Since Kevin and I left Manhattan for Cape Cod three years ago, we’ve tried to get as much food as we can firsthand, by hunting and gathering, fishing and gardening. I’ve learned to frame a chicken coop, grow a cucumber, catch a striped bass. I know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, which wild mushrooms won’t kill me. I can can.
Like the chickens, the turkeys started off easy, as do pretty much all livestock. Just about any farm animal this side of a cow can be kept in a box for a couple of weeks while you figure out what to do next. Our box was a crate, scavenged from the dumpster of the equipment rental place near us, wrapped in chicken wire. We installed it under a heat lamp in the garage, so the birds could be protected from predators at night.
Turkeys, we knew, were supposed to be stupid. We watched for signs of it, but they didn’t have any trouble doing the three things that were required of them: eating, drinking and pooping. Our birds were Standard Bronze, a breed closely related to wild turkeys, so we figured there was a chance they hadn’t traded all their IQ points for breast meat. And, sure enough, inside 15 minutes they’d figured out how to jailbreak.
You could argue that escaping from a warm, predator-proof brooder into a cold, predator-rich world won’t score you an 800 on the turkey SATs, but we thought that finding the biggest hole in the chicken wire and squeezing through it was a notable accomplishment for a bird mere days old.
We closed up the holes, but “escape” would be a recurring motif for the five months we were turkey owners.
Livestock housing is all about getting the most protection for the least money. Although it’s easy to build a structure that can contain four turkeys, it’s hard to justify big-budget construction for four meals’ worth of bird. We improvised.
We started with five cattle panels, 16-foot lengths of galvanized fencing. We picked a site and used the trees that bordered it as fenceposts. We cut the panels to span the spaces between the trees, making a corral. Using plywood scrounged from a dumpster and an old pallet as a floor, Kevin built a treehouse where we could lock them in safely at night. The birds could easily slip through the cattle fencing — cows are bigger than turkeys — so we lined the bottom two feet of the panels with chicken wire.