Thanksgiving in September
By Kim Johnson
Spring is the time of a thousand tasks when the gardener and hobby farmer feel that they can take on more projects than the average human. This was certainly true when I sat down at my computer last spring to order baby chicks on the Internet. These chicks were to be delivered not by a broody hen but the United States Postal Service.
My husband questioned the wisdom of ordering chicks over the Internet. Why, he asked, would I pay two dollars in shipping and handling fees for each one dollar bird, when they were available at the local feed store? I pointed him to www.mcmurrayhatchery.com, where all the glorious poultry breeds were on display, and they even include a free rare chick with your order. What could be better than a free rare chick? My husband made a noise in his throat that indicated we had no need of a free rare chick.
In order to keep the birds warm in the cold bowels of postal transit, a minimum of twenty-five birds would be necessary. With my free rare chick that would be twenty-six. I had never raised so many chicks before but the false optimism of spring made me feel I could do no wrong. On the website check-out page, I spied an Internet special: ducks and geese, a barnyard assortment! Click here and receive seven or nine ducks and geese. I impulsively clicked the button; I had always wanted a duck. My browser was redirected to another Internet special: turkeys. Click here and receive seven heritage breed turkeys. Turkeys!
What could be better than raising your own Thanksgiving feast? I clicked the button.
My Internet fowl arrived safely at the post office a few weeks later. The nice lady in the back receiving room was kind enough to call me at a quarter to seven in the morning to let me know I had a peeping package. I rushed down to retrieve my birds. I was handed two small boxes. I peeked in the air holes to see baby chicks and in the second box duck bills and what I assumed could only be turkey beaks.
In the safety of my husband’s shop, the only cat-free environment on our five acres, I opened the boxes. There were chicks everywhere; I quickly separated them out into brooders. I beamed. They were beautiful, twenty-six chicks, seven or nine ducks and geese, seven heritage breed turkeys, forty-two birds in all.
That was day one. It turns out that caring for forty-two birds takes about seventeen hours a day. The optimism of spring faded quickly and the first hint of warm weather put all the birds outside.
The children insisted that the ducks needed a swimming facility. The first few days were very entertaining watching them splash and frolic but very soon no one wanted the chore of washing out the six inches of muck in the bottom of the pool. Then there were the eggs. The ducks laid eggs, not in any organized fashion, but wherever they were when the urge to lay overcame them. I performed the adult version of an Easter egg hunt every morning trying not to slip a disk on their slick calling cards.
The turkeys were useless. They roosted wherever they happened to be when dusk overcame them: on the deck, on the BBQ, on the arbors, leaving a large pile of fetid dung below. They took a strong dislike to the family hound and began tracking his every move with their beady eyes. They inflated themselves, and began strutting and gobbling at everything. The baby chicks, including the free rare one, grew into hens by eating four hundred pounds of food a day, scratching every inch of their paddock completely bare and not producing one single egg.
Six months later, my back yard was a manure field of the slickest variety. The cacophony of quacking, gobbling and hen squabble was more than I could take. I called my husband. Would he like a turkey dinner, perhaps duck soup? He pointed out that it was only September. I countered that September is the best time for spring cleaning and turkey stir fry sounded good to me.