Nothing in this post to do with cooking or BBQ’n. Sorry! We’ll be back on topic later in the week. I thought I’d fill everybody in on a little of the happenings at the Rusted Truck Ranch, out in the backwoods of the great state of California, up in the hills and far away. Here, we’re beginning to raise livestock for fun, food, and perhaps, profit. The kids have been in 4-H for many years now, and we have four goats, a couple of cattle, lots of chickens (show, laying meat and dual purpose), a pair of geese, maybe 20 or so heritage turkeys, along with five cats and a bunch of tropical fish.
For the non-initiated, heritage turkeys are more closely aligned with the wild variety than they are with the white ButterBall type that ends up on everyone’s table each fall. Broad-breasted turkeys AKA ButterBall are a man-made variety that would not survive without (lots of) our help. Commercial turkeys are all artificially inseminated because the toms have such large beer-gut-breasts that they can no longer do the normal bird thing in the normal bird way. Heritage birds grow more slowly, and have longer legs, more robust bone structure, and a less meaty breast than the broad-breasted variety; plus they live longer.
There are lots and lots of heritage breeds of farm animals; hogs, sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, geese, turkeys. There are even lots of heritage fruit varieties. Many heritage varieties are very rare and in danger of disappearing forever, which is very unfortunate because these animals and plants serve as genetic storehouses for improvement of current breeds/varieties. Many heritage breeds have better meat characteristics than the commercial breeds, but for one reason or another, they’re not as commercially-viable today as their mass-market counterparts.
Anyway, we’re doing our part to preserve what we can and we’ve begun to raise heritage turkeys here on the ranch. We have some breeding stock that we’re using to build up our flocks so we can begin to sell birds on some of the slow foods websites. I have no idea if we’ll ever sell these turkeys and make a profit, given that they take a lot longer to mature to market weight than the modern broad-breasted variety. That makes heritage turkeys very expensive, however, the heritage birds are pretty cool to look at as they stroll around our lawn. The toms do little else except strut around and gobble, but they are pretty. Unlike broad-breasted turkeys, heritage birds are alert and intelligent. They have many of the same qualities that made ol’ Ben Franklin himself an advocate for wild turkeys to become our national bird. If the turkey had become our national bird, then along with Australia, we’d be one of only two nations that allows hunting and killing of our national symbol!
Sometimes things get a little screwy here. Our pair of geese have laid a two clutches of eggs every summer for several years now. They’ve never hatched anything; we’ve allowed Belle to incubate them and we’ve incubated other clutches ourselves, but the eggs never develop. For some reason our geese appear to be sterile. The geese and many of the turkeys range together and share nest boxes. One of our hen turkeys happened to be broody and thought it a good idea to incubate the goose eggs, an idea of which the geese did not approve. In short they beat the crap out of the turkey and removed half of the feathers on her back.
I had to move her to a safe place, so we fired up the big brooder we have and put her in there to heal and brood. At that moment, having no turkey or goose eggs, I gave her the next best thing, some bantam chicken eggs. These eggs are smaller than golf balls, and the hen turkey weighs close to 15 lbs, so there’s quite a size difference. Anyway, a few days ago, our turkey became a mom! She hatched out one chick and here’s a picture of the happy mother and child.
It’s going to be really entertaining to watch the chick grow. These bantams don’t get a lot bigger than pigeons and the turkey stands maybe 18” high at the head.
The fun isn’t over! Our goose has just decided to brood her eggs now, but we already have a good idea that her eggs are not viable. So……Sneaky me, she’s now sitting on turkey eggs! We have three turkey hens sitting on turkey eggs, one turkey hen with a bantam chick baby, two turkey hens doing nothing except eating, and a goose sitting on turkey eggs and a few goose eggs! Oh Boy!