The turkey is a bird so well known, it is almost superfluous to describe it; for who is there that has not heard the gobble-gobble of the noble-looking turkey-cock, with his proud, defiant strut, his widely-expanded tail, his neck like the brightest coral, and the quickly-changing colours of the skin of the head when aggravated by the sight of such a colour as a scarlet or red coat, cloak, or petticoat. The cocks are decidedly quarrelsome and vindictive, and have no really kindly feelings towards the hens, as they attack them indiscriminately. A game cock, though smaller in size, has been known often to give this farmyard bully a thrashing such as could scarcely be imagined from its comparative smallness; but being large and heavy, the turkey cocks are unable to use their spurs with the same activity as the game cock. When young, turkeys are very delicate, and require the very greatest attention. Some people recommend that three peppercorns should be put down the chicks' throats as soon as hatched; it can do no harm, and as it is necessary to remove every chick from the nest as soon as hatched, it may be as well to give the peppercorns, as they may incite a little warmth in the chick.
Place them as they leave the shell, in a basket with wadding, warm flannel, and feathers, and as soon as all are hatched, put them under the hen. Do not attempt to feed them or cram them for some three or four hours after they are hatched; by attempting to cram them you may cause injury to the beak, which (as may be imagined) is naturally very tender. Very shortly you will see the chicks looking for food, so some must be placed conveniently for them, and the more simple the variety the better; for instance, eggs boiled hard, cheese-parings cut small, in fact, minced; bread-and-milk, with chopped wormwood or boiled nettles, are rubbed together and made into a sort of dry paste - the tops of onions with a little chopped parsley may be added. The hen turkey makes a bad mother; she will often go about with one chick, and leave the remainder, or tread upon them and kill them. The food must be thrown to the chicks alone, as the hen is so greedy she will devour it all else. You may vary the food for turkey chicks by giving them potatoes boiled and mashed, mixed with roasted turnip, kneaded into a paste with barleymeal or oatmeal.
Do not neglect a plentiful supply of clean water, in pans very shallow to prevent the possibility of their falling in, as wet at that early stage is most injurious to them. It will be necessary to keep both hen and chicks under cover for a week at least, and when they are allowed out with the hen, watch them with a careful eye, so that they may not be exposed to the fatal effects of showers of rain; as they grow they will gain experience, and will make for shelter on the first threatenings of a shower. You should also be careful not to allow them out too early in the morning, before the dew is off the ground, or to allow them to remain too long in the evening; they should be housed before the dew begins to fall. When your chicks are about two months old, you will be able to distinguish the hens from the cock birds, the latter showing growth of comb and the rough coral appearance on the neck. You must now be more than ever watchful, as your chicks are chicks no longer, but turkey poults. If it is your desire to have a good strong, hardy brood of turkeys, good feeding is now most essential, and if persisted in from this time will obviate the necessity of cramming for Christmas. It is a most mistaken policy and a false economy to merely keep your stock alive; they should always be in good condition.
It is more economical to feed poultry that have had always a generous diet, than to endeavour to feed and then cram those that have been kept at the point of starvation. The food for bringing turkeys to the degree of excellence and flavour which we expect at our Christmas feast, is or should be composed of sodden oats or barley, oatmeal, barley-meal, boiled vegetables - turnip-tops, cabbage, nettles - and a little wheaten flour, all well kneaded into a paste, with the addition of rice boiled in skimmed milk. This description of food will render them juicy and white and fit for the spit in one month from the day of really commencing to feed. Very many people cram them, but turkeys are so ravenous that cramming is quite unnecessary. They should be fed near home, as travelling for food when fattening robs them of their flesh. It is of great assistance in fattening the turkey, if melted suet or refuse of tallow be mixed with their food; if unable to procure tallow-refuse, linseed-meal may be added. A little oilcake sparingly administered we have known make fat rapidly. Do not overdo it, as it may induce a flavour in the bird.
The Common Turkey.
Having tried to impress upon the turkey-feeder the care he should take with the young brood, attention must also be paid to them as they grow to maturity. They are liable to the diseases common to poultry in general: care is the best doctor, and attending to the simple remedies given on the subject of fowls, will in most instances be sufficient. A good lock is almost an essential for the turkey-house, as great disappointment would be experienced as well as a great loss incurred, if at the last moment your turkeys, fit for table, were appropriated by some midnight marauder, either biped or quadruped. The fox is very partial to a good fat turkey, and although in some places subscriptions are raised by the advocates of fox-hunting to defray losses caused by Reynard's attacks on the poultry-yards, it is but a poor satisfaction to know that all one's anxiety and trouble in rearing a brood, have been solely for the benefit of Mr. Reynard, the fox.
Turkeys may be made to attain almost any size; they often reach the enormous weight of twenty-five pounds. In some instances (rare ones, though) they have weighed ten pounds more. Norfolk turkeys are generally in great request, but if you start with a good stock, feed them well, and pay attention to them, whatever county or town you live in, you will not be ashamed to show your turkeys, either for size or flavour, with the best raised in that famous turkey district. The eggs are considered very delicate eating, and as the hen sits only once, one sitting occupying thirty days, you may have an abundant supply for home consumption and for disposal. Turkeys vary in colour: the best and strongest are the green looking black - they approach more closely to the wild bird in colour some are pink-white, others speckled brown and while, but the hardiest and the easiest to fatten is the dark description of bird.