Country Culture - This Could Be You

There’s no need to squabble

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It may seem out of season for those who only associate turkeys with the colder season holidays, but June is Turkey Lovers Month. It’s a great time to celebrate these large domestic fowl because this is the time farmers and caretakers put in the good work to ensure your Thanksgiving is both healthy and tasty.

Like a lot of other gifts we gave to Europe, the turkey is native to North America. Spanish traders first introduced turkeys to the Continent in the 1500s. There are two species, the wild turkey of eastern and central North America, and the ocellated turkey of Mexico. The males of both species can easily be identified by their fleshy wattle, called a snood, which hangs down from the tops of their beaks. Like many other ground-feeding birds, the males are much bigger and more colorful than females (just like peacocks).

As far as we can tell, people have been eating turkeys since about 800 BCE. The earliest turkeys evolved over 20 million years ago and they share an ancestor with grouse, pheasants and other similar birds. The wild turkey is actually the ancestor of the domestic turkey, which was domesticated about 2,000 years ago. They went the opposite direction of most livestock! And it shows:

Turkeys have been known to be aggressive toward humans and pets in residential areas. Wild turkeys have a social structure and pecking order and may respond to humans and animals as they do other turkeys. They may attempt to dominate or attack people that the birds view as subordinates.

How do we deal with this? Well, in 2017, the town of Brookline, MA, recommended a controversial approach when confronted with wild turkeys. Besides taking a step forward to intimidate the birds, officials also suggested “making noise (clanging pots or other objects together); popping open an umbrella; shouting and waving your arms; squirting them with a hose; allowing your leashed dog to bark at them; and forcefully fending them off with a broom.” This advice was quickly rescinded and replaced with a more simple warning: “being aggressive toward wild turkeys is not recommended by state wildlife officials.” (As someone who has been attacked by turkeys while waiting for the school bus, I also endorse the “just stay away” rule.)

But wild turkeys are for hunting. What if you want to raise some yourself? According to the National Turkey Federation, broad-breasted white is the most commonly domesticated breed of turkey. They can be raised in a similar fashion to chickens. Just make sure they have pasture, water and food; use moveable roosts so they can be moved safely; provide lots of space; and make sure they have good access to clean air. Do not raise them with chickens, though; that pecking order could result in some serious fighting.

Today’s domesticated turkeys also have a reputation for bonding more closely with their human caretakers, so they may be easier to handle than some chickens. Turkeys have been by our sides (or in our woods) for a very long time, so it’s important we take the time to appreciate them this month.

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