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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Your Thanksgiving turkey is growing in our barn

I was running our Golden Retriever, Fergus, in the back field the other day when I noticed that the sweet, fresh honeysuckle smell had returned. I love to fill my lungs with that scent. I thought of Paulina’s wedding we would be hosting in less than a month, and hoped the fragrance would linger at least until June. Then I had a disturbing thought. What if a nearby farmer decided to spread manure that weekend? To those of us who live on farms it can be a slightly annoying, off-putting odour. To some of the gentrified city folk who will be attending our celebration, however, it could be extremely offensive.

I can’t control the actions of neighbouring farmers. I can barely control my own Farmer! A few weeks ago we discussed where to put the incoming chicks and poults. My husband had ordered several dozen of each, as we do about every second year. I told him he couldn’t put them in the barn closest to the house, because the bride and her party plan to take that building over for a wedding bar. We are going to move all of the horse tack and workshop tools to one side, cover the walls and ceiling with diaphanous white wedding tulle, and set up rough-hewn boards of charcuterie for guests to snack on while they order a drink. That is no place for a brood of smelly, ankle-biting chicks.
“No problem,” he said. “I decided I’m going to cancel the order.”

So a few more weeks went by, and turkey poult day arrived. The Farmer got a call that his order was ready for pickup. He had to sheepishly admit that he had forgotten to cancel it. He set up a heat lamp and a coop for the turkeys, up on the table in the shed. The same table where we plan to serve drinks in less than a month. I stood and watched, silently. Then I picked up a peeping bird and made eye contact. I had forgotten how much I enjoy having tiny creatures on the farm to care for and love. Ok. The little twerps can stay. But we are going to have to move them to the bigger barn, as soon as we are sure they are all going to make it.

The first few days of a bird’s life outside the incubator can be quite precarious. The slightest draft and they huddle together for warmth. Not all of them survive that smothering situation. The first night, the temperature dropped to just above zero. I woke at about 2am and pulled another blanket up over me. I thought about the turkeys, and hoped their heat lamp was enough. I could see the red gleam through the barn window.

The next morning, all birds were present and accounted for. Now we just have to ensure they are in a place that is secure from marauding racoons, skunks and weasels. It’s quite a responsibility. So they have to be close enough to the house to keep the predators away, and far enough away that we cannot smell that distinctive chicken poop smell at the wedding. This will be a challenge.

We have a fenced area next to the barn that was once a kennel for a sheepdog. I suggested putting the chickens in there and building them a coop for shelter. The raccoons can’t get in, there is a door on it and we can stretch chicken wire over the top like a roof. Raccoons can climb. The Farmer said, “if the raccoons want to get in, the raccoons will get in. Remember our camping trip?” He raised one eyebrow at me.

Of course I remember the camping trip. I had left my bag of trail mix in the ‘front room’ of our tent, where we had been playing cards after dinner. That room had no floor so the raccoons easily lifted the walls up with their little hands and crawled in for a bedtime snack. When the Farmer unzipped the tent to see what that horrible crunching and gurgling sound was, he came face to face with Ricky Raccoon. That was alarming. Raccoons are quite resourceful. I don’t know how to keep my turkeys and chicks safe from them.

The spare room in the basement is beginning to look rather appealing. I kept 37 kittens in there once. I’m sure it could hold a few dozen birds. At least until after the wedding. 

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