Queen of “Turks”

The remarkable story of a woman “turkey farmer” who has been so successful in transforming fortycent wheat into two-dollar twolegged wheat that her advice is sought the world over

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE September 1 1931

Queen of “Turks”

The remarkable story of a woman “turkey farmer” who has been so successful in transforming fortycent wheat into two-dollar twolegged wheat that her advice is sought the world over

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE September 1 1931

Queen of “Turks”

The remarkable story of a woman “turkey farmer” who has been so successful in transforming fortycent wheat into two-dollar twolegged wheat that her advice is sought the world over

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE

SHE rounds up her turkeys on horseback! At the first sign of a storm cloud she mounts a saddle pony and herds into shelter her flocks of hundreds

of these birds which dot the hills of this Alberta ranch bordering the foothills of the Rockies. Only a few years ago her husband and his cowboys punched cattle and horses over these selfsame ranges. The days of the cattle régime are gone, but the ranch has been restored to its former prosperity by turkeys—myriads of prime, plump Alberta bronze turkeys.

All this has been accomplished almost lone-handed by a woman Mrs. W. A. Freeman, of Ardenode, Alberta.

The Beau Desire Ranch, owned by Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Freeman, was one of the first and oldest stock ranches of this district. But settlers came; land near the railway became too valuable for grazing. It was turned into wheat land. Dry years ruined many crops. Then one day, nine years ago, the ranch mistress won two turkeys and a gobbler in a raffle for charity in the nearby town of Strathmore. That was the start, which has developed today into the largest turkey ranch in Canada, one that boasted a flock of 3,000 number one birds which furnished the pièce de résistance of many holiday and special dinners from Thanksgiving to Easter.

It was my privilege to visit Mrs. Freeman when the turkey market was at its peak. It was only an hour's drive from the city of Calgary, twenty-five miles motor highway and eight miles due north on a prairie trail. We came upon

the ranch suddenly—a natural amphitheatre which provides an ideal environment for turkey raising.

We were greeted by a young looking, browneyed woman whose energy and apixiarance lie lied her later remarks about "grandchildren attending a Calgary college." Her naturally wavy hair was bobbed; her dress was her work uniform a becoming blue-tailored chambray shirt and overalls, belted in at the waist From her first hearty handshake and her invitation to have a cup of tea in the "cookhouse" we were caught up in the atmosphere of her absorbing interest in her

'les. she would show us the turkeys gladly and tell us alxiut them; not boastfully but because she believed that raising turkeys was one of the ways of salvation (or the Western Canadian fanner.

"For instance." she explained take the

price ol number one

wheat paid to the farmers around here last fall—forty cents a bushel. One bushel of wheat will provide enough of this variety of food for forceful feeding to develop a turkey to the average and most saleable market weight—twelve pounds. All season I received the steady price of twentyfive cents per pound f.o.b. at the ranch. Even at this, the minimum price for years, it means we are getting two dollars a bushel for all the wheat we have grown.

“We had twelve hundred of our three thousand acres in crop, but we are not depending on current grain prices for our returns. We are not worried about the price of beef. We only keep fifteen cows and we use all the milk here.

“Think, too, of the future of this industry, which can be made primarily Canadian. Only the other day I had a visit from a poultry expert from the States who emphasized the quality and flavor of Canadian turkeys. They are getting as good a reputation as our wheat and beef. My

flock is entirely Canadian raised. I have never imported breeders or setting eggs. In fact, I do not go in for fancy breeding. My aim is to raise big, quick-growing, healthy and well-flavored birds—Alberta bronze

turkeys.

"I began the season with assets of approximately 3,000 turkeys; 350 hens, forty gobblers, 2,600 wellhatched turks and 250 chicken hens. In the spring the sale of eggs and breeders brought me $2,000. I couldn’t begin to supply the demand for eggs, and the money I had to return would bring tears to your eyes. The market was surprisingly good, both demand and price being steady. In fact. I have almost a yearround market, the only slack time being during the laying and brooding period of the turkey hens, which are sold when the young ones no longer need them. The price, too, this year has been low, for in the past I have received as high as forty-four cents per pound f.o.b. dressed at the ranch. In all, I estimate that my turkey business this year has netted me well over $7,000 in cash, and I am starting the season with 500 hens, fifty gobblers and 200 chicken hens.

