19th December 2005
On Sunday the 18th of December 2005 I read with great sadness an article that agonized about the least stressful way to cook a turkey. Written with such insensitivity and detachment indicative of the social norm that accepted cruelty and indifference towards certain animals based on our use for them, I set off to research turkeys, an animal I was none too familiar with.
I read of recent scientific research that showed that birds’ brains are not mere basal ganglia, purely driving instinct but rather an intricately wired mass that processes information in much the same way as our human brain. I learned that we have interfered with the genetic make up of turkeys to such a degree that commercial breeders resort to artificial insemination as the unnaturally heavy birds have difficulty mating and that Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter and mentioned that he thought the wild turkey’s traits made it a more fitting national symbol than the bald eagle to represent the United States, and also that only the male turkey makes the “gobble” sound.
Sadly captive and domesticated turkey females (known as hens, the males are toms) are unable to teach their poults (newborn and young turkeys) how to react to predators and other dangers, as well as how to get food, social behavior, vocalization and flocking together like their wild cousins. Turkey mothers are the most protective in the world. Moreover I learned that turkeys, like most farm animals are not treated with the compassion and respect they deserve.
My resolve was to save a turkey, like the old man on beach throwing stranded star fish back into the ocean offering his reasoning that although there were thousands of dying star fish and he could not save them all he made a difference to the one he just tossed back.
To market, to market….. I didn’t have to look far, there squashed into an old milk crate was my future turkey. I watched those who passed by the market vendor for some indication of their view of the turkeys predicament, some nonplussed bemusedly joked “there’s Christmas dinner” others simply turned the other way. One elderly man eyed the turkey, then quickly turned to his partner and said “that is disgusting”, I wonder what he ate for Christmas dinner. In the scheme of things one turkey reprieved doesn’t mean much, but I have plans for bigger things. It’s called the domino effect. My reprieved turkey will become an ambassador for all the not so fortunate turkeys. They are truly magnificent creatures. My turkey I believe is a Bronze turkey, as he patrols his domain I have noticed him fan his tail, droop and drag his wings and shake his quills audibly, he will retract his head and strut about uttering a rapid gobbling sound, the point on top of his beak (called the snood) which is normally a small pink triangle turns bright red and elongates to hang down over his beck. The red-pink fleshy covering of the throat and neck is called the wattle and as a male he has a beard like coarse black feather in the middle of his chest.
Synchronicity stepped in that night to name my turkey, as racing off to work quickly after his purchase meant a fitting name was not secured. After work instead of retiring to bed I decided to check my emails and one from Compassion in World Farming proved very timely, it was an article from the Independent Online about the life and death of a gentle English turkey named Tony Blair who was slaughtered on the very day of the commencement of my custodianship of a turkey. Moved by Tony Blair’s tale and in his honour I bestowed my turkey with the name “Tony Blair”.
Many Happy Christmases Tony Blair!