So the turkeys are out.
We’ve had poultry in our house pretty much nonstop since January, which is just another of those sentences I never in my life thought I’d say. There was a brief period in March when we were poultry-free, and then the turkeys arrived. They stayed in the living room until they grew up enough to start smelling like turkeys, and then we moved them into bigger bins and put them in the basement.
Yesterday was one of those glorious spring days that make you think you should spend it doing something relaxing and photogenic, as if you were in your own beer commercial drinking something that tastes far better than beer – pretty much anything, really, with the possible exception of those smoothies made from leaves and twigs – except that you know you’re just going to spend most of it chipping away at the mountain of outdoor projects that have been waiting for you ever since the temperature dropped below freezing in November. Those projects are sorted by size and color, arranged by shape, and prioritized by how badly they will make your world smell if you don’t get to them before the others.
Getting the turkeys out of the house ranked pretty highly, when put in those terms.
Lauren and I spent most of the day over at the barn. I’d gotten the outside turkey run fencing shored up earlier, so Lauren spent her time clear-cutting the brambly weeds that had sprouted up since last summer and then sweeping out the inside pens where the turkeys would be staying. I got the big boards moved over one cow stall to the left so our six turkeys (compared with last year’s four at the start and two at the end) could have some room to roam, and then cleared out the second stall.
And then I spent more time than a reasonable human being should have to devote to the issue of chicken wire.
For those of you who have never had to put up chicken wire in any quantity, the thing you have to remember is that chicken wire comes in rolls. They’re about four feet high, weigh far more than you’d think, and are as tightly wound as a North Carolina legislator at a Pride Festival. They each contain enough chicken wire to cover Wales, and if you have two of them you can build a decent sized hut to live in. You’d die of exposure and blood loss, of course, since chicken wire is mostly holes surrounded by bits of sharp metal, but affordable housing always has its drawbacks. The key thing about these rolls for my purposes, however, is that they’re made of metal wire, which is a substance that has the rather annoying quality of retaining whatever shape you bend it into. Such as a tightly wound roll. This can be a problem when you are trying to fasten one end of a tubular piece of chicken wire onto a flat surface and the other end onto another flat surface some distance away. The wire stubbornly insists on remaining – or snapping back to – tubular, and this is of no help to anybody.
My life would be so much easier if chicken wire came in sheets rather than rolls, which is yet another of those sentences I never in my life thought I’d say. It is a continual source of amazement to me just how many of those sentences are poultry-related.
The trick to dealing with rolls of chicken wire is to staple it into the walls as you go, which at least anchors one end down. Eventually you staple the other end to another portion of the wall. And if you do it right, the end result will be a nice safe spot where the predators won’t eat your birds – a chicken-wire cocoon for your poultry.
Of course, stapling anything into a barn that is quite literally older than sliced bread is a dusty, flake-filled experience, one that leaves you covered with all sorts of debris and swimming in an atmosphere that is equal parts lead paint chips, aerosolized chicken poop, and a faint blue mist of obscenity.
But it’s done, or at least done enough to get the turkeys situated. I’ve still got some further chicken wire work to go, but the birds are no longer in my basement. I don’t think I’ll actually do any of that wire work anytime soon, as today my back and hands are reminding me precisely how old I am and why I am not a contractor, but there you have it.
Lauren and I took them over just before dinner last night and set them down in their new stalls, with their shiny chicken wire walls and their fresh pine shaving floors. These are birds whose entire lives have been spent in Rubbermaid bins, so this was more room than they’ve ever experienced.
It freaked them out, really.
When I was in graduate school, two of my friends – a married couple with a small boy and a baby on the way – spent a year doing research in Germany, where their baby was born. European apartments are generally small and on a graduate student stipend they’re even smaller, and when my friends came back to their house in Pittsburgh – a small house by American standards, but an empire compared to what they’d been used to for the previous year – it took them months to adjust. “We all had to be in the same room,” one of them later told me. “If somebody got up and went to another room, we’d all follow. It took a long time to be comfortable having an entire room to yourself.”
That’s how the turkeys reacted.
The first thing they did was huddle up in a pile of feathers and beaks, occupying maybe 3% of their total allotted space. They’d shuffle around as a group, like Keystone Kops re-enactors, exploring things. Occasionally one – the droopy-eyed hen we named Popeye because that’s just how we roll – would get brave and hare off on her own, but the rest would quickly catch up.
Also, the toms started puffing up to try to claim the space as the dominant male, because guys. This is adorable when they weigh maybe 4lb, but will bear watching as they expand to nearly ten times that weight over the summer.
Eventually they found their food and water – no small victory for turkeys – and we left them to their new home.
This morning we were over there fairly early (well, early for a Sunday) and opened up the little door to the outside and let them explore their enclosed run. The process was much the same, right down to finding their outside water bucket (you have to give them water both inside and outside in case the door shuts on you while you’re not there to open it again), and eventually we left them to their devices.
It’s a good day for turkeys.
Most days are.