Excerpt: Jamie DeMent–A Turkey Story for Thanksgiving

Today, just in time for Thanksgiving, we bring you a turkey story from Jamie DeMent’s book, The Farmhouse Chef: Recipes and Stories from My Carolina Farm, now available at bookstores and from UNC Press.


Talking Turkey

Jamie DeMent, Turkey SunsetOoooggle woogle woogle ooogggle woogle woogle blub blub blub. This is the sound turkeys really make–none of that gobble gobble business. Their tones and volumes differ depending on their level of stimulation, but they never simply gobble. They make their noises all the time, especially in the fall when harvest is approaching. You hear them day and night, and if you call out when you approach, they respond in unison. They do everything in unison. Turkeys, it turns out, are herd animals. We learned that the hard way.

Across the road, our neighbors are Hare Krishna devotees. They have a small, peaceful temple and flower garden, and they are easygoing neighbors. When our wayward dogs wander over for a visit, they don’t even call to ask us to collect them–they just let the dogs do their thing and return home when they want. That approach also applies to turkeys.

All of our animals are completely free range. They are outside all the time. We have movable fences that surround our mobile coops and roosts, so the birds have a place to roost at night safe from predators, but during the day they all roam free. By early November our turkeys are active and chatty–and roaming. You can generally figure out where they are by listening for the oogle on the air. One year, however–the week before Thanksgiving, in fact (you can imagine what that means)–we walked out in the morning to perfect peaceful quiet. We all went about our tasks for at least an hour, oblivious to the peace, until an intern went to fill the turkeys’ water and came back to report that there was no sign of turkeys. Anywhere. Three hundred turkeys, missing.

A frantic turkey-hunt ensued. Imagine half a dozen grown people running around fifty-five acres desperately making oogle noises, hoping for turkeys to respond and come running over the hillside. We searched for over an hour with no luck and were quite beside ourselves when one of our friendly Hare Krishna neighbors, who had been helping pick greens that day, showed up wondering why we had sent the turkeys to see the temple.

Every one of our three hundred turkeys had wandered down our half-­mile-­long drive, crossed a busy road, and roosted in the temple garden. They were sitting peacefully oogle-ing among the meditating devotees. I wish I had had a smartphone at the time. It was an epic moment. The turkeys very politely (if a bit noisily), with the help of every single farm intern, herded themselves right back across the road.

And gratitude was the feeling in our heart at harvest time the next day.


The Farmhouse Chef: Recipes and Stories from My Carolina Farm, by Jamie DeMentThe Farmhouse Chef: Recipes & Stories from My Carolina Farm is now available in bookstores and from UNC Press. See Jamie DeMent’s author page on our website for upcoming book-related events.

Follow Jamie at her website, and on Facebook.

You can also read a interview with Jamie here.