Turkey Feathers


Grandpa's farm was really diversified back in the 1920's. He had dairy cows, pigs, ducks, chickens, and turkeys. He grew hops, corn, wheat, oats, barley and buckwheat, and potatoes, as well as hay. Grandma had a vegetable and flower garden. They also had a large apple orchard and a grove of plum trees.

Of course, what was most interesting to us, kids, were the animals. All of them except the cows and pigs and horses had free run of the large farmyard between the house and barn, as well as the surrounding fields.

Early morning and late afternoon was feeding time for the farmyard birds. Grandma would get one or two pails [converted gallon paint pails] filled with various grains from the "old house" granary. She would go out through the yard and toss out the grain in several different places and call, "Chick-chick-chick, here chick-chick-chick" and the birds would come running, half flying from all over. From the yard, the fields and the orchard!

The chickens and turkeys would scratch around in the short grass to get every last kernel and each summer bare spots would appear as a result of all this scratching. The bare ground made it easier for the ducks, and all the fowls to find the grain.

Sometimes the ducks would come from way down across the hay field where they had spent the day in the creek. They might get the short end of the stick as far as grain went, but they had been feasting all day on bugs and worms. All the birds got a lot of their sustenance from insects and wild vegetation. Some years when there was a large infestation of grasshoppers, everyone would remark that it was "a good turkey year". Turkeys were good grasshopper catchers.

Both chickens and turkeys would sometimes "steal their nests", that is, instead of using nests provided for them in their pens, they would sneak away into the tall grass in the orchard or hay field and lay their eggs. Then about 3 weeks later the hens would appear in the farmyard proudly leading their brood of chicks or turkey poults.

The farmyard was a treasure trove to us young kids. Pretty feathers were easy to find around on the ground. Turkey feathers were the largest and most prized. They were long and shiny, and you could stick a couple in your hair and be an Indian.

My mother told this story about my sister, Dora, before I was born. Dora was about 3 years old, and was wandering around the yard at feeding time, mixing with the fowls, picking up feathers that had dropped on the ground. The adults had been standing around, casually visiting, while watching Dora from near the house. She had gathered quite a handful of long feathers and was almost lost from sight among the turkeys. Some of the gobblers were as tall as she was. All of a sudden Mom heard her scream and saw her running toward the house with a big gobbler close on her heels.

Well, they rescued Dora, she being more frightened than hurt, and sent the gobbler on his way.

Then my Uncle Seward [he was probably about 27 years old at the time] decided he would pretend to be a small kid and see if the turkey would attack him. He got down on hands and knees and crawled around through the flock where Dora had been. He made a comical picture! A grown man crawling around on the ground making clucking sounds!

The big old boss turkey gobbler sidled up to and around him belligerently but was a little leery about tackling this strange looking critter. Finally Seward, deciding the turkey wasn't going to attack him, gave up the game. As he started to get up, his foot slipped in the grass [and other accumulations] and he fell forward, flat on his face.

The only problem was, the turkey was under him!

Everybody laughed and hooted. "Ride 'um, cowboy!" "You didn't have to kill the poor bird!" "That'll teach him!"

The turkey was not hurt, except for ruffled feathers and loss of ego.

After the excitement was all over, and everything had calmed down, Mom noticed that, Dora still tightly clutched her handful of turkey feathers.

"One of Grandpa's Turkey gobblers"

"Alyce, [age 2 yrs.]Trying to Catch a Duck"

Charles E. Page, August 2004