Sometimes in farming, there are these little hidden gems. These gems are those moments we sometimes take for granted. I’ve got a bunch of gems stored up after sharing nearly 7 years of memories with one Old Tom turkey.
Tom came to the farm in early May of 2010. He was part of a group, 32 in total, that was raised as day old poults. He came in a box with a mess of others, chirping at the post office and driving the post master crazy as they awaited my early morning arrival. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was so excited to finally be getting some heritage turkeys. They came all the way from Missouri.
Once I got them out of the box and into the newly constructed specialty room built JUST for these birds, I couldn’t stand being in the room for a very long time. The noises they made was hard on the ears. After sometime, they settled in and got used to me. I had a couple that I took notice of right from the very beginning because of the stripped feathers. Tom was one of those. There ended up being a male and a female, both we kept as a breeding pair and became Tom and Momma.
As they grew, they began to fly. They would fly out of their enclosed area (anyone with heritage turkeys will tell you that it’s pointless to try to fence them in). They would go wandering around to the neighbors and keep disappearing. From settling on the house roof next door, to visit the front porch of the next house and even travelling almost a mile away from home to visit another friends house. We would get call constantly about “the turkeys visiting”. Some of those visits we didn’t find out about until years later over a shared laugh one summer night.
They were moved back to the barn so many times that the blood hound actually became a turkey herder. She would sweep around them and work like a sheep dog does to move sheep. The photo below shows her on “point” while moving them one late afternoon, to get them away from trying to attack a group of canadian geese.
That first year, Tom did what he should have but Momma became known as “The trash can” turkey. She sat all summer long in this horrid blue trash can and became a farm sensation because she would hiss at anyone that came near. She actually stayed so long that her tail curled side ways until molting.
The next year, it was a different story. Momma decided to build her nest in the corner near where a jersey cow (Belle) was being milked daily. She sat on that nest and it was just assumed that because of where it was, against a cold wall, that the eggs wouldn’t hatch. There wasn’t any point in moving her because she would still proceed with her hissing noises. Tom, the duty mate, stood near her all day long and would talk to her until it was time for chores and he would leave his post to grab a bite to eat.
One fateful day, Tom turkey stood at the end of the driveway. To those that don’t know, the driveway is across a rather busy road that people drive way too fast on. I threw on my slippers and promptly marched him back inside the barn. After coming back inside, 5 minutes later, there’s gobbling coming from half way up the drive way. Again, he got herded back into the barn. This continued until he was right on my front porch, gobbling his little lunges out! I realized that something was up, so instead of just immediately shutting the door behind him when he got into the barn, I watched him…
Low and behold, he scooted around the corner to where Momma had her nest and he fluffed his feathers way up and started strutting. He wasn’t gobbling anymore, just quiet. Suddenly, you could hear the peeps of newly hatched poults. He had been trying to share his excitement over becoming a dad. Thinking back on it now actually yanks tears from my eyes, it’s one memory that will stick with me for a very long time.
Tom was such a good poppa too. He was never very far away from those littles and he would let them crawl up to roost on his back or sit on his tail when the ground was wet. I’ve never seen a tom turkey do that before and haven’t another one since.
The memories don’t stop there either. Good Old Tom was my best marketing manager. I don’t know why he would do it, but he did. During breeding season, he would always make sure to do some breeding about 10′ off the edge of the road. Every season, without fail, visitors would stop just because of this turkey getting a “piggy back ride”. I can’t tell you how many visitors have died laughing over his actions, usually next to their vehicles, like he was proudly displaying what a stud he was. There are 1,000’s of photos of Tom riding on Momma. He was good at his job and obviously proud of it too.
It wasn’t always easy with Tom around. He had his dumb moments too. Like the day he tried flying over a van hood and got winged. As feathers flew every where, I figured he was a goner. The following day, when I could finally get near him, I check him all out and not one broken bone anywhere. He stayed back away from the road for a long time but needless to say, turkeys are very forgetful…
Three years ago, Tom got hit by a truck. I knew it was bad because there was skin and feathers attacked to the pavement. He just laid there in the grass about 15′ off the edge of the road. I scoped him up in my arms, carried him into the barn and started to check him from head to tip of his tail. He was missing a bunch of feathers and his one foot looked really bad, bleeding all over. I bandaged him up, treated him to stop the bleeding and kept checking him all over. I couldn’t find much else wrong other than his foot, so I decided to keep him locked up in a small room so he wouldn’t get beat up by any of the others. For weeks, I kept dishes filled with feed and water. I changed his bedding and his bandages. He ended up losing his middle toe and his ankle portion of his foot looked more like a club.
He survived. How I will never know but he did. He also went on breeding too. Not anticipating much and still wondering if he would be able to hold on, he somehow did. Him and Momma gave us about 30 poults all together. Some we lost to fox, others to a cat. Some we sold and others just disappeared. Momma was with us until two years ago. She raised a pretty little girl that acted just like her and taught her how to be a great nesting bird within the first couple of months of her life. Little momma was with us until last fall when we lost her and 9 of her poults to another fox.
Tom has been around for nearly 7 years. He’s been at the feed dish every feeding, expecting his little treat of feed to be fed in a special spot. He shares gobbles for whistles. He’s seen the farm grow and change. He’s been here through all the hard times, sat on picnic tables with me as I cried over the loss of a calf. He’s watched over poults and chicks alike. He’s hung out with the cows and slept at night with the alpacas recently.
He’s been a real treasure. A gem in reality. I’ll never be able to replace good Old Tom. My personal farm mascot and business/marketing partner. He’s been here since close to the very beginning. He’s been a staple around here. To others, he might have been just a bird… to me, he’s been a companion, a pain in the ass and dependable.
He came up missing yesterday. I fear the worst has fallen upon my Old Tom. With his age, it’s actually long over due. The livestock heritage conservancy says the life expectancy is 3-5 years for breeding toms and he’s well past that. I’m thankful for the time I have had with him… blessed actually. I wish every person out there could share the experiences I’ve had with him, the good and the bad.
I know I shouldn’t be upset. He had a long life, much longer than most. It’s just hard when you lose anything that has been around that long… Dog, cow, cat, turkey, chicken, etc. They become part of what you do and become more than that. They stay so long that one day you look at them and think, “I will spoil that one a little and he can live out the remainder of his days here.” Good Old Tom was that, he’s been around so long he’s part of the fabric of the landscape.
If he doesn’t show up, I know he came to a swift end. Tom never did anything half way. I have a feeling his old heart probably gave it’s final beat and I’ll find him long gone somewhere. And don’t think I haven’t looked in every nook and cranny I could find, even my son helped me try to find him.
All of this said, I know I gave Old Tom a good life and he shared some amazing memories with me… like the day he became a poppa that first time. His determination to get my attention won’t be forgotten. If he is found deceased, he will be buried in the special location for all those that have gone before him as the beloved ones. At the quiet spot, my favorite on the farm, overlooking the pond. A spot in the shade, under the pines where my Whiskey girl (a Shepard rottie mix dog that was 14 when she died from cancer) and my Belle girl (a rescued Jersey cow that I loved with my whole heart) are buried. They were and always will be a sacred part of this farm.
Always. Always hidden gems below the surface of this farm.
UPDATE: 3/6 at 10 am he’s been located! Found in a back storage room with strings around his feet, red ones that aren’t found any where on the farm. Not exactly sure where he’s been but he’s here, safe and sound!!