Tough Decisions and Heartbreak (A post I’ve been trying to not write…)

A few weeks ago, I spent most of a Saturday building a turkey playpen in the yard.  You guys remember our little turkey peeps, don’t you?  The three little misfits my husband brought home around the middle of April?

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I’ve been amazed by these little guys.  They are remarkable social birds, both amongst themselves and with us.  They decided early on that we were pretty awesome (probably because of our apparent never-ending supply of mealworms), and they call and coo for us when they see us nearby.

Well, a few weeks back, I decided that they were big enough to spend some of their time outdoors, especially while I cleaned their brooder, so I set this up in the front yard.

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Nothing fancy.  Just four panels with chicken wire and garden netting, held in place by zip ties.  I would haul the turkeys out of the basement in a cat carrier and leave them in their playpen for the afternoon while we did work around the farm.  But honestly? They liked it best when I sat with them.  They would prance around, but coming running back to me peeping when frightened, such as when the barn cat seemed to think they’d be tasty.

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I really grew to like the turkeys, but one of them, named Igor, became an easy favorite.  He came running when he saw us.  He liked being picked up.  When he was frightened, he not only came running back peeping, but he tried to jump into my lap as I sat, legs folded, in the grass.

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I named him Igor because of a slight limp.

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At first, the limp seemed quirky.  I had a chicken with a similar issue, and she did just fine.  She sort of waddled like a duck when she ran, which was actually kind of endearing and cute.

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But, unlike my hen, a heritage breed chicken, Igor started growing really fast.  And the limp got worse.

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I remember sitting in the playpen with the turkeys and noticing that when Igor ran, he tripped, occasionally falling.  I thought maybe it was an issue with the un-level ground.  We called the vet to ask if there was anything that could be done.  Maybe the leg could be splinted?    Perhaps there was something lacking in their diet?

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Jeremiah and our vet had a lengthy conversation about turkeys.  (Our vet is good for lengthy conversations.)  Among other things, we were informed that our peeps were not, in fact, the native turkey species of our area.  Rather, they were a genetically modified variant bred to look like the native species.  Our guys were created to be fast growing, quick to move from brooder to supper table.

Therein lay the problem.  My poor Igor, never destined for the supper table, was growing more size more quickly  than his bone structure could support.  His leg was splaying out from the hip.  And the vet said there was nothing at all that we could do to help him.  The leg couldn’t be fixed.

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We held off doing anything for a couple of days.  Then one day Jeremiah noticed that Igor couldn’t stand up in his brooder or on the cement basement floor.   And it sucked so hard, but we knew when he couldn’t stand that the kindest thing was to put him down.

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I walked in to check on our chicks before bed, and I realized that there were only two turkey peeps in their brooder.  Moment later, Jeremiah walked in, gun in hand.  He didn’t say anything, but I knew straight away what had been done.

He didn’t tell me first, but I can’t blame him for that.  It took everything in him to end things for Igor, even if it was the only kind thing to do.  And, I helped make the call. The responsibility rested on both of us, but he was the one who had to pull the trigger, and I don’t envy him that.

I was sad about it for days.  Both of us were.

Our two remaining turkeys moved into the chicken coop a few days ago.  They have mostly adjusted, even though our rooster was a bit of an ass about it, and they are generally doing well.  They still run to greet us, and they happily eat from our hands and allow us to pet them.

I like them.  And they may be Jeremiah’s current favorite creatures.  But I haven’t named either of them.  I’m not sure why.

And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: A few weeks ago, we had to shoot our pet because his body couldn’t quite withstand the way people had genetically modified his species.

And it made me think about the way we tinker with nature.  Halter horses bred for such a dished face that they can’t breathe properly.  Bulldogs that can’t give birth without a C-section. Turkeys and chickens that grow too big, too fast and can’t walk for the meat weight they carry.

And I’m left wondering, what on earth makes us think we have the right?

Author’s note: I know a lot of people have very strong feelings on this sort of thing.  Feel free to express your opinion…politely.

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20 thoughts on “Tough Decisions and Heartbreak (A post I’ve been trying to not write…)

  1. Oh, that is so sad a story to have to tell. Poor Igor to be given such a deliberate heritage; but so blessed, yes blessed, to be brought to your farm/home to be so enjoyed and loved by you and Jeremiah.

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  2. I’ve read about genetically modified chickens that were bred for meat having breasts so big that the chicken can’t walk. I didn’t realize the same thing happened to turkeys. This is heartbreaking, and Im so sorry. I’m glad this little turkey spent his short life in such a caring environment.

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    1. It’s terrible really, but yes, it’s true of chickens and turkeys. We picked up a few little turkey poults to keep our last one company (we sadly lost Igors sister to a predator and were left with one lonely little turkey). The new ones are a heritage breed so we shouldn’t have the genetic issues with them. But I miss the ones we lost. They were special little birds.

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      1. I feel sad for you, Jeremiah, and your sweet, little turkeys. When you’re an animal lover and advocate, you always see beyond their “it’s just an animal” exterior to their individual personalities and spirits. I know that sounds corny, but I always dislike it when I hear someone say, “It was just a cat, chicken, or whatever. Don’t get so upset.” I’m so happy your last turkey has new friends. You all are the best! Good luck with your little flock! 🙂

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  3. It’s tough enough to lose or have to put down an animal when it has a natural genetic defect, but to do it because the defect was bred into it by man for man’s purposes is truly awful. I’m just glad Igor had your loving and attention during his short life. Imagine if he had been at a total meat factory farm; he probably would have been pecked to death by the other turkeys or simply tossed out to starve or be prey.

    So, since he was destined to have a short life anyway, thank you for filling it with good food and love.

    You are exceptional critter caregivers.

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  4. This was a deeply moving piece. What a good writer you are. Whatever you do with your writing, you will have readers. I am not a turkey guy but your story of Igor brought tears to my eyes. What a shame.

    We humans have lost all sense of balance and harmony we have with the planet. Our desire for more-more-more, and our manipulation of her, is killing the very thing that sustains us. Places that never had earthquakes now have earthquakes because of fracking.

    Last night I heard a conversation about the international competition for the Arctic. Now that the polar ice caps are melting big time, countries are moving in to claim the resources they believe are there. If you hear the sound of sucking, it is coming from the North Pole. Sorry I got on my soapbox. Now you know why I stay away from writing serious opinion on my blog.

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    1. Thank you so much Don. You always write such thoughtful comments.

      I totally agree with you. We’ve lost touch. We forget that we are killing ourselves. Nature will survive us, but as we alter our own ecosystems, we will threaten ourselves.

      I have a tendency towards the ecological soapbox as well, but I try to contain it. I just had to say something about this though. That silly little turkey meant too much to me to not.

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  5. I am so sorry, Cherity… it was not a pleasant decision to make about Igor, but it was the right one. And, difficult as it must have been for you, I am glad you wrote about it. You and Jeremiah are responsible people with beautiful souls. Igor’s gift to all of us was to show us what our irresponsibility in manipulating genetics creates. His life was not lived in vain.

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  6. We truly have lost touch as humans, as to what it means to live on this earth. I get so sad reading about modified animals altered to grow so quickly for our own consumption. Seems greedy. Thank you for the love and attention you gave to sweet little igor before it was his time to go. Human folly destined his life to be short, but your compassion made the short life a happy one!

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