Story: minus 52.5 C
About 20 some years ago we used to record temperature data for Agriculture Canada. Every morning we would check to previous days high and low temperature. One winter morning I witnessed the lowest temperature recorded since 1914. It was -52.5 C.
At that time we had one turkey “Miss Turkey”. When I saw her I was shocked. Rather than seeking shelter on such a cold night, she had perched out in the open, on top of a fence post. Her head was tucked under her wing and there she froze. Or so I thought. After a few moments of fond memories I went to touch her and her head poked up. The temperature hadn’t bothered her at all. I remember thinking “if a turkey can survive so well outside, I should consider raising them!” Next year I raised 192. The year after that 1400. That was the year I was introduced to the Turkey Marketing Board but that’s another story. We kept “Miss Turkey” as a pet for another 10 years.
Around the same time as I decided I would become a professional turkey rancher I had to decide how I would raise them. The result was a mobile shelter that measured 46 feet x 96 feet. I was pretty proud of my engineering feat. The shelters contained their turkey food feeders, numerous sources of water along with a covered building for protection and a place to perch and roost for the night. The 4600 square foot structures along with their occupants could move onto fresh pasture in as little as 3 minutes.
The birds loved the move to their new pastures and would make a special “cluckle” sound that was very pleasant to listen to. I recorded the sound and would play it back them just before Christmas.
Wild or Domestic?
I started raising the Merriams wild turkey, a native to southern Alberta, B.C. and areas south. I kept my own breeding stock and from the end of March until June I would be busy washing, weighing and incubating eggs. Although very interesting it was quite time consuming. The process resulted in a turkey that weighed an average of 9 pounds by Christmas. The common question was “do you have anything larger?”
When the Turkey Marketing Board shut me down and told me I could raise no more than 299 birds, I switched from wild to domestic.
Around the beginning of June is the time I like to start my turkey poults (chicks). They require a high protein diet to get them off to a good start so I use a combination of wheat, peas, soy and flax oil along with a balance of vitamins and minerals for the first few weeks. At around 4 weeks of age they are old enough to move to their outdoor pens where they can feast on all the greens and grubs they like. Every few days the pens get moved to fresh pasture leaving behind the droppings as an organic fertilizer.
Twice a year the turkeys go to town. For them it is a “once in a lifetime experience”, once at Thanksgiving or once at Christmas.
First Nature Farms organic, free range turkeys are available on order for the holiday seasons in Edmonton at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market and for pickup in Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge.