Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thank You, Turkeys!

This fantasy of raising a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner started in a feed store in 1988.  My mom fell in love with a baby turkey and promised my dad we would raise her and eat her for Thanksgiving.  Dixie Drumsticks became an instant member of the family.  We raised her like one of our dogs and she barked happily with them in the dog run.  It would be our first of many vegetarian Thanksgivings.

Tragically, Dixie's life was cut short by an eagle.  Dixie liked to roost on the fence surrounding the chicken coop.  One day an eagle swooped down and picked her up with his massive talons.  The eagle made it about ten feet before he realized she was too large to carry.  Dixie lived the rest of her life in the kitchen, being feed antibiotics with a syringe.  

I lived a contented, turkey-free life for over twenty years, but I married a man with a deep love of Thanksgiving turkey.  Over the years I have shamed him into eating squash when a humanely-raised turkey could not be found.  Because it has been so hard for us to find meat that meets all of our humane standards, Glenn talked me into raising heritage turkeys this year.  They arrived in May; the sweetest little poults we had seen.

Really, we are going to have these things beheaded?!  Glenn built them a shelter in the back yard and our lives began as turkey farmers.  With that, I give you:

The Top Seven Things I Have Learned About Turkey Farming!

7.  Turkeys eat A LOT!  The garden?  Demolished.  The weeds? Gone.  Carved Pumpkins?  Mutilated.  On top of all of the foraging, they still manage to eat one giant bag of food a week. 

6.  Turkeys have this fascinating thing that hangs over their beaks.  They also have the ability to move it around and pull it in.  I found out it is called a snood.  I'm pretty sure the turkey with the longest snood gets the most ladies.

5.  Turkeys get along with most everyone.  I have seen them sleeping next to our dog, chickens and guinea fowl.  They love humans and follow us around the yard.  Bob Marley would be proud.

4.  Keeping turkeys alive is a huge time commitment.  Turkeys like to roost in trees and we have a serious fox problem.  Every night at dusk, we have to collect the turkeys and lock them up for the night.  Oliver climbs on top of the chicken coop and pushes all of the turkeys to the ground.  The rest of the family uses arms or oars to guide the turkeys down to their house.  If you haven't seen much of us recently, it's because our lives have been taken over by turkey security measures.  The children are great little turkey wranglers!

3.  Who needs television when you have male turkeys on display on the back deck?  Gobbling provides hours of entertainment for the kids.
2.  Turkeys are lovable.  They are too quick now for the kids, but in their youth they received dozens of hugs and kisses from Oliver and Pearl.

1.  Turkeys are intelligent and regal creatures.  I'm going to be very sad to say "goodbye" to ten of these guys in a few weeks.  I am comforted in the fact that our turkeys have had wonderful lives, and will go to thoughtful families who decided not to support factory farming.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Unbelievable Life of Shelby the Tortoise

Shelby is a Russian Tortoise who was born in captivity.  He lived his first years of life in a small aquarium.  Shelby had dreams of stretching his legs and seeing the world.  He frantically tried to escape from his aquarium, walking back and forth, looking constantly for an exit.  Shelby came to live on our property when the college girls who owned him asked my mom to give him a better life.  Shelby moved into my parents' chicken coop.

A couple of weeks after Shelby moved in, my mom left the chicken coop door open to get something from inside.  She came back to find Shelby gone.  We looked everywhere and were devastated to think Shelby would starve alone in the wilderness or get eaten by a raccoon.  One month later we got a call from the Fire Department across the street.  They found a tortoise wandering around the station.

Shelby was thin, but he was alive!  My mom was overjoyed.  Because Shelby had survived such an ordeal, my parents decided he needed to live the life of a king.  My mom began to read about how to bring a tortoise back from starvation.  She took him to the vet and found a local tortoise rescue.  She found out what tortoises need in order to have a perfect winter and summer habitat.  Shelby gained weight and seemed to thrive in his new environments.  My parents spent more money than they had ever dreamed they would spend on a reptile.  It was a beautiful day in May when tragedy struck again.  My dad called frantically saying my dog, Pumpkin, had come over and pulled Shelby from his habitat.  Shelby was gone again.

I was hesitant to blame my sweet dog.  This is a dog who protects chickens and turkeys!  How could he murder a tortoise?  I went over to investigate and found incriminating paw prints at the scene.  We waited for Pumpkin to throw up a giant piece of tortoise shell or need emergency surgery for a blockage.  Pumpkin seemed well, but Shelby was nowhere to be found.  

After a month, we mourned Shelby's loss.  His habitat and our hopes grew thick with weeds.  Three months after his disappearance, my parents received a phone call.  Our neighbor across and down the street found a tortoise walking around in his apple orchard.  Yes, Shelby had survived three months in the wilderness without a constant source or food or water and was not eaten by a bear, raccoon, fox, mountain lion or other critter.  A small tortoise had accomplished a feat most humans couldn't.    

And yet again, we were filled with great happiness to have Shelby back in our lives.  My dad quickly built a barrier to cover his outdoor habitat. 

We like to think Shelby is happy to be home.  He is very active and trying to gain back all of the weight he lost.  He spends much of his day with his new girlfriend, "Shelly."  He doesn't seem to care she lacks appendages.  We hope Shelby decides to live out the rest of his long life with us on the farm and that his days of adventure are long over.   Welcome home, buddy!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Whale Hunting

Before I tell the tale our week-long hunt for humpback whales, I would like to give thanks to the millions of tiny fish who brought an incredible number of birds and mammals to our part of the California coast to feed.  You rocked our world.

Our story begins last Sunday night when I saw several posts on facebook about whales feeding in Avila Bay.  I went to bed feeling disappointed because we spend so many weekends at the beach and had missed a perfect day to see a whale.  The next morning as I picked up Oliver from school, my sister showed me a video she took of the whales that morning.  We dropped all of our plans and headed straight for the beach.

Whale Hunting Day One:

I threw the kids in the car and sped out to the beach.  My heart was beating rapidly and my hands were shaking a little.  Yes, the prospect of seeing a wild animal makes me quite crazy.  Oliver and I were laughing and singing about whales.  Life was going to be so good at the pier.  We pulled up to the pier and jumped out of the car.  A woman told Oliver, "There is a mommy and baby whale out there right now."  I almost died of happiness.  We ran out to the end of the pier.  I asked a woman if she had seen a whale.  She replied, "There are whales here?"  My excitement began to wane.  Pearl and I smiled at seals and Oliver spent time with fishermen.

Watching pelicans dive over and over was interesting, but we wanted whales...badly.  We waited for hours before we finally threw in the towel.

That night I photographed two spiders killing a fly and told myself, "This is just as cool as watching humpback whales, only on a smaller scale."

Whale Hunting Day Two:

It's a really good thing I have a husband who loves animals almost as much as I do.  Glenn, Pearl and I headed out the next morning after dropping Oliver off at school.  The seal lions were putting on a great show, but no whale could be found in the bay.  Can you see the disappointment in my eyes?  I was putting on a brave face for Pearl (Although Pearl thought she was seeing whales the whole time.  She saw at least twenty).  

We drove away from the pier certain the whales were gone for good.  Glenn noticed a pod of dolphins on the drive home and we stopped to watch a spectacular show.  I finally felt satisfied.  The dolphin show was more than good enough.

Whale Hunting Day Three:

My husband is a pretty great guy.  He still wanted to see some whales, so he agreed to pick me up after work for another go at it.  Day three was our lucky day, because I spotted a whale swimming away from the pier just as we arrived.  

We drove to the closest bait ball and waited.  Glenn had the camera when the whale rocketed out of the water to grab a mouth-full of fish.  Everyone watching cheered.  It was glorious.  

Whale Hunting Day Four:

The kids and Glenn had a few hours to kill until I got off work.  They decided to drive to Avila one last time to look for sea life.  Glenn called me when I got off work.  He said, "We are tired and hungry, but I think you should drive out here right now."  Glenn, Oliver and Pearl had seen a whale at the end of the pier and were watching another pod of dolphins play.  

