By JULIA OLSEN
Here’s a simple word association test: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word “turkey?” Sandwich, your roommate, stuffing, dark meat or could it mean big beautiful bird?
In an effort to bring better communication between the human and turkey races, here the bird’s eye view of the whole thing.
Norbest, headquartered in Midvale, produces over 150 million pounds of turkey annually from their 125 co-op farms in Utah and Nebraska. Paul Reed, director of marketing, talked to me about his side of the turkey business.
Q: How many birds do Americans eat at Thanksgiving time?
A: An estimated 45 million turkeys are eaten in one day.
Q: Are your turkeys dumb?
A: Everything is relative.
There’s a myth out there that turkeys will drown if they look up at the sky when it rains. It’s not true.
If a plane flies low over one of the turkey fields, the turkeys will have heart attacks and the whole field will drop dead. (Mental note: turkey farms and airfield = bad.)
Next, I talked to Ben McIntyre who has been a turkey farmer for 47 years in Roseville, Calif. McIntyre, at one time, had three different farms and averaged 130,000 turkeys a year. He’s spent a little time with turkeys.
Q: Do the turkeys talk to each other?
A: They talk just like turkeys. We generally separate the sexes, the hen and toms. (Hey, just like humans. I guess that means they don’t communicate. Well, the hens would talk amongest themselves, but the toms would just grunt or gobble.) The toms usually just strut around. Their waddles (the throat thingy) changes colors from red to purple and blue. He just shows off for the hen.
When the turkeys are hungry they’ll let you know. They’ll just scream and once the feed comes they will tear everything apart to get at the food.
Q: Do they make a lot of noise? Like gobble, gobble all the time?
A: Hens just yap all the time. (hmmm, sounds familiar)
Q: Is there an unfair stereotype placed on turkeys?
A: Ben Franklin said that our national bird should’ve been the turkey and not the eagle. (I think that it would be an appropriate mascot for our country now.)
Q: Have you ever had a pet turkey?
A: Oh sure, I cut up turkeys all the time. (Must have been the connection. I tried again.)
Q: Have you ever had one of your turkeys as a pet?
A: Oh they’re really friendly, they’re not like chickens. One was Big Ol’ Tom, but he got really mean and would hit you with his wife. Ma just finally hit him in the back of the head with a rod. He didn’t see it coming. Knocked him clean across the yard.
Finally, the turkey’s side. I talked to Turkey (name has been withheld to prevent an emotional attachment).
Q: What is the appeal of turkey at Thanksgiving time?
A: Personally I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t know what appeal is.
Q: Why turkeys? Why not cows or chickens?
A: We have a real problem in our community. We are overeaters. Feed comes out and we go crazy. I’ve tried organizing the others into a resistant movement, but we just go mad without food. I’ve already put on 25 pounds and I’m only 16 weeks-old. I want to lose 10 pounds before Thanksgiving.
Q: Is there a stereotype on turkeys?
A: I feel cheap sometimes, like I’m just seen as a meat making machine. I just have to remember that people who can see me love me for who I really am: a beautiful bird.
Q: How do you feel about the fast approaching Thanksgiving?
A: I just try to focus on the positive. I think it’s such a tragedy that there is a mass killing every year. Here’s a holiday that is supposedly trying to bring families together. Turkey families are just being torn apart. We want a chance too.