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The Birds and the Bees

I walked in on something the other day.

It was turkey sex.

Oops- did I just blurt that out without warning?

Okay, here’s a disclaimer. You must be 18+ to read this post.  Or at least have had “the birds and the bees” talk before you go any further.  No, there aren’t any risqué pictures or pornographic descriptions.  But let’s just be up front and say that this is a post about reproduction at it’s most basic level.

So.  There we were.  It was awkward for all of us.

I had just finished my morning routine in the barn and entered the turkey pen to refill their water bucket and make sure that everything was okay.  I do this everyday- smash out the ice that has frozen overnight and pour the remainder of my 5 gallon pail full of water back into it.

Tom Turkey 3 2014

I was thinking that it was strange that none of the turkeys were out and about, as the tom typically greets me at the door, strutting his stuff, with the two ladies not far behind.  I had barely staggered into the shelter when I noticed them.   They were on the ground, just beyond reach of the morning sun’s rays beaming in from the east. The tom was perched atop one of the hens, shifting his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other.  The hen was about as flat as she could get with almost 30 lbs. of poultry on top of her 15 lb. frame.

Now- before I go on, you must know that this is not a regular sight on the farm.  Turkeys are not as prolific as chickens (or rabbits, or goats, or just about any other farm animal.)  They come into season only once per year and are much more private in their “activities” than other animals.  In fact, the Broad Breasted White turkeys that are raised on commercial farms are too large to physically reproduce at all, and must be artificially inseminated.  There is visible sexual dimorphism even in wild turkeys, and the females are sometimes injured when a much heavier male attempts to mount a smaller female.   We’ve had Standard Bronze turkeys for several years now, and one of the reasons we like this breed is because they can reproduce naturally.  But making baby turkeys is no easy task. We made it all the way through breeding/nesting/hatching last year, which means that there was obviously some successful reproduction going on behind the scenes, but I had not witnessed it first hand.

turkey hen

I didn’t know what to do.  Continue with my chores as if I hadn’t seen anything?  Slowly back away and leave them to it?  Pull up a seat and peep on our tom?  But they still needed water.  And hey, this was exciting stuff- I don’t care how weird it sounds for me to admit that I was curious about how it all went down.

So I froze.  I stood very still, not quite making eye contact with either of them, even when they looked back several times to see if I was still there.  The tom continued stepping back and forth on the hen’s back, making some slightly worried noises, almost as if he was fretting about how to continue.  This went on for a good five minutes, and I was starting to wonder if the hen was able to breathe alright under all of that weight.  As much as I wanted baby turkeys, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt in the process.

It seemed pretty obvious that this was new to them.  These turkeys were born last spring and had never gone through a breeding season before.  The courtship was done, the time had come, and neither seemed to know what to do next.  Now it was getting really awkward.

I figured that maybe I was giving them stage fright, and decided to be on my way.  I swapped out the water as quietly as I could and started to back out of the shelter.

And then…he did it.  He left his contribution to the next generation atop her back- where there was no chance of the sperm ever meeting up with a developing egg.  Ever.

Was it a height problem?  An anatomy problem?  An inexperience problem?  I don’t know.  But I do hope they figure it out on their own.  Artificially inseminating a turkey is not on my to-do list.

Turkey rear 3 2014

Since then I’ve been making lots of noise when I approach the pen.  “Hello!  It’s just me…here to change your water!  Hope I’m not interrupting anything…”  I haven’t had any other awkward moments since.

But, there was a little glimmer of hope this week.  A single egg lay in the corner of the shelter, behind an old window.  The light shone through the glass, as if to highlight this first egg as a sign of fertility and potential success.  We added some straw to that corner of the shelter and hoped that it would encourage her to return.  I found another egg there today.  Time will tell if these eggs are fertile, if the hens become broody, and if we will have baby turkeys this spring, after all.

The first turkey egg of 2014
The first turkey egg of 2014

In the meantime, I’ll continue to give the tom a knowing wink and an encouraging nod each time I exit the pen.

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In Limbo

“Look Mommy, a bird!” Kalina has been pointing out Robins sitting quietly amongst the branches and hopping effortlessly along the rock walls as we’ve been going about our business this past week.  I can’t say that I would have noticed their appearance if it wasn’t for her innocent observations.  I guess the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” rings true.

Kalina pointing

This time of year- the time in between winter and spring- comes and goes incredibly quickly.  New Englanders have a way of clutching onto winter far longer than we should.  It’s not that we want to.  We just know better than to trust a few warm days here and there.  March is still known as mid-winter for us, and not until the first crocuses creep through the soil do we admit to ourselves that spring might just be coming, after all.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the preparations for the coming change in seasons, as well as with the voice in the back of your mind wondering if you have enough sick days to take any more snow days, if you’ll have enough wood stacked up to get you through another cold spell or how long your ragged winter gloves will hold out.   But while we’re busy appeasing the worrier in all of us, we sometimes miss the subtle variations that only this short time in limbo has to offer.

