04 June 2007

Turkey Time!

The baby turkeys (they’re called “poults” rather than “chicks”) arrived on Friday morning. As usual, we got a call from the post office at 7am alerting us that the box was waiting. Fortunately, the brooder was all set to go. I plugged in the heat lamp, then jumped in the car and ran into Loda to get the poults.

This year, we bought 15 Bourbon Reds and 10 Broad Breasted Bronze (BBB) turkeys. The Bourbon Reds are a heritage breed; they’re excellent foragers, can fly, and therefore develop a wonderful flavor and texture to their meat. These heritage birds are in high demand, and even though they’re smaller than the average supermarket turkey (12-15 pounds dressed) we completely sell out every year. The BBBs, by contrast, resemble the turkeys you usually see at the supermarket. Ours are still different, however. The supermarket birds are raised in enormous confinement buildings, and all have white feathers. Ours are raised on pasture, where they get a great variety of fresh greens in their diet --- and lots of fresh air. Not to mention bugs, and anything else they can forage. The result is an unforgettable Thanksgiving experience. As one customer remarked, “I never feel sleepy after eating one of your turkeys. Or sick the next morning.”

Anyway, turkeys tend to spend the first several weeks just thinking up ways to die. This year, surprisingly, we went all weekend without losing one. Then, predictably, I came out to find two dead and another close to death. (We always order several more than we think we’ll want to butcher.)

Here is a wider shot of our brooder:

It’s a two-level structure, which we custom-built a few years ago. We can raise up to 100 birds at a time on each level, but we haven’t been than ambitious (or crazy) for awhile. The top level is empty now, but we’ll be using it in another week or two when the baby chicks arrive. Notice the automatic, gravity-fed watering system I set up. Just out of the picture, up in the rafters of the garage, is a 40 gallon tank of water. The blue hose brings water down to the red plastic water dishes; there is a float valve inside each dish that controls the flow of water. If we had a water faucet in this building, we could’ve hooked the system up to that (with a pressure-reducing valve). I decided it was a lot easier to set it up this way, and fill that 40 gallon tank with a long hose from the house whenever necessary. Sure beats digging a trench from the house and laying pipe.

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