Thanksgiving is always a difficult time here at Wind Dancer Ranch as I get very attached to the turkeys. While it feels very good to help people celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, I am always sad about processing the birds. Inevitably there is a bird or two that have become very tame and join the rafter of pets and breeding stock. That’s why you will always see a lot of turkeys on the farm no matter what time of year.
As we were processing birds this year an interesting scene played out with Cuddles – our oldest and my favorite pet hen. I was herding a couple of hens that were to be processed into a coop to separate them from others. In addition to the two hens I wanted Mavis (who is Cuddles’ sister) walked into the coop. I was half considering processing Mavis for our own TG bird as she is not very tame and she is very sensitive to flys and mites in the summer. They really bother her and she spends about two months of the year standing in a small pond so they cannot get on her legs.
While I was thinking about whether or not I could really go through with it (we normally don’t process birds that have been given names) I saw a flash of black feathers jump at me from the side. I turned in times to see Cuddles attack me again! She was making the angry attack “purr” sound, had her tail fanned all the way out, and was pummeling me with both legs and her wing. I quickly realized she was not very happy about Mavis being in that coop. With Cuddles dodging my every step I managed to separate Mavis from the other hens and push her out the door. Cuddles immediately calmed down and followed me out.
To me it was obvious that Cuddles knew why I was separating the hens and she did not want her sister to be part of that plan so she came to her rescue. Once Mavis was safe Cuddles immediately calmed down and was friendly and affectionate again. She did not seem to hold any grudge or resentment for the other hens – she just wanted her sister to be safe. I have written before about the strong bond of “sisterhood” that turkey hens have – they will come to each other’s aid when they are in trouble, in a fight with a rooster or Tom, or when they are attacking snakes. Its interesting that this “sisterhood” bond lasts for years and out of all the turkey hens on the farm Cuddles seems to know that Mavis (and Pokey) are her sisters and special.
The fact that Cuddles seemed to know why I was separating the hens has been on my mind all week. She knows I am a predator. But she seems very accepting of it. We have a ritual every night when I check to make sure she is in the coop – I rub her feathers and give her a little massage and she “grooms” my hair. The ritual has not changed even after the Mavis incident. I can only guess that the birds accept the natural order of things and some of them, like Cuddles, know they are special and safe.