Glenn scraped together some Cheerios from the floor of the car for the kids and we dressed them in whatever old sweaters we could find.  Our car isn't dirty because we are lazy, we do it for survival purposes.   The four of us headed out to the pier once more.  I looked up and saw a whale swimming toward the pier.  "RUN!"  

We were hoping we would be faster than the whale.  We were almost to a bait ball when Glenn said, "You should have your camera ready."  Just then a huge mouth surged out of the water not more than 50 feet from us.  I missed the shot.  This is what my picture could have looked like.  It is a photo taken by my friend, Todd Gaily, at the same pier.

I'm happy I got to see it without looking through a lens.  I have the best mental picture.  All of us were on a serious nature high for the rest of the evening.  Oliver said it was the best day of his whole life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Calf Fire

Last Monday, my goal for the day was to get Oliver's doctor to send over the order for his brain MRI.  Getting Oliver figured out has been a top priority around here.  I sat down at the kitchen table to get some work done and make phone calls when I noticed how beautiful the grass looked outside.  I thought, "Why have I never noticed the true beauty of the grass before?"  I picked up my camera and walked outside to take some pictures.  Everything was peaceful and orange.

A few minutes later Oliver, Pearl and I noticed planes flying close to the house.  I looked up and saw a giant smoke cloud looming over the mountain.  I called my mom (my neighbor) and told her there was a fire outside.  We decided to call our husbands at work and ask them to come home.  Glenn drove home and shot this video about 20 minutes later while driving toward the farm.

It looked like a volcano had erupted.  I was starting to get scared, but couldn't help taking pictures of the fire balls that were exploding over the house.  Pearl was amazed by the planes.

A firefighter came over and walked the property with Glenn.  He told us to have a horse trailer ready to evacuate our animals.  

We began to frantically search for a horse trailer by posting on facebook and calling all of the horse people we know.  I found a woman with a trailer, but she was told by a firefighter she was not allowed to drive to our house.  I called a horse rescue place and they said they would come for our animals.  We had not heard anything from them for a half hour and time was running out.  A neighbor picked up our alpacas, then some strangers pulled over and asked if they could take Smokey.  We loaded Smokey into their trailer and watched them drive away.  They promised they would be back for our goats.  Glenn and Oliver spent an hour catching all of the turkeys, guineas and chickens and loaded them into the back of the truck.  Pearl watched all of the excitement from the front window.  I have never seen her more mellow.

Just as I started to panic that our goats were doomed, a cowboy with a white trailer pulled into the driveway.  I had no tears, but sobbed when I saw him.  I was filled with love and thanks and relief.  His wife, daughter and grandson jumped out and rounded up the goats.  You can see my dad in his business clothes chase one of the kids in circles.  

A police officer arrived to tell us to leave just as the last goat had been loaded.  I had a few minutes to run to the house and pack up my valuables.  I (gently) threw my two cats, our mice and a quail in the car.  I grabbed a box and put our framed photos and some baby things into it.  I saved my computer and camera.  I packed a suitcase earlier in the day and shoved it in the back.  Saying goodbye to everything else was easy once I had my babies strapped into their cat seats.  

The fire burned just enough to help us appreciate everything we have without having to lose anything at all.  We feel so grateful for all of the people in our lives.  

I watched with awe as my parents stayed with their animals until the very last minute instead of packing up "stuff."  I saw my husband in a new light when I found out he had gone back for Oliver's frog and fish and carried them on his lap in a mug and dish.  I appreciated my sister and her husband for making us dinner and giving us a place to stay.  I was amazed by all of our friends who offered to let us stay with them or take our animals.  

I was blown away by the kind strangers who rescued our livestock.

I will be forever grateful for the 900 firefighters who saved our farm.

So, now it is back to the regular dramas we have on the farm.  Oliver finally has his MRI scheduled for Friday.  We are loving all of these life lessons, but are really hoping for a break this Friday!