The Trouble with Turkeys

Do you guys remember my three little turkey peeps from last year?  The ones we rescued from the feed store when it became clear that they were quickly destined to be dinner?

We lost one little peep (my favorite) to his birth defect.  We lost another to a predator.

But one of the little peeps survived.

And he isn’t so little anymore.

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Arthur

Meet Arthur of Camelot.

(You know, because llamas are camelids, and he lives with them…Aren’t we clever?)

He is a year old, nearly fifty pound, broad-breasted Tom.

Being a broad breasted turkey, Arthur is basically a mutant, but he’s our mutant, so we love him.  He spends his days wandering around, looking pretty, gobbling about how impressive he is, and also following Jeremiah and I around while we do chores, requesting clover flowers and chest scratches.

After he lost both his friends, I sort of panicked that he would be lonely, so I searched online for a couple of pet turkeys.  (I’m realizing that that sentence says more about who I am than almost anything I’ve ever written on here…)

I found these two. In keeping with our Camelot theme, I named them Guinevere and Morgana.

Unlike Arthur, they are a heritage breed (Blue Slate), so I don’t have to worry about them outgrowing their own skeletal system, which, frankly, is a relief.

Of course, Arthur never really bonded with them and, instead, thinks he’s an alpaca who happens to gobble a lot.

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Arthur in the stall with his old men llamas.

And the Blue Slates never really bonded with him either.  In fact, they don’t seem to know they aren’t chickens.

So, I guess my mission to find friends for Arthur kind of failed.

I ended up with three completely useless, but kinda cute, birds that I never really planned on.  I nicknamed them “the three most useless creatures on the farm,” and just accepted their gobble-y little selves for what they were…

But, it turns out, I had it all wrong.  They aren’t so useless at all.

A few weeks ago, Jeremiah and I were standing in front of the llama barn talking while the poultry free-ranged.  They were scattered about the pastures when I glanced up and noticed a sandhill crane flying over the farm.  It wasn’t a hawk or an eagle, both of which will gladly prey upon my flock, but Arthur didn’t know that.

I watched him look up and start gobbling (apparently a different than normal gobble).  As soon as his warning went out, all of my hens and the two other turkeys ducked and ran as fast as their little feathery legs could carry them out of the open pasture and into the barn!

That was when we realized that our ridiculous, fifty pound, pet turkey had appointed himself as guardian of our flock (like any good turkey who thinks he’s an alpaca would), doing a better job of watching out for the girls than any rooster we’ve ever had.    (Guys, it was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  I swear, he practically counted them once they were in to make sure everyone made it.)

Of course, that’s just one with a purpose out of three…

Until about two weeks ago.

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Farm fresh eggs – with a blue slate turkey egg on top!

See that fancy pants, speckled egg on top?  That was our first ever turkey egg!

The turkey hens just started laying.  So far, they’ve almost kept pace with the chickens, laying these big speckled eggs in the same nesting boxes.

The turkey eggs have higher fat and cholesterol than the chicken eggs, which makes them less ideal as a stand alone food, but perfect for baking!  (I started using them last week, making a dish of brownies for my mom, and then another for my brother-in-law’s birthday.)

Guys, you have not lived until you have eaten brownies made with turkey eggs!  They are so rich that it’s almost like fudge.  I’m excited to experiment with cakes and breads!

Turns out, my turkeys had purpose all along.  I just didn’t know it yet.

 

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Jeremiah and Guinevere…or maybe Morgana (even I can’t tell them apart most of the time)
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But aren’t llamas mean???

It’s almost like there’s a script, a list of exact lines shared with the rest of the world, but not with me.

Every.  Single.  Time.  I say I have llamas.

“Oh…Aren’t they mean?”

Yes.  Yes.  They are horrible attack monsters unrivaled by all but cthulha and the kraken.  I cower before them as I walk through the barns and the pastures, willing them not to see me as I pass.  In fact, they have imprisoned me on this ridgeline against my will; I am bound in eternal servitude to their highness(es).

*Sigh*

But, honestly, the question does come up nearly every time someone learns that we have llamas.  Let’s just set the record straight, shall we?

  • The friendliness of a llama is dependent on its handling and its genetics.  (Like, you know, all other animals…and, frankly, people.)
  • My llamas are not mean.  Not all of them are exceptionally friendly; our rescues especially have a tendency to be standoffish.  (But seriously, why on earth would I keep twenty violent, angry animals around as pets???)
  • Some llamas are mean, just like some dogs, cats, horses, and chickens are mean.
  • The llamas you met at the petting zoo (farm park, the pasture that sat caty-corner to the elementary school, etc), the ones you always tell me about, they probably were mean.  Llamas really aren’t built for the petting zoo environment.  They will get super stressed and will NOT be friendly.
  • Llamas and alpacas do spit.  It’s their defense response.
  • Yes, I have been spit on.
  • Yes.  It’s really freaking gross.
  • No, my llama probably isn’t going to spit on you unless you do something to really deserve it.  A well-socialized llama isn’t likely to spit at a person.  (Full disclosure – I did once have a llama spit at my sister-in-law for no good reason AT ALL.  That is really odd behavior, but it seemed the llama just really hated her.)

