I’ve got a half-drowned turkey in my bathtub right now. Her name is Isabelle (Izzy), a Spanish Black, and our only female turkey. For some time now she has scorned her own species and considered herself a duck. She spends her days foraging with our Pekins and her nights roosting with our Muscovy ducks. She’s somewhere between 15-20 pounds which makes her a bit bigger than most of our ducks.
At times she bullies her chosen cohorts, making short, rapid screeching sounds while chasing them around the pond area. They usually escape into the water and leave her alone until she calms down. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong duck to mess with this morning.
I had just let the Pekins out of their house. The Muscovy drakes (who roost outside) were chasing the girls around for their usual morning mating ritual. Izzy, who is also the self-proclaimed protector of the female Pekins, wasn’t happy about the way one of the drakes was treating one of our older layers. So, she started her screeching/chasing act in usual fashion. However, this drake, interrupted mid-act, simply turned his attention to Izzy instead of the duck. He tried mounting her on land, but couldn’t quite do it. So he dragged her into the water and started dunking her head just as male ducks do to female ducks.
At first Izzy was keeping her head up and seemed like she was about to get out from under him. But he became even more determined and pushed her further under the water, for longer periods. As it became obvious she wasn’t going to make it out alive without help, I ran into our icy pond to rescue her. Luckily, I only had to get thigh deep to grab her.
I raced her to our house, put her in our bathtub and began rubbing her vigorously with towels. I could feel the water sloshing in her air sacks and lungs so I began pumping them and massaging them trying to force the water back up somehow. It seemed to be working. She was slinging her head and water was coming from her mouth. Then she would cough and sneeze. She started opening her beak all the way, leaning her head back, and gasping for breath. I kept working her lungs for a while then starting moving her legs and wings trying to get her blood flowing.
After she was almost fully dry and was continuously breathing on her own, I let her rest. Throughout the day, about every 30-45 minutes, I’ve tried to make her stand and worked her legs and wings to make sure she’s getting good blood flow. She’s still breathing abnormally, but she tries to stand now. She can’t quite do it, but the desire is there.
Izzy is generally useless around the farm. She doesn’t mate with our male turkeys, irritates our ducks often by interrupting mating activities that we rely on so we can keep hatching meat ducks, and she only lays a handful of eggs a year. She’s pretty in her own way, but aloof and doesn’t entertain guests the way male turkeys do. She’s a good forager, so I am sure she helps with our insect control. Overall though, from a strictly practical perspective, she’s just “overhead”.
Yet, when I realized she was about to die if I didn’t help, I didn’t hesitate. I charged in to save her. Partly, I think the instinct was automatic because it was horrible to watch her desperately fighting for life while our Muscovy Drake went about his business as if she were a duck. Even if I’d done the math, I don’t think I could have stood idly by and let her go out that way. Mostly though, I think I just didn’t want to lose her.
I raise and kill poultry for meat. I pick them up from pasture, carry them to my kill cone, put their heads inside, and use a sharp knife to cut their throats. The doing itself is easy enough, but mentally coming to terms with each kill and saying my goodbyes are always a challenge. And I hope it will always be this way. I don’t ever want to take an animal’s life lightly.
There’s a kind of incongruity in being a killer on one side and the kind of person who unthinkingly charges into an ice cold pond to save a troublesome turkey. But this is exactly who I am. I suspect most people who raise animals on a small farm are like this.
Update since writing this post: Izzy started showing signs of severe fatigue in early evening and passed away a short time ago. I was late letting the ducks out this morning because I had slept in, for once, and lingered longer with them than usual. That was the only reason I was present to witness Izzy’s incident. Otherwise, she likely would have died in the pond this morning. When it happened, I thought maybe this happened while I was present precisely so I could save Izzy. But now that she’s gone, it seems more likely that life and death simply happens and does not revolve around me. It’s a good lesson.