Around the bend: Taking care of dinner, my way

A lot of people cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. A few people even raise their own. But I’m probably the only person in Addison County who has spent the past week giving her Thanksgiving turkey physical therapy.
See, not long ago a neighborhood dog attacked the four turkeys we raised this summer, killing one and making this one’s life flash before her eyes. We put her affairs in order but within two days she had made a miraculous recovery.
It didn’t last.
On the third morning I found her lying on the ground in the coop, feet in the air, gasping, eyes closed, on her way out. I hate when this happens.
When we started raising animals, my expectations of life on the homestead were based on idyllic Vermont postcards and songs like “Old MacDonald,” neither of which indicated that animals on the farm don’t stick around, mooing and clucking here and there, for eternity. Someone should have mentioned that.
The truth is, farm animals die, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose. It’s hard, but I’ve learned to deal with it. On slaughter day, for instance, I hide in the house, crying and blaring show tunes on my iPod while someone else does the dirty work.
But don’t let my stoicism fool you; I can’t bear the idea of animals dying. It’s why I always avoided watching “Wild Kingdom” as a child — to this day I change the channel when I see a wildebeest daydreaming at the waterhole. That never ends well.
Faced with an imminently expiring turkey, I knew the practical thing to do would be to put her out of her misery. Instead, I did the wimpy thing: encouraged her to “go to the light” and left for work, hoping the end would come quickly.
That afternoon, with a heavy heart, I headed down to the coop to dispose of her carcass. Except I found her, amazingly, still alive, still on her back, gasping.
“Any moment now,” I told her, closing the door and retreating in true wimp style.
But the next morning there she was, against all odds, still tenaciously clinging to life. Ugh.
This is why a person like me shouldn’t have a farm. Not only was I letting her die slowly, but also I had left her in the dirt without food or water for a whole day. All because I believe in being kind to animals.
A real farmer in this situation would have honed his ax, taken care of business, and gone back to chores.
But I am not a real farmer.
Instead, I honored her will to live. I propped her up in a corner of our smaller coop, administered electrolytes and antibiotics, and checked her vitals every hour. She appeared not to have any broken bones, but she couldn’t stand up, her right eye was mangled, possibly destroyed, and her left eye was swollen shut.
Since then, however, she’s improved. One eye opens — though she still fails the “how many fingers am I holding up?” test — and she can stand for brief periods. Every day I help her to take a few steps, although as soon as I let go of her she keels over to the starboard side. Now and then I even let her two remaining turkey pals stop by during visiting hours (but since their first instinct is to peck out her remaining eye, I limit how long they stay).
The question is: What now?
If she does get better, we’ll never eat her; she and I have grown too close for that. But there’s a good chance she’s not going to recover fully. Then what will I do? Teach her to read Braille? Build her outriggers so she can stay upright?
It’s a problem. The little bit of farm sense I do have knows that it’s a waste of time and money to keep non-productive animals. (This excludes the sheep and goats, of course, but only because they demanded a pet clause be included in their contracts.) I wouldn’t mind keeping her around if she were healthy, but even a softie like me has to concede that a blind, unbalanced, coop-bound turkey does not contribute to the greater good of the homestead.
So I’ll give her a couple more weeks. If she’s not back to normal by then, I’ll harden my heart and do what needs to be done: Hide in the house, crying and blaring show tunes on my iPod while someone else does the dirty work.
It’s pathetic, but it’s as close to being a farmer as I’m going to get.

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