Thursday, September 16, 2010

Turkey Trot

Fall is the time of year when 18th- and 19th-century farmers would sell their turkeys to merchant or drover who would drive them to market as a flock. The drover would use some corn or other seed to attract the turkeys into a more consolidated flock at night, but mostly the turkeys would happily fend for themselves along the way. Acorns at this time of year are an especially attractive turkey feed.

Johns Hopkins Magazine takes note of the Turkey Trot in an article in the current issue, .

"One young drover in 1828 somehow managed to walk a thousand turkeys from Petersburg, Ohio, to Pittsburgh, a distance of more than 50 miles. Turkey drovers would first walk their birds through warm asphalt to coat their feet — turkey shoes."

This is the first I've heard of 'turkey shoes' but it makes sense. Turkeys would often travel many miles. Turkeys like these Narragansetts of Mike Walters might well have been among them. This is the traditional color pattern of New England, and was included in the first STandard of Perfection in 1874.

Lewis Wright, in his Illustrated Book of Poultry (1890) criticizes the practice of sending turkeys to market in their first or second year. "Turkeys do not reach their full size until their third year; and we believe we can get larger and stronger birds from full-grown stock than from yearlings," he writes. Breeding older, larger turkeys results in stronger poults that grow faster. "Pairs weighing forty pounds at seven months are much more numerous than pairs weighing thirty-five pounds were last year at the same age. The turkeys have had the same care; and the difference of growth seems to be owing simply to the fact that the breeders were of larger size and more mature."

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