Tweedle the Turkey Takes a Walk


Note from Susan: Tweedle came from a breeding facility where her fate was to become dinner. But she didn’t. Instead, we brought her home as a tiny poult and watched in amazement as she grew—and grew and grew. Her appetite is insatiable. Obsessive. She has been bred to grow fast and be butchered young—it’s more economical to grow a turkey fast. She has grown so heavy that we put her on a diet, but she has also been bred to develop an enormous breast, so wide that her hip joints are distorted and pushed far to each side to accommodate the push of the flesh in between. She can barely walk. When she was still a poult, she tried to follow her turkey instincts to perch high at night, but that soon became impossible. Each night, she longingly looked up at the perch where the chickens roosted. She would try valiantly to join them, but never could.

Two turkeys playing with an irrigation sprinkler
Tweedle playing in the sprinkler at 3 months old, when she was still agile • Photo by Heather Holcomb

Despite her disability, each day when we let her and her chicken flock out to their yard, she valiantly waddles her way to join them. It takes time as she has to stop to rest, but she will eventually make it. As winter approached and snow on the ground made it harder for her, there were days she simply wouldn’t leave the coop, settling in the small vestibule trying to soak up such sun as was available. One day, Tayler, our animal caretaker par excellence, observed the following.

After about a week of consistently warm days and freezing nights created icy patches, our dear Tweedle bird was excitedly on her way to join her flock of friends in their enrichment yard. But this morning, something was different. As her smaller chicken friends raced onward to the yard with ease, Tweedle began to struggle. She took one step, then a second, and as she went for a third, her legs began to slide out from under her in a split to the left and the right, and she panicked. With great effort, she managed to gather her legs safely beneath her body in a guarded stance before squatting down in both protest and shock.

She was shaken and frustrated. Her friends had made this trip with ease. She had done this expedition every day, and only a few times before had this been much of an issue. After a pause to gather herself and some light coaxing, Tweedle stood up and haltingly returned to her night coop, where she knew she would be on stable, familiar ground.

The next day, Tweedle came out of the coop with her flock as usual, only to stop abruptly. It looked like the wheels in her mind were turning full speed while she stood there, closely observing the chickens maneuver across the icy path with ease. I watched with amazement as Tweedle took the time to study each chicken as they walked, cocking her head, taking careful notice to see where their feet landed successfully on the slick ice. Then, carefully, she took a step, and then another—but again she slipped.

Losing confidence, she began the return journey to her night coop, but I intervened. I brought sand for traction and hoped this would provide the reassurance she needed to make it to the yard. I began to make a trail for her over the ice with sand. She watched as I made the trail and began to walk with me, ever cautious to stay on the sand, but alas, she misstepped and slid again. Discouraged, she returned to the night coop.

Several days went by, and with her confidence shaken, Tweedle was afraid to even leave the secure vestibule of her night coop. There she stayed, day after day, resigned and longing to be with her friends. But fortune smiled upon her when a fresh layer of snow fell, creating more solid footing. Gathering her courage, she waddled out. When she got to what had previously been a treacherous walkway, she stopped. She cocked her head left and right, seeming to assess the newly fallen snow. Was this it? Could she finally get to the enrichment yard? She leaned down and nibbled on the crisp snow, as if to test its texture.

Tentatively, she took a few steps. With a bit of encouragement in the form of some delicious dried worms, I was able to coax her past the slickness at the beginning of the path. With every step she took, she gave careful consideration to where her next foot placement would fall.

At the halfway point, she stopped. I was unsure whether she was shocked that she had made it that far on her own or just catching her breath. She began to do her dreaded protest sit, and I was worried she had either hurt herself or was too afraid to go the rest of the way. She sat there and looked at me, almost as if gauging my reaction to her efforts. I grew concerned and went to find another member of our animal care staff to assist me in carrying her back (which is not an easy task; nor does she enjoy it) . However, when I returned with another animal care member, I was delighted to see Tweedle upright and loudly squawking just a few steps shy of the enrichment yard. With the encouragement of more delicious dried worms, she took the remaining steps into the safety of the enclosed yard, happily gobbling to her friends as she joined them to spend the day in the sunshine.

It was fascinating to watch the wheels turning and her undeniable focus. It was even more wonderful to watch her jubilation in response to her victory. She had made it!

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