The End for a Bourbon Red Named Tom

1/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

Tom arrived at the homestead in the back of a station wagon. Two hens accompanied him on the trip from Virginia to Maine 10 years ago last November.

According to Pat, the friend who brought them to me from his homestead in Virgina, they caused a few funny looks at toll booths, convenience stores and rest areas. They were 4 months old, large enough to be seen walking around the blocked off, tarped back of the car.

Tom and the hens were the starter birds in a rafter of Bourbon Reds I’d be breeding for food.

Tom was unusual from the start. He preferred the company of humans over other turkeys. Our calls of “Tom!” were answered with a gobble. If he spotted a person, he left the rafter and hurried to visit. He circled us, wings puffed out, tail fanned, snood and head bright blue, and making that funny rrrrrruuurrrrrrrr noise toms make. He wore off his wing tips dragging them on the ground as he strutted around trying to impress us.

I was working at my desk one day when Tom showed up at the window, gobbling and strutting. He did it for so long it became distracting, so I moved. He circled the house, standing in front of each window, gobbling and strutting until he could find me.

He figured out that people appear from the back door and he’d drum and strut there if he couldn’t find someone in a window. I’m a quick learner. It didn’t take me long to show up at the door to talk to him when he came calling.

Tom and Jake, another tom, once scared a UPS delivery driver. They loved the rumble of the UPS truck. If they were loose in the yard they came running to the driveway as soon as they heard the truck coming. They couldn’t have cared less about the driver; they wanted to rumble with the truck.

The driver wouldn’t get out of the truck until I went to the back porch and told him it was all right. He ran from the truck to hide behind me and watched in fascination while I explained what they were doing. He’d been bitten by a goose once and wasn’t taking chances on having to go back to the terminal to tell anyone he’d been bitten by a turkey.

My daughter, Taylor, came in from doing chores last Wednesday evening to say there was a wounded turkey hiding behind the door inside the hen house. I knew it wasn’t going to be a minor problem when she followed me out the door.

The turkey moved to the other end of the hen house and huddled in a corner. It was a tom. I looked the other tom over — Jake. The turkey in the corner was Tom.

His head was swollen and bloody, eye swollen almost shut. We looked for turkey tracks in the snow as signs of a fight with the wild turkeys. It’s the wrong time of year for the wild toms to be looking for a fight, but Tom and Jake will defend their territory and hens.

There were no tracks, no feathers and no blood. This wasn’t the work of the wild birds. He’d had some sort of accident. Swollen and bloody but not mortally wounded, I left him in the dark corner for the night.

I checked on Tom early the next morning, finding him when I pushed the door and tried to block it open for the day. He was face first in the corner where Taylor found him the night before. Bloodier and missing feathers on his back, he was a mess.

This was no accident. He’d been attacked by Jake.

I’ve had healthy birds in a flock gang up on a sick bird to prevent disease from spreading and knew what was happening.

Tucking his strong wings between my arm and side so he couldn’t hurt either of us, I picked Tom up. He relaxed against me while I carried him to clean straw, food and water in an empty stall in the barn.

Henley called for him from the hen house all day. That night I moved her to the barn to keep him company for the night. When I opened the doors Friday morning she returned to the hen house.

I couldn’t find a mass or wound on him, but I didn’t think he was going to get better. He barely moved all day Friday and became weaker.

He had the warmth of January thaw on his side, so I tucked some straw in around him and left him for the night. He didn’t seem to be suffering, so I chose to let nature take its course.

In the morning, still in the straw where I left him, Tom was dead.

Not many turkeys live to be 10 !-W years old. He had a good life and a peaceful death. You can’t ask for more than that.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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