Casaubon's Book

The centerpiece of any homegrown Thanksgiving meal, assuming you are not a vegetarian, is inevitably the homegrown turkey. And there are a lot of good reasons to get a local turkey or raise your own – there’s the flavor which is richer and deeper, an essence of turkey thing, there’s the fact that you know what went into it. And there’s the fact that by raising older breeds of turkeys, you actually preserve their future by eating them – honestly, there is no retirement home for elderly turkeys, and no one keeps them as pets. The future of the Blue Slate and the Standard Bronze depends heavily on their future as meat animals – and the extinction of a breed of livestock is a tragedy.

If you are thinking of raising your own turkey, you should know two things. The first is that all the comments about turkeys being dumb as rocks are pretty much true. The second, much less commonly known thing is that turkeys are extremely endearing. Their profound stupidity only makes them cuter, somehow. The domestication of many animals obviously reduces their instincts and their wild intelligence, but turkeys are the apex of stupid – the difference between the wild turkey and the tame one is far greater than between the wolf and the dog or wild cattle and the Jersey. Why this is I don’t know, but it is.

I know people who claim that only the hybrid turkeys are dumb, but we haven’t found this to be true. We’ve raised the broad breasted whites, as well as Blue Slates, Bourbon Reds and Black Spanish. The whites may be a bit more dim, but this is a comparison mostly without meaning. All of them are easily confused.

One of my Blue Slates last year killed himself because he panicked at the sight of our dog (who was not paying any attention to him) and ran straight into a metal fence post and brained himself. If the gate to our goat pasture is open, it forms a V shape with our fence – in order to go out the gate, an animal simply needs to walk around the gate and go out. The turkeys of all breeds are completely incapable of figuring this out, and inevitably have to be rescued from panicky misery as everyone else heads into the barn, and two poor birds who have forgotten that they could either walk around or fly over the fence stare in painful dismay.

But unlike hybrid meat chickens, which are dumb and repulsive, turkeys are vacant and sweet. They make endearing little peeping noises (they don’t gobble until they are full adults) when they are small, and they really like people. Ours follow us everywhere we go, and will sit on the fence and talk to us, while we talk back to them. Even their faces are sweet, to my eyes – in that Lyle Lovett, so-ugly-they-are-cute sort of way.

We will be keeping three of the bourbon reds over the winter, to hatch out our own poults again next year. I may also add the old standard bronze – not the hybrid, but the smaller one that can still breed normally, since they too are endangered. My hope is that the following year, we’ll have enough broody hens and enough good turkeys to offer poults through our local farmer’s market, and begin to rely less on distant hatcheries for our stock.

We are gradually picking and choosing breeds of birds to focus on, and hoping to begin small scale hatching locally to provide one more pocket of resilience in our community. We know that no matter how hard times get, most people won’t want to give up their Thanksgiving turkey, and so propagating stock locally is essential.

Just as we trying to grow our own, and save seed, and share seed with others, we are trying to recreate what once existed – Thanksgiving is a meal that echoes with the tastes of the past, and with a local cultures whose vestiges still exist, and that can be restored. We want to have food worth being grateful for, after all. Besides, we like turkeys. Brains aren’t everything, you know.



  1. #1 dewey
    November 22, 2010

    Aww, how cute! 🙂 Reminds me slightly of ostriches, which will do similar things. I always thought they were the dumbest effing birds on earth; sounds like they have competition.

  2. #2 curiousalexa
    November 22, 2010

    Actually, one of our turkeys *was* technically a pet. he came with a flock of chickens from a vegetarian owner with the caveat that to get the layers, we had to take the turkey, and promise to not eat any of them. We accepted, with the disclaimer that all our poultry free range and we could not guarantee their safety from predators. (We’ve been unreasonably lucky and had only one incident involving a red fox – for whatever reason, the coyotes are happy to howl and yip from a distance.) And that turkey was fun – a very cute gurgling call, he’d follow you around, and got along fine with everyone else. Didn’t seem any stupider than the chickens. No clue on the breed, basic white. I found him outside one day, dead on his back feet sticking up in the air. Rather comical looking, really!

    we also had a second turkey wandering around. I don’t know where he came from – probably part of another trade. Very pretty bronze thing. Obnoxious barking call, moderately aggressive towards people (threatening, but not attacking as roosters will), roosted with the chickens but also chased them away from food tossed out. That one got butchered, harvesting the wings and tail feathers for native crafts and the carcass for dog food.

    Neither one seemed particularly stupid to me, although distinctly different personalities. And neither fit the stereotype of turkeys that drown in the rain from looking up to see what hit them in the head… [g]

  3. #3 darwinsdog
    November 22, 2010

    I’d never had turkeys until a couple years ago. I’d always heard how dumb they are and was surprised to find that they are at least as smart as the chickens, ducks & geese. These were white turkeys. They were pretty good at avoiding predators by staying on the roof or on the clothes line post or up in trees. They were perhaps too friendly, in that they would jump up on my lap to be petted when I sat down outside in a lawn chair. The tom was pretty much of a pet but the turkey hens were pretty good layers and turkey eggs are delicious.

