Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Doing Our Part to Bring Thanksgiving to Many: or a Venture into Raising Turkeys on Our Farm

How my father learned about the availability of baby turkeys that he could order-off for and have delivered by rural mail carrier to our farm at Choestoe, I don’t remember. However, I do recall our venture into turkey raising when I was a child—or how we tried to do our part to make the traditional Thanksgiving bird available to many people.

Maybe Daddy read about turkey poults in the dependable “Market Bulletin.” That was a farm paper that came regularly to our farm mailbox and which he read avidly to keep up on the latest bargains in seeds and other farm needs. That was probably where he learned about where to purchase the baby turkeys and have them delivered to our farm.

But before that adventure saw itself through to the end, his third child was glad our latest enterprise lasted only a few years. I never did make friends with those noisy turkeys, and the mean turkey tom, in particular, must have known I didn’t like him, because every time I was anywhere near him on the farm, he seemed to chase me and scare me half to death.

We built a special poultry house for the anticipated turkeys, and since they were coming in early spring and the weather was still cold and unpredictable in the mountains, my father knew he would have to devise a way to keep the turkey house heated for the darling little poults. He put a small wood heater in the house, and built a fence around the house, with chicken wire strung from pole to pole so the fowl would not wander.

I remember well the day the baby turkeys arrived. The mail man (as we called the postman) blew his horn at our mailbox, and since Daddy was avidly looking for his turkey poults, he hurried out to get the crates. We had a hundred of the little critters. They looked so cold, and even ailing when they arrived. What would we ever do to raise them? They seemed so small and furry. Surely it would take them years to grow into eating-sized turkeys worthy for a Thanksgiving feast.

I’m sure Daddy spent sleepless nights looking after those little critters at first, making sure they were warm and fed properly. I recall how rapidly they grew, and maybe we lost a few, but as they developed from cuddly baby turks to lanky fryers, they had a mind of their own. Their sounds grated on my ears—and soon they were outgrowing their fenced-in area and Dad was allowing them to range a bit farther out. By then that aggressive gobbler had taken to my red sweater, or anything red, and chased me like I was easy prey and something he wanted to sample for his own dinner. I was mortally afraid of that barnyard king-of-the-roost.

Since we had secured the 100 turkeys very early in the spring, my Dad’s aim was to grow them off for pre-Thanksgiving sale. He had to fence them in again and give them special feedings of grains and nutrients to make them ready for market. They didn’t like being confined, since they had been range turkeys for several months. They protested loudly, with a gooble- gobble here and a gobble-gobble there. I, for one, despised turkey language.

But then, who was I to complain? My Daddy was always telling us that when he took the turkeys to market, we would have more money for the things we needed, for the Great Depression had certainly not been kind to North Georgia farmers. Turkeys were a “trial-run” crop to help restore the economy.

Then came time to catch those turkeys, put them in coops and take them to Gainesville to market. We kept about eight or ten from the whole flock so that we and our neighbors could have a Thanksgiving feast from some of our own home-grown turkeys.

I don’t know how much money per pound my father earned from those pestersome turkeys, but it must have been enough for him to try it again for about three more years. For it seems that we repeated that process of having baby turkeys delivered by mail and going through the same process for several years to grow them out for market. And without fail, there was always one or more turkey toms in the flock that played havoc with my own peace and quiet.

Then my father told us how lucky we were that we didn’t have to “drive” the turkeys by foot to market like our grandfather used to have to do. It would take two or three days to herd the turkeys along the wagon roads by foot to market, with the turkeys roosting in trees as they camped by night. I never did understand just how they managed to keep those turkeys under control enough to drive them to market, especially when one in those we raised always gave me so much trouble.

As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables this year, 2011, we feast on a roast turkey we purchased at the supermarket. But in the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression, there was a time when turkeys were grown on a mountain farm and fattened up and marketed wholesale prior to Thanksgiving. That helped people to have that favorite of holiday meals—roast turkey. I, for one, was glad our turkey venture didn’t last many years. But the business did aid farm families to have a little more money for some of the barest necessities of life.

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 24, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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