I sort of get it I guess: Llamas are rare enough that most people have limited experience with them, and everyone has a cousin whose friend got spit on that one time (or whatever).

But honestly, these creatures are pretty misunderstood.  The llamas at my farm have played host to kids birthday parties, allowing five year olds to lead them through an obstacle course or on a walking trail.  They have been showed all over the Midwest.

They have visited nursing homes and schools and daycare centers.

And, even now, they take center stage when visitors, large or small, visit the farm.

Now, does that look like a mean creature to you???

Season of Gray

 

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The woods are lovely dark and deep

December 27th, and it’s gray.  The Midwest has a way of graying out during the month of November and staying gray until February.  Days like today, it looks mostly the same outside at 8:00 am that it does at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ve been feeling as gray as today’s sky.  I think we all have times like this, times when each day is just a push from morning to night, an effort to get from the start of your day to the finish in one piece.   If I’m being completely honest, 2015 has been one of the most difficult years on record for me.  I’ve felt in chaos more than I’ve felt safe, and more days have proved a struggle than I care to admit.   It’s easy to get lost in that, forget that everything with a beginning eventually has an end.

But, right now, I’m just in the middle of my chaos, and I’m feeling a little lost. Continue reading “Season of Gray”

Scalloped Corn, Thanksgiving, and Drastic, Scary Changes.

Our first night back at the ranch, neither Jeremiah nor I got very much sleep.  The house noises were all wrong; the room was chilly; our house critters were (and still are) staying with my dad at our old place.  I woke up nearly hourly, and I felt no desire to climb out of bed in the morning, but I did.  That first full day, Jeremiah and I moved through the house and barn and pastures like turtles stuck in molasses in December.

The second night at the ranch I felt terribly exhausted but still couldn’t sleep.  I laid in bed next to my husband trying to will myself to feel at ease.  I tossed and turned, hoping that some bodily position would magically fix my nerves.  Jeremiah, kept awake by my constant motion, eventually spoke.

“Something wrong honey?”

Words exploded rapid fire.  “The house noises are all wrong, and I’m so tired, and I can’t sleep.  My brain won’t shut off.”

“Me either.  This just isn’t home yet.”

And that was it.  The floodgates opened, and I started to sob.  Through those deep breathes in between, I responded.

“It’s not home!  I miss home.”

Desperately homesick in my own bed, I cried myself to sleep, Jeremiah cuddled next to me, rubbing my back and telling me that he wished he could make it ok.

I felt somewhat better the next morning.  (It’s amazing how well tears work to dissolve nervous and negative energy.)  The house didn’t magically feel like home, but somehow that’s easier to deal with when the sun is up.  And it wasn’t that I regretted our decision to move here, not for a second, but I felt like we built home in that little, drafty, near 100 year old house in the Heights.  And this big old farm house was starting over from scratch with just as many new projects to start as we had completed.

My mother-in-law came over that morning, and she helped me clean my new kitchen.  (We were still cleaning up after a one-time significant mouse population…)  And I’m pretty sure that Jeremiah told her everything about how his silly wife cried herself to sleep, which is fine.  She stayed for hours, helping me clean and looking at me like she wanted to hug me.  And when we were done the kitchen was clean, meaning one small corner of my world was settled, and my outlook was better.

It took a week or so to settle in.  When we first moved in, the stove was unconnected.  Most of our dishes were still packed.  Also, the outlet in our bathroom was wallpapered; it literally took me a week to see it, and before then I dried my hair on the bedroom floor.  (All the while I wondered why on earth one would fail to put an outlet in a bathroom.  It made no sense whatsoever.)  As time went by and little things came together, this place started to make some sense to me.

Of course, it helps that I have always viewed this ranch as a sort of second home.  Even when the house felt so very foreign, the barns and the fields felt familiar and right.

Yesterday, I ran errands like mad, including a stop at the Heights house.  I heard myself, in my head, referring to the place as “Dad’s” and the ranch as “home.”  That was weird for me, but I guess I will consider it a step in the right direction, because every day, this place feels a little more like home.  It feels a little more right.

The sunroom after the snow.
The view out my window in our new home.