But the children don’t.  The animals don’t.  The plants don’t.

One of my favorite things about having young children is gaining their perspective.  They don’t have to worry about all of the things that adults do.  They’re too busy watching and listening and learning to worry.

As I was trekking up the small hill on the way to the barn this evening, my mind was filled with thoughts of how unpleasant all of this mud was and what a mess the 2 feet of snow was going to make of the yard as it melted.  And then I looked behind me.

I saw two sets of tiny feet, covered with shiny rubber boots, stomping in the puddles and making waves.  I heard two tiny voices laughing and sharing observations about the little river that has suddenly taken over our walking trail.  I saw three happy dogs, playing exuberantly in the late afternoon sun and digging in the sandy slush that today’s warmer temperatures uncovered.

Kalina and Jacob in puddle

They weren’t worried about tomorrow, or thinking about how beat down they were from the frigid winter that we are still in the midst of.   They were fully present.   They were enjoying the now.  They were having fun.

Dozer with ball 4

I took the hint.  I put my bucket down and grabbed my camera.  I sat in the snow and got soaking wet.  I absorbed the smell of the earthy mud and the metallic dripping water.  I threw the ball and watched the sunset with some of my favorite people (and dogs).

Jacob in puddle blurred

Chores can wait.  We can wash our clothes.  Tomorrow’s potential snow storm is tomorrow’s problem.  I’m busy today.

Jagger with ball 2

This post was shared on The Homesteaders Blog Hop:

http://faulkfarmstead.com/2014/03/homesteaders-blog-hop-4/

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Life is Better on the Farm

I didn’t start out as a farm girl.  I like to call myself an import.  That sounds fancier than a wanna-be farmer or a naïve, middle class white girl.  But really, that’s what I am. Or at least that’s who I was.  I grew up as a pretty typical American, I would say.  We had pets (but not animals…I’m told there is a difference), shopped at the grocery store, went to work/school and came home to our family.

I had (and still have) parents who love me and did all that they could to bring me up to be an upstanding, well-educated citizen.  I’ve had some great experiences and have learned a lot about life, love and the world around me as I’ve grown into the current me.  My parents are two of the most important influences I’ll ever have in my life.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the way that I was raised or where I came from.  But that doesn’t mean that that’s where I want my story, or my growth, to end.  And I’m sure they don’t either.

In the more recent years since I’ve become an adult, I’ve become a wife, a mother, an adult daughter (there is most definitely a difference when you add the adult part there), and a professional.  With each new chapter of our lives we learn a little more about ourselves and what type of “wife”, “mother”, “daughter” or “professional” we’re going to be; which subset within those groups we belong to, and which we want no part of. Some times in our lives require us to be more focused on one area or another. But ideally, we want all areas to be fulfilling and meaningful.

We all want our lives to be full of purpose.  That’s the age old question, right?  What is the purpose of life?  Don’t worry- I won’t tell you that I have that one all figured out.  But I have seized the essence of the question and am holding on for dear life.  Literally.

I saw a quote recently that really hit home.

Truth

Living a life of purpose is up to interpretation, in and of itself.  But for me, a life of purpose means finding something that you believe in whole-heartedly and standing behind it in all that you do.  Sometimes that something can change throughout your life.  I know that there are many things that I’ve jumped on board for on and off over the years.

But this whole farming thing is different.  There has been a running theme throughout my maturation that has really stuck with me- which lives are worth living, which lives are worth maintaining, and which lives are worth changing? I think these questions apply to all life forms, and since life is the basis for all else, it’s worth being dramatic about.

#quote #inspiration #people

Being responsible for life and death on our little farm, and witnessing the entire life cycle first-hand, is as close as I’ve come to really understanding the depth of those questions.  Each life (whether plant or animal) has such a unique path that it takes.  There is no way to explain the feeling that comes with watching so many lives in detail.  Except…maybe…living. Having these experiences on the farm has allowed me to cope with, and appreciate, other areas of my life. It magnifies struggles, milestones and celebrations. I think having this little farm has made me a better wife, a better daughter, a better mother and a better professional.

This life of sweat, dirt, blood, exhilaration, sacrifice and thriving- it’s representative of life itself.

I don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle, wrapped up in paperwork, oblivious to the meaning that can be found in all that we do.  I want to be thinking.  I want to be feeling.  I want to be living.

How about you?

This post was shared on The Homesteaders Blog Hop

http://faulkfarmstead.com/2014/03/homesteaders-blog-hop-4/