  4. #4 ChrisBear
    November 22, 2010

    No chance to raise them yet (apartment dweller), but raising them sounds easier than hunting them. I watched a couple circle for their roosting Saturday night; the wild variety are fascinating to watch, and hours of fun to see how close you can stalk to them.

    I am thinking goose for next year, but with my luck hunting, it will be a veggie Thanksgiving 🙂

  5. #5 hickchick
    November 22, 2010

    I’m having delicious wild turkey for Thanksgiving this year. Fifteen years ago you never saw wild turkey and now they are EVERYWHERE. I think part of the reason they’ve been so successful is that farmers like having them around for comedic relief.

  6. #6 Michelle
    November 22, 2010

    The turkeys sound cute except they also sound like my yellow lab and I do not find his stupidity endearing.


  7. #7 Tree
    November 22, 2010

    Hi All,

    I’d love to know more about turkeys. How well do the hens lay? Are they like duck eggs? How long do turkeys live?


  8. #8 Jim Thomerson
    November 22, 2010

    We raised turkeys for a while. We ended up with twelve big toms. We butchered them, put them in the freezer, and ate them in sequence. As a result, I don’t regard turkey as the best food in the world. I do like smoked turkey, and that is what we usually have. Turkey breast sliced half inch thick and chicken fried is really good. Story is that in the pioneer days in Texas, bread was scarce, so people would make sandwiches using fried turkey breast in place of bread.

  9. #9 Jadehawk
    November 22, 2010

    Once we’re settled in somewhere, I’ll have to try to find a supplier of properly grown turkeys. I find the store-bought ones to be the most unexciting poultry ever, so I’m at the moment not inclined to invest in buying them just to bury the meat in cranberry sauce and/or gravy. a chicken serves that purpose just as well, and doesn’t leave nearly as many leftovers (I’ve never managed to use all of a leftover turkey before some of it went bad).
    At least once, I’d like to try an actual, flavorful turkey, though. Just to see what it’s like.

  10. #10 melissa
    November 23, 2010

    We often buy supermarket meat these days due to budget constraints, but for Thanksgiving we always sign up to buy a locally raised turkey. This one day we splurge and buy as much as we can organic and local. My turkey is in the fridge right now immersed in a flavorful brine bath I made last night. Can’t wait to cook it up!

  11. #11 JC
    November 23, 2010

    A Holiday Thought…

    Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”

    ~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~


    Anyone can break this cycle of violence! Everyone has the power to choose compassion! Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: &

    “Any great change must expect opposition because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.”
    Lucretia Coffin Mott, 1793-1880, minister, women’s rights leader, abolitionist, peace activist, humanitarian

  12. #12 Susan
    November 23, 2010

    JC, vegan isn’t life affirming. It’s fossil fuel dependent unless you live in India and can access all of your foods locally.

    People are evolved to eat meat. People are evolved to get their amino acids and certain vitamins from meat; we can’t utilize it well enough from vegetables on our own, though vegetables are also an evolutionarily important part of our diet. And guess what? In countries where veganism is commonly accepted, they STILL eat meat — from the insects that are in the vegetables and cereals as a result of low impact processing. Without the insects, they become dreadfully nutrient deficient…look it up, there is documentation regarding Jains in England.

    The key is simply to raise your own, grow your own, preserve your own, cook your own. It’s the factory farm system that is the killer. Separating wholesome farm animals and crops into monocultures that require huge inputs and huge transportation distances is the killer. Preservatives and processing remove everything good about food, ethically and nutritionally.

    Historically speaking, the killer for people hasn’t been their food, it’s been lack of access to and understanding of the importance of hygiene. Clean water and sanitation have done more than any drug or diet regimen ever has or ever will to reduce mortality worldwide.

    You obviously live in the city and have never visited a small polyculture farm, and have never examined the food system in a more systematic way. If your veganism is a spiritual choice that’s fine, but if you’re suggesting it’s sustainable in a world facing depletion in every way, you’re dreadfully misled.

  13. #13 Mark N.
    November 25, 2010

    Turkeys have evolved to not need a lot of intelligence and reasoning ability to survive in the wild, an environment they are perfectly attuned to. They are surprisingly hard to hunt. I went 3 years without getting one when I started out hunting them. A slight movement on the part of the hunter – they are gone. An unnatural-sounding call – they are gone. In the spring season, the tom looks to join a harem, where numerous pairs of eyes will be watching out for danger, as soon as he wakes up in his tall pine tree roost. Once he’s found one, he’s virtually unapproachable. Harems are pretty cool.

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