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And now, a word from our sponsor. November 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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As our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are southbound today, headed for our native Nashville, and Richard Saunders is off to Boston to meet his girlfriend Bridget’s parents for the first time (gulp), we were thrilled when our blog mentor and hero, Benjamin Franklin, dropped by and offered to contribute a guest post to Poor Richard’s Almanac today. Dr. Franklin had just one thing on his mind: talking turkey. Without more ado: Dr. Franklin!

Ben Franklin here to say a few words in defense of our national symbol—I mean, the bird that should have been our national symbol, the American wild turkey. Those of you who can recall your grade-school history lessons have probably heard the story of how I boldly championed the turkey as national icon, only to have the noble bird cast aside in favor of that cowardly scavenger, the bald eagle. Why, half the nations in Europe already had eagles as their symbols, but not one nation on earth had a turkey. Instead of looking like craven copycats, we could have forged new ground with a symbol as new and different as our nation. What a missed opportunity!

Now, I realize that most of you are probably only acquainted with the turkeys served up in your homes for Thanksgiving dinner. But those rotund repasts bear scant resemblance to our native wild turkey. In the process of becoming Butterballs, they’ve had all the brains bred out of them and have become such notoriously stupid Humpty-Dumpty types that “You turkey!” has become a ubiquitous insult.

It wasn’t always this way, believe me. The wild turkey is a handsome fowl and a cunning fellow at that, able to easily evade predators and survive to breed large flocks. Today’s bumbling, lurching farmstead turkeys would be dumbfounded to see their wild forbears zoom by at 55 miles per hour or soar up into the trees to roost. Fortunately for us, the wild turkey is making a comeback, and if you look carefully, you can sometimes see the patriotic poultry ambling along a field or roadside, or even checking out the birdfeeders in your yard!

Why are they called turkeys, anyway? I’m so glad you asked. People have claimed that Christopher Columbus, who was as we know a bit turned around when he arrived in the Americas and thought he was in India, named the big bird a word for poultry in the Tamil language, one of many spoken in India. But since Columbus had (obviously) never been to India and there is no reason to assume he’d be acquainted with any of the Indian languages, I say that’s poppycock. Of course, he might have actually thought he’d landed in Turkey instead, but I digress. Another theory is that the Pilgrims picked up the name from the Native American word for the bird, firkee. I do like that theory, but there’s another you might prefer: that the brazen birds got their name from the “turk-turk-turk”ing sound that they make when alarmed. What do you think?

So please, even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for the turkey (unless it’s roasted to a perfect golden brown), at least try to have a bit more respect for the formidable fowl. I’ll leave you with a few more fascinating turkey facts, chiefly derived from an excellent educational website, www.teachervision.fen.com , before I wend my way to the nearest tavern to raise a glass of Wild Turkey in the big bird’s honor. As I like to say, bourbon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. And a happy Thanksgiving, ahem, turkey day, to each and all of you! 

                    Flavorfully yours,

                               Ben Franklin

Tantalizing turkey facts:

* The turkey is the only native American species of poultry. Chickens, pheasants and the rest were all imported.

* Turkeys have excellent hearing (despite having no external ears), superb wide-range color vision, and a highly developed sense of taste. But their sense of smell is quite poor.

* More than 45 million turkeys grace Thanksgiving tables in the U.S. each year.

* Turkeys were originally believed to be related to peacocks! They’re actually related to pheasants.

* Fortunately, some of the very first domestic breeds of turkey, called heritage breeds, are making a comeback. These birds are colorful, intelligent, and flavorful—much more like their wild ancestors—and some of these breeds have been around for hundreds of years. Colorful breed names like Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, and Standard Bronze clue you in to the range of colors and origins of these fine fowl. (The turkey on your table is almost certainly from a single breed, the Standard White.) You can read all about heritage turkeys, and see some pictures, too, by visiting the Heritage Turkey Foundation website (www.heritageturkeyfoundation.org) or heading over to the American Livestock Conservancy website on the blogroll at right.



1. Lzyjo - November 26, 2008

Have a happy Thanksgiving in Nashville!

I’m so glad to see you mention the characteristics of wild turkeys. I told my husband they roost in trees and fly well, he didn’t believe me. Now I now I’m right, even though I knew before. Now we just need to get talking about turkeys, so I can show him this confounding evidence! HA!

Ha is right, lzyjo! And a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

2. nancybond - November 26, 2008

Instead of looking like craven copycats, we could have forged new ground with a symbol as new and different as our nation.

Yah, like a beaver! 😉

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Ha!!! (Or maybe a bull moose, if Teddy Roosevelt had had his way… ) Thanks, Nancy!

3. Daphne Gould - November 26, 2008

We have lots of wild turkeys here in the Boston burbs. They do indeed fly, though prefer to be on the ground. When my dog goes out they quickly fly up and over the house. And they do roost at night in the trees – sadly not in my yard, must be the dog. This year they were very prolific. We had a flock of about a dozen in during the summer that was a pain. They liked to hold our car up as they crossed the road. Not our typical Boston traffic jam.

I love the thought of a turkey traffic jam in Boston, Daphne. What a riot!

4. Joy - November 26, 2008

Hey ! Congratulations you people on the number of posts : )
You are on the road I suspect when I have just remembered now to drop by and say Happy Turkey Day .. in every sense of the word .. what would we do without turkeys ??
Hope the holiday is great and you are all well, and truly happily stuffed !

Ouch, Joy! Very punny!

5. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com - November 27, 2008

A nice tribute to an underappreciated species. I adore wild turkeys!
I have been blessed to have them in abundance in both CA and also in my time in Asheville. They have always gotten to know me as a Free Lunch and ended up begging routinely at my front door. Happy me. I have also been known to get out of my car and serve as traffic cop when they wanted to cross a street. I did. Proud of it.

Good for you, Kathryn! Champion of turkeys everywhere!

6. deb - November 27, 2008

We see them on our family ranch all the time. I can’t wait to get back to my blog to claim I left a comment for Ben Franklin.

Ha!!! You just never know who you’ll find hanging out around here…

7. Ratty - November 27, 2008

Honestly, I never knew much about turkeys. I didn’t know there was more than one kind. Only the kind that most of us eventually have for Thanksgiving dinner. I knew a little about the national bird debate, but they really never touched on it when I was in school. I’ll definitely check out that website. I’m really interested now.

There’s a lot on there, Ratty! You’ll enjoy yourself!

8. nefaeria - November 27, 2008

Thank you for posting this!! I have a keen interest on heritage livestock breeds (from the equine to cluckers) and there is not a whole lot of info on turkeys out there.

Awesome 🙂



Go for it, Laurel! If I win the lottery, I want to establish a preserve for rare and endangered livestock!

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