"Turkey raising needs no scientific training, no courses in agricultural schools just hard work and common sense. Knowledge of the fundamentals may be obtained from pamphlets available for the asking from Provincial and Dominion Governments of Agriculture, schools of agriculture and experimental farms.'

Turkeys Hatched by Chicken Hens

ONE of the first problems that Mrs. Freeman had to solve—and the surmounting of this has been the keynote of her success was the unremitting care of the newly hatched. Turkey hens are not good mothers. Unlike the chicken hen, who clucks her brood to shelter beneath her warm breast at the least sign of a storm or when night is approaching, the turkey mother trails her young ones through the wet, cold grass; and if thus exposed, invariably the casualty rate is high.

Turkey hens are literal examples of "not knowing enough to come in out of the rain." This stupidity has been recognized by the French habitant more than the British farmer. The latter, when he blunders says, "What a goose am!”; the former ejaculates, Je suis l'dindon.

As far as possible. Mrs. Freeman has her early turkeys

hatched out by chicken hens which give the brixid the same constant care they would give their own. She also has four incubators and makes use of the Calgary hatcheries.

No |xx*t roaming the hills at sunset watches the sky with more concern than does Mrs. Freeman in the ranging days of her turkeys.

"I round them up at every cloud during the spring and summer. At tiie first sign of what lixiks like a sudden storm I call all hands. I have to ride like fury to drive the main ffcxk to that high red barn over there, which holds 2,000. The others are driven into the shelter sheds nearest the runs."

All this information had been gleaned during our "cup of tea" in the cookhouse, after which Mrs. Freeman invited us to visit the shelters and runs. As we approached we were struck with the peculiar-looking straw sheds, a succession of stalls squared off with

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substantial lumber supports and closed on three sides. The roofs of these were dotted with what at first seemed to be black chimney pots or ventilators with slanting wind-guards. As we drew nearer, the black objects moved. They were perching turkeys.

There were turkeys everywhere; hundreds and hundreds of them. They roamed the creek bottom, scratching in and about the brusli or drinking the fresh water. They ranged the low hills that encircled the ranch buildings.

They seemed to know they were on show. They seemed also to know that they were government inspected, approved and banded, for Mrs. Freeman is a charter member of the Record of Merit Association for Turkeys, which was inaugurated in 1927 by the Livestock Branch of the Dominion Government. To be a member means a regular inspection of the flock by government inspectors, and the stamp of approval is a small metal band attached to the turkey’s leg.

As I looked upon that scene of prosperity and “fat of the land,” it seemed almost incredible that it could have been developed from nothing in comparatively so short a

Cleanliness Essential

"DUT surely you had some experience in U poultry raising?” I asked.

“No, I hadn’t,” Mrs, Freeman replied, “I never even raised a chicken. When I won the first three turkeys I did not wish to kill them all at the same time, so it was necessary to learn what to feed them. I enquired of the neighbors and mixed up feed according to their directions. The turkeys seemed to thrive upon it. I liked working with them, so I got the idea I might make a little extra money by going in for turkeys and help pull up the ranch. I wrote to the Department of Agriculture for information regarding their care.

"When the replies and pamphlets came, I grew more enthusiastic, for I realized that our ranch was particularly favored for this phase of agriculture. Our buildings were in a valley with protecting banks; we had a constant supply of fresh water; the land was well drained and consequently dry; and we were in the irrigation belt, which assured the growing of a grain crop that was necessary for their feed.

“In the spring the turkeys began to lay, and I started that first year with twenty-five

“Many times I am asked for my methods, which are very simple. In the beginning I cannot overestimate the necessity of cleanliness-clean nests, dean coops, clean dry shelters, and food served in dean troughs. All this eliminates lice and mites, which are the greatest enemies turkeys have. Speaking of vermin, never put strong insect powder on setting hens or poults. It is apt to get into their eyes and result in blindness.

