I bought an old tom turkey last Thanksgiving. I wanted him for a pet, not for the meal. I didn't know a lot about turkeys, I had always thought of them as big chickens. But when I looked into my new pet's eyes, he stared fiercely back at me. I could just see the wheels turning in his head. "Dad," I called, "come look at my turkey. He's smart!"
When I first got the turkey, I kept him in a big metal cage his former owners lent me, inside a calf pen. Our dog, Puppy, was really worried and excited about him, so I tried to give the turkey a space where he could feel safe. The turkey, who's name was Tom, was getting really upset though, what with the dog barking and all the commotion, and he kept spreading his tail feathers and strutting. I finally kicked the dog out of the barn, and then I left too, trying to give Tom a little peace.
Later, Rachel and I were feeding him bread and trying to think of a new name for him. I wanted my first turkey to have a more memorable name than Tom. Although scary looking, Tom was pretty gentle, and the bread had made him fast friends with us. He clucked and squealed at us from behind the cage, his feathers rising up and down, as he begged for more bread.
"King?" I wondered aloud, "Ajax? Alabaster? Horatius?"
"Poofball," suggested Rachel as Tom began strutting, puffing out his chest and tail feathers to ridiculous lengths.
"Poofball! I don't think so! I want something more prestigious."
Tom had fallen in love with Rachel. He looked up with hero worship in his shiny black eyes for the lovely being who was feeding him. He charmingly asked for another piece by chirping like a baby. "Squeak! Squeak!' A rather ridiculous noise to hear coming from a huge fifty-pound bird.
"Sorry, Poofball," Rachel spread her fingers wide to show him, "All gone."
"Hmm," thought Tom, turning his head to the side to peer at her fingers, "not exactly bread, but..." Snap! He reached out and grabbed Rachel's finger in his huge, sharp beak.
"Aahh!" yelled Rachel, jerking her hand away.
In an explosion of feathers, Tom quickly retreated to the back of his cage, frightened by her scream. I laughed uproariously as Rachel sucked her finger and suggested another name.
"How about Greedy-guts?"
Tom must have been embarrassed of his cowardice because he soon started strutting again. Trying to prove how big and strong he was to us. "You stinky old Greedy-guts!" scolded Rachel, poking him in his expansive stomach, "You just about bit my finger off!" Tom didn't approve of getting his stomach poked, but regally shutting his eyes and ignoring her kept strutting.
'I know," I said, "His name is now Archibald."
"What!" yipped Rachel, "Archibald!"
Suddenly the turkey reared up and gobbled right in Rachel's face. Rachel shrieked in surprise and fell over backwards.
"Rachel," I said proudly to the prostrate girl, "Meet Archibald."
After a week or so of living in the shed, Dad made me move Archie out to the calf barn (a lean to shed on the side of our barn), because he was scaring the cows as they walked by. I must admit, it was annoying to have to wait for him to stop gobbling before talking to someone. Not a good thing to have going on when you're in a hurry.
I thought Archibald would enjoy being outside and in the calf barn, but it took him a while to get used to it. He was afraid of not being in his cage. He tried to make friends with the ducks, which was a complete failure. They were terrified of him. Every time he came near them, all sixteen of our ducks would run away, screaming bloody murder. Then Archibald would try to catch up with them, making them think he was trying to chase them down and eat them. Sometimes they would even run outside, with the turkey after them, and flounder around in the snow before getting stuck. Several times this winter, I would have to go outside and dig a bunch of quacking ducks out of a snow bank; my poor turkey standing puzzled in the midst of them, shifting his big bony feet as they got cold. Eventually Archie gave up on the ducks, and now he hangs out with the chickens. The chickens didn't even take a second look at him. I guess they just assumed he was an extremely big rooster.
Now that spring is finally here, Archibald, the ducks and the chickens are free to go where they please. Archibald was a little hesitant about this too, but now he is happily adjusted. I think it's pretty neat to have a full-grown turkey walking around our yard. I guess you could call him the poor man's peacock.
Farm Fact: The turkey is one of the most famous birds in North America. In fact, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the wild turkey, not the Bald Eagle, the national bird of the United States!