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Baby boom

Agriculture.com Staff 04/25/2006 @ 12:39pm

My wife and I will soon have a bunch of babies around the place. The number of expected offspring is uncertain, but could easily total more than a dozen.

We don't know the gender of any of these unborn youngsters, nor do we have any idea of when the mothers-to-be will finally say "Enough!" and halt their production of fertilized eggs.

According to my wife, it's high time we had the pitter-patter of little feet at our place once again. Ever since our nest went empty she's been pining for a tyke to fill the void. I have often caught her staring longingly at small children; there is no doubt in my mind that she has thought about "borrowing" one of these youngsters for a few days or maybe even a couple of years.

But soon, thank goodness, we will again have babies in our lives. So what if they are just going to be baby turkeys? Babies is babies.

About a year ago, in the throes of a severe case of spring fever, I purchased a quartet of Bourbon Red turkey poults at our local farm supply store. My wife thought that baby turkeys were about the homeliest things she had ever seen -- but that was before she saw adult tom turkeys.

"Gad, those toms are ugly!" she would often remark as the turkeys sauntered past the window. We had given our tiny flock the run of the place, hoping they would consume some of those detestable ticks and annoying Asian lady beetles.

The toms, upon hearing my wife speak -- or any noise at all, for that matter -- responded by gobbling or by fanning their tails and strutting. Tom turkeys possess a level of pomposity that is matched only by their level of ugliness. They can even make their heads and wattles change color, ranging from a bright scarlet to a deep blue.

"That's just creepy," my wife often commented upon witnessing this chameleon-like behavior.

The females, says my wife, are the brains of the flock. The hens are constantly seeking new and interesting food sources; the toms, by contrast, are so preoccupied with strutting they would likely starve without the hens' guidance.

Since she held the toms in such low esteem, I was surprised at my wife's reaction when I had one of the toms over for Thanksgiving dinner. She wouldn't eat a single bite. She didn't even want to look at the tom as he lay on that serving platter in all his tender and delicious glory.

My plan was to make an appointment at the local meat locker for our remaining birds. For me, the words "smoked turkey" elicit instant salivation.

But my wife asked, "Can't we just keep the other three? They don't take up much space and besides, I've sort of gotten used to their foolish quirks and their dopey mugs."

The same could be said about me, so I relented. I felt it my duty to issue a warning: "Come spring, nature is going to take its course and, well, you know what might happen." My wife indicated that she was willing to take this risk.

I never witnessed any actual... um, turkey action this spring, although the tom one day seemed to be wearing an expression that said, "Whoa! That was something! I could really use a cigarette about now..."

I soon began to find eggs, and quickly learned that turkeys are the original bird-brains. One egg was left out in the middle of the yard, another on a patch of bare dirt. The best course, I decided, was to confine the turkeys to the chicken coop and provide them with comfy nest boxes that held generous amounts of soft straw.

And what did the turkeys do? Yup. They began laying eggs in the middle of the cold, hard concrete floor.

One day I found a hen huddled behind an old sled that was leaning up against a corner of the coop. She was tending a freshly laid egg, using her beak to roll it to a spot between her feet. She would gently sit down and the egg would promptly squirt out from beneath her. She then got up and repeated the whole process.

Taking pity on the addle-brained avian, I put one of the ignored nest boxes behind the sled and placed her egg in it. The next day the box held two eggs. Pretty soon there were four, then ten. Last time I counted there were sixteen!

The old saw about counting your chickens before they hatch no doubt also applies to turkeys. Even so, it's fun to imagine the look on my wife's face when I take her out to the coop and share with her the wonder and the marvel of a bunch of fresh-faced, bright-eyed new little babies.

My wife and I will soon have a bunch of babies around the place. The number of expected offspring is uncertain, but could easily total more than a dozen.

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