"My equipment has never been elaborate, as you see, even when the (lock is as large as it is today. From the beginning I |irovided big nximy nests built in such a way that the turkey hen at setting is dosed in and let off every second day for feed and water, then carefully closed in again.

"The turks are allowed to become strong and well-hatched before they are removed from the nest. They are then moved to a large, clran coop. When forty-eight hours old. they are given their first small feed of thick sour milk a saucerful to twenty, with the addition of a thimbleful each of rolled oats slightly dampened with raw eggs in the course of a few days, if the weather is fine, they are allowed their freedom in the yards near the brixxlirig houses with their mothers, their fixxl Ix-ing gradually increased.

"This is the time they need incessant watching Alberta May snowstorms are events to lxfeared. Sudden rain, hail or

thunderstorms can be the worst catastrophes -even to wiping out the whole

“As the weather becomes warmer and the crops begin to grow, the turkeys are turned out every fine morning into special pastures or grain fields to scratch for themselves. I try to persuade my husband that they earn the price of their grain feed by their work in ridding the land of weeds and insect pests. We never had a grasshopper in the bad grasshopper years, and as for dandelions - well, that is one of their favorite foods. They are fed at noon and night from the troughs and soon leant to answer the ‘chop’ call. In this province of cool nights, they are rounded up in the shelters every

"In September forceful feeding begins— all the chop they can eat three limes a day. This is made up of one-quarter barley, a little less than half number one wheat, and the remainder oats, alfalfa and com if I can afford it. To every hundred pounds I add an ordinary coni tin full of cod liver oil.”

Guarding Against Coyotes

AS WE were leaving, dusk was settling U*quietly on the land, the turkeys were being driven to their shelters, and a man was going about lighting lanterns at intervals on the surrounding fence posts. On enquiry regarding this, Mrs. Freeman explained that it was done to frighten away coyotes.

The turkeys, too, drew the attention of the hawks, but the presence of these birds of prey was always heralded by a peculiar cry among the turkeys known as the hawk call. The signal is answered by the nearest helper running to the scene of disturbance witli a shotgun. However, if this first aid does not materialize the turkeys gang together and advance ujton the enemy in a body, pecking and scratching at him until he drops his victim.

The marketing begins in July with the hens that were kept over for laying and hatching purposes and which now are a little over a year old. It reaches its height from Thanksgiving to March. All birds are killed scientifically by the helpers, who pierce their brains with knives. They are dry-picked. Mrs. Freeman prides herself that everything shipped from the ranch is in the finest condition. She has never had any sickness in her flocks, and diseases like roup are entirely unknown to them. She attributes her success to the out-of-door life of her turkeys! their well-balanced fixxl, the cleanliness that attends their care, and she doesn’t discount the cod liver oil.

Mrs. Freeman’s amazing success in this venture is the wonder and talk of the surrounding country. Her fame, too, has gone abroad. Each year she receives hundreds of letters; in the spring from ten to thirty-live jx;r day. Her advice is being sought by agricultural schools of this country and the United States, by turkey breeders in England, South Africa and Sweden. She has received an order for breeders from the Jamaica Agricultural Society. A moving picture outfit has taken pictures of the flock for the world's news reel. All these demands are met with a generosity and great goexi nature.

"And cío you ever get a holiday?” I asked as I left.

"Well, now,’ she hesitated, "come to think of it, I really don’t in the same sense as other people. I get up with the turkeys at a quarter to four in the morning, spring and summer, and, of course, I go to bed at their oswring time glad to call it a day. Every Sunday I see my neighbors drive gaily away to the beautiful lakes that are a part of this province. Hut that is not for me. I xupixwe my work is my pleasure. It must Ix-, lx-cause I only wish my flock numbered live thousand. That is wliat I hope to accomplish during the coming