After Jo, Martha, and I moved out here to Foster Farm in June, 1974, a month before our younger daughter Megan was born, we started out in 1975 by planting way too much garden, starring Jo’s dad’s grown-from-seed Burpee Big Boy tomato and green pepper plants.
Soon, however, we turned to raising protein.
Rabbits came first in 1977. No doubt we were inspired by John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, but they are delicious; they taste like chicken, only richer.
Using nothing but a tiny jigsaw and surplus barn beams only slightly more malleable than Pittsburgh steel, I risked my fingers and my sanity constructing six rabbit hutches that looked like M. C. Escher was the architect of design, helped by L’il Abner.
After that, we added a half-dozen laying hens I bought from a venerable farmer for 50 cents each.
In 1980, we added chickens for eating.
After a few mis-starts, we settled on Cornish Rock cross that arrived at the post office one day old, in the convenient fifty-count box fresh from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa.
That all worked out well. I purchased custom-ground 20% protein corn-oats feed from a nearby farmer friend whose family I always thanked by giving them the biggest bird from our first harvest
Then, in 1981, the Thanksgiving ultimate: turkeys.
We bought them down at Les Sutter Farm Supply, later our source for ducks and geese.
We started out with the colorful bronze breed of greeting card fame, but soon settled on the classic white ones, which grew bigger and were more docile, albeit still dumber than feathered boxes of rocks.
We usually bought four.
They were free-range, fancying the Foster Farm Feral Feline Incest Project’s kibble, lawn gleanings, the custom-ground grain, and the occasional beetled tomato.
Those turkeys loved tomatoes with the added piquancy of the spotted beetles. I’d call them and lob a fruit their way and watch them run for it. I speculated on spray-painting numbers on their backs and wagering on their races, but gambling is a silly vice.
Contrary to popular myth, turkeys can fly. A few times I came out to put them back in the barn that was their bedroom a bit late and found them perched placidly up in a big maple.
I had to use the long bamboo pole employed for retrieving Frisbees that got stuck up in the cedars. Thereafter, I trimmed their wing-feathers and they were earthbound.
The weekend before Thanksgiving in 1981 was the first harvest time.
I took my trusty $8 Sears hatchet out to the barn where the ancient chopping block was and whistled my buggy-tomato call and they all came running.
By this time, I’d had quite a few chickens worth of experience. This had to be the same, right?
I hefted them all and picked the plumpest. Based on the fact that it dressed out to almost 30 pounds, it had to weight close to 60.
With considerable difficulty, I hoisted the dear dumb bird up on the block, said a prayer that its poultry soul would go where all good turkey souls go after a just life, and wound up and gave its neck my best whack.
Its wing shot out. My glasses flew one way, my hatchet the other.
It looked up me as its neck bled from a tiny shaving-nick of a cut.
“Are you talking to me, mack?,” it seemed to say.
Let us draw a veil of discretion over the rest of this sanguine scene.
I finally prevailed.
I disemboweled it and cut off the feet with branch-clippers. Plucking it took Jo and I much time and, for the wing-feathers, pliers.
The next morning, I found one of the feet on our front porch.
“Take that, you lousy kibble thief” was the unspoken feline message.
That week, we four, my mother, and the big bird, giblets and all, journeyed down to my sister Claudia’s place in St. Louis.
For my sins, I got to pluck the neck clean of meat for the stuffing my mom made.
It barely fit into my sister’s big blue roasting pan. The rich golden-brown gravy nearly overflowed.
And it was very, very good.
So thank you, Mr. or Ms. Turkey. We all made a contribution to that Thanksgiving feast.
But you made a sacrifice.
–Mike Foster, 25 November 2015