? If I’m not careful, they’ll want their own 500 British Pounds per year each next.

We have yet to build them a purpose built barn. Presently, they are ‘making do’ in the one end of my ‘big red barn’ that was actually built to house, among other farm implements, the ride-on lawn mower. However, after the cougar incident, the lawn mower moved outside under a tarp (with relatively little complaint) and we immediately installed a front door, and let the goats call the space their own. It is where they spend their nights now, although it was supposed to be a temporary arrangement and we’re holding to that story; or I am. The ‘other half’ is pretty convinced the goats can stay there forever, but then he isn’t around to hear their endless complaints or their rapidly expanding wish-list.

Having observed the just completed purpose-built poultry barn, the goats now have aspirations. They would like to have their own purpose-built barn thank you very much, facing south to let in the winter sun, preferably with an automatic watering system–so they don’t have to wait while I chip ice before they can drink in February, and a place for the salt lick, and possibly with a scratching post and if it isn’t too much trouble, separate bedrooms because Gordon snores. They would also like to be able to tap-dance on the roof of their new establishment and take in the views; they take Forster literally. I was kind of hoping to be the next in line for an addition this year, but my list of needs and wants may go unnoticed, a-gain. All I want is a room with a wood stove for heating, before winter sets in, a-gain.

Alas, I came to the turkeys this morning and found one dead. At first I thought for sure it would be little miss with the impacted crop, but it wasn’t. She seems to be in perfect health apart from the obvious protrusion. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to be bothering her; she’s as sprightly as ever. I lifted up the dead one and took it out to bury it in the garden. I have to do it deep enough so as to not attract the bears or foxes, and out of the sight of my own pooch lest she decide it is a ‘help yourself lunch’ when she gets hungry.

I have no idea why this turkey died. It is often the way on the farm; you simply find things dead, no note, no explanation, and often without warning. She’s not the only thing I buried this week: we also lost the owl that got caught in the netting. She died some time the next day. She too is buried somewhere in the garden, along with a host of other critters. I’ve got patches of garden devoted solely to ‘pet cemetaries’.  We even call them by name: we’ll plant those roses in Tui’s garden, and the tulips in Severance’s garden. Now the wildlife and the other lost creatures are joining them and augmenting the place names. The creatures here are remembered in life and in death on the farm.

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Filed under Animal issues, Goats, Sustainable Farming, Turkeys

Crouching farmer, soaring feed costs

This year, spring was late in arriving and I found myself rapidly running out of hay for my goats. Worried that my supply wouldn’t last until the farmers made more this season, I began phoning around to see if anyone had extra to sell. The answer was a resounding no from everyone. Some will wonder what the big deal is. Why not just go buy more? The fact is, when you live in a remote place there is no where you can go to buy more. Or if there is, it is 500 kms away and you simply cannot justify the cost.

Where's bre-e-a-a-ak-fast?

Where's br-e-e-a-a-k-fast?

The later than normal growth of the new crop had everyone concerned, and they were either hanging on to their own and worried like I was, or simply didn’t have any extra to sell. Down to my last two bales, I realized I would have to figure out how to supplement the goats feed somehow. But how? It occurred to me that I could let them have free range on the property, but that was a desperate measure. I just couldn’t stomach the potential loss in terms of fruit tree and berry fruit vine damage.

Finally, I thought, I’ll just have to take the browse to them. Armed with hand weed trimmers, I began hacking at the wilder areas of the property. I knew they liked the thimble-berry bushes, so I began there. Within days I had run out of fodder on the property and was soon making my way up and down the highway cutting the brush and carrying it back to the goats. A few passers by commented, ‘Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?’. Indeed there was. It would have been much easier if I could tether the goats and move them up and down the highway, letting them do the work of getting their own browse.

At some point it occurred to me that I should rent them out to the Ministry of Highways, Interior Roads. I would call them ‘Interior Goats.’ After all, they would probably do a much better job of keeping the sides of the roads cleared than Interior Roads possibly could. Not to mention, they would love their jobs and do it as if they were being paid to do it. Alas, this would never be. I couldn’t really see the government going for this and I couldn’t possibly tether them either, even if I wanted to. The fact is they would soon become cougar bait if I did.

Instead, brush cutting became part of the morning chores; a half hour or so donated to the Minister of Highways on behalf of my goats, I crouched down in the brush and chopped fodder. It was my volunteer duty to the province and the goats loved me for it. Each morning they would line up at the road-side edge of their paddock, watching diligently  as I worked. There was a chorus of preferences baa’d in my general direction, the likes of which I imagined went something like this: mo-o-o-ore h-o-o-o-rse ta-a-a-il, less dock, I w-a-a-a-a-nt bra-a-aa-mbles, how ab-o-u-t s-o-o-me lilies and a s-i-i-i-de of c-o-o-mphrey.

(Eventually, the new crop of hay was cut, baled, and we stacked it into our shed.)

I wondered why I hadn’t thought to do this before. It was after all, a ‘free’ supplemental feed. I tried turning this thinking on to the other areas of the farm. Who else could I supplement easily? The chickens and ducks free range so they  more or less feed already themselves, and when there are occasions that I can’t let them free range, I do use the chickweed to supply them with fresh greens. There really wasn’t anything else to be done.

Until the turkey crisis in July. Once again, out of feed but this time for the baby turkeys. It would be another two days until the feed would get in from Williams Lake and I was thus out of options. It’s moments like this that I like to quote Lord Rutherford, ‘We don’t have much money, so we’re going to have to think.’ Except I replace ‘money’ with  whatever the situation calls for; in this instance it was ‘feed’. The solution would have to be found on the farm or in the garden.

First day introducing turkeys to the weed greens (front left of photo--in pie plate).

First day introducing turkeys to the weed greens (front left of photo--in pie plate).

I went out to the garden and began pulling some carrots and potatoes for the turkeys. As I did this, I weeded those areas I was harvesting from and carried them over to the chicken coop. Then it struck me: why am I doing this extra work? Why not close this circle and feed the chickweed to the turkeys too? Of course baby chicks and turkeys cannot eat the weeds wholesale, especially if they are not rooted to something that they can pull against. To compensate for this, I decided to take the weeds into the house and put them through the food processor. It worked like a charm.

Blended weed greens for the baby turkeys.

Blended weed greens for the baby turkeys.

At first the turkeys were a bit skeptical, but once they caught on they enjoyed the greens. In fact, it wasn’t long before I began calling the turkey nursery, Pamplona. Taking the mixed greens in to them was like participating in the running of the bulls. As they scrambled to get to the front line and jockeyed for prime position relative to the plate as I was putting down for them, I was lucky not to get trampled in the stampede!

The weeds in my garden and the brush along the highway have become a resource for me that supplements the feed costs. A side benefit of giving the baby chicks the greens is that they grow really well and do not have as much ‘poopy bum’ as they do when raised solely on chick starter ration. This has to be much healthier for them.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Goats, Turkeys

Help, turkey with inflated crop?

Help, why is my crop bulging out like this?

Help, why is my crop bulging out like this?

I noticed yesterday that one of my young turkeys has what looks to be an inflated crop or gizzard. I have asked around here in town but no one seems to know the cause or what, if anything can be done about it. Does anyone out there have experience with this? If so, please leave me a comment. And, to anyone reading this, can you please forward to any veterinarians you know in case they can identify what this is and can offer some suggestions on what I can do about it.

Thanks,

Howling Duck Ranch

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Turkeys