Today I made scalloped corn for Thanksgiving Dinner at my in-laws’ place.  It’s my grandmother’s recipe, as much a part of our holiday traditions as the Macy’s parade or pumpkin pie…maybe even more so.  I opened the oven to check the progress of the dish.

Scientists says that smell gives us our closest tie to memory of all the senses.  I believe them.  In that moment, I felt like I was back at grandma’s as a little girl, trudging through their cold porch on the way into the kitchen; scalloped corn was usually the first dish you could smell.  And, in that moment, it didn’t matter that I was in a new home in a new town, because there was scalloped corn in the oven, and it was Thanksgiving, and it felt good and familiar and homey.

This year, I am thankful for change, no matter how drastic or scary or huge, because, as they say, change is the only way you grow.

 

 

 

A week at the ranch.

It’s been an eventful week at the ranch. Despite not living there, we’ve been busy!

For example, I pulled in yesterday morning and found this.  He started with power washing and proceeded to paint by the end of the day.

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Not sure if you can really tell, but by evening most of the front of the house was done.

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Fall has officially made it’s way to Central Illinois.  The weather yesterday was perfect: sunny, no hotter than 70 with a beautiful breeze.  We’re doubling down on outdoor efforts.  Lady Fall is enticing and beautiful, but she’s followed quickly by Old Man Winter, and, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, he’s going to be a doozy.  It won’t be terribly long before we get weathered out of the outdoor work, and neither of us want a half painted house all winter.

We also bought the most perfect dining room table last week.  Jeremiah and I found it in an antique store a few towns away. (In addition to all of his other wonderful qualities, Jeremiah actually enjoys going to antique stores on occasion.  I’m a very lucky girl…)  It’s a farmhouse table, new construction, but made out of 100+ year old barn wood.  I’m a little bit smitten with it.

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Jeremiah and his little brother bringing it in. Apparently it’s absurdly heavy.
The table, moved into our dining room.
The table, moved into our dining room. (The middle piece of wood you see is actually a table runner made of a 200+ year old barnwood beam.)

One of our friendly neighborhood hummers got caught in our mudroom while it was opened up to dry.  Jeremiah eventually got it to go outside.  The little bird was not overly grateful.  (If you’re not familiar with hummers, they are very cheeky little things.  We love them anyway.)

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This one may gross some of you out, but I think it’s funny.

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The chickens have been thoroughly enjoying their free range time, and a few of them discovered the manure pit.  I know the phrase is usually “happier than a pig in poop,” but as I understand it, pigs actually prefer to be clean.  The chickens, however?  They think it’s pretty great.

Also, see below for the inherent hazard of letting your chickens free range:

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They are pretty darn thrilled with their discovery of the hay stall.  It has excellent dust for dust baths, AND there’s a nifty, secluded corner to build a nest.  Now I have to check for eggs there every time I let them out.  But c’mon, how cute is the little nest with the colored eggs?

And finally, we took out Vinny’s stiches yesterday.  I expected a total freak out, as Jeremiah wanted to try it without sedation first, but we were pleasantly surprised when Vin stood like a champ.  He’s come so far since he came home with us!  This horse used to run away like a maniac anytime we came in the pasture, and now, this.

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He stood and chomped down grain the whole time.  God love him.

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All done!  He’ll probably always have a scar, but this one ended up way better than it might have.  It healed up very well.  Thank God for great vets and good horses.

Over the next few days, we’re hoping to move back in.  (We’re both losing patience with the constant driving back and forth.)  The house is vented with airmovers exchanging air in the basement 10 times per house.  The vents were cleaned earlier this week…  Hopefully, that will be enough to make the place livable again.  Fingers crossed.  If not, the movers are hopefully coming at the end of the month to clear out the basement, and then we will be free and clear to get the mothballs and the mold professionally mitigated.

Cats and Dog. Llamas and Alpacas. Horses and Chickens. (…Oh my???)

Over the past week or two, Jeremiah’s little sister has been busy at the ranch with her camera, and she’s gotten some extremely impressive photos.  She gave me permission to share them with you.  Enjoy!

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Piper with her favorite Frisbee.
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Amelia with a bone
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Vin
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Morana

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Having a frolic
Having a frolic

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Feline Alarm Clocks – Introducing Dobby.

When you have as many critters as I do, there is no need for an alarm clock.  They will usually wake you at around the same time everyday, regardless of what time you went to bed.

Meet my alarm clocks.

Dobby
Dobby
Sontar and Draco
Sontar and Draco

As much as I, or my husband, or the dogs, would like to believe otherwise, these three rule the roost.  Every morning, usually between 6:30 and 7:30, these three begin singing the songs of their people outside the bedroom door, reminding us that an unacceptable number of hours have passed since their food bowls have been refilled. Continue reading “Feline Alarm Clocks – Introducing Dobby.”