Friday, January 11, 2013

Turkey Terms

by Jennifer Sartell

Being a chicken keeper for almost half my life has left me with a a rather interesting variety of poultry knowledge. Terms like wattle, spur and comb fly off the tongue as easily as head, shoulders, knees and toes.

While a lot of raising turkeys is similar to raising chickens, turkeys are interesting in a manner all to their own. In my post Turkey-isms, I discussed the different personality traits of a turkey. In this post, I'd like to discuss some of the terminology that is unique to the turkey.

Everytime I think our turkeys are done growing, or changing, they seem to develop some new characteristic. Our Jake seems huge to me, but he just keeps getting bigger. Our turkeys are a heritage breed so they are slower to mature completely.

The ladies have developed a thick mohawk of feathers on their heads, that our boy lacks. These feathers aid in hiding them in the wild, and also assists the male in breeding with her.

Her downplayed color and size vs. the Tom's brilliance and tendency to display, protects the female and keeps the danger focused on the Tom. Sort of a bad rap really, but like so many animals, the species as a whole has adapted to protect the female for her offspring rearing abilities. 

This difference in male and female birds is also true for chickens. The rooster is usually larger, more colorful and has a more dramatic display of feathers, comb and wattle. And though turkeys and chickens share some of the basic poultry anatomy, turkeys have a few different parts than chickens.

When we first got turkeys, my husband and I would talk about the different "thingys" on our turkeys. "Those lumpy warty things on their head: or "that stiff feather thing on his chest." After a while of this ridiculousness, I decided it was time for a lesson in turkey anatomy.

As it turns out, the lumpy warty things are called caruncle. The caruncle traditionally refers to the large lumps at the base of the turkey's neck, but can also be used to describe the lumps on the head or other flaps of skin. Caruncle is not a "turkey-specific" term however. Caruncle refers to "any fleshy outgrowth" like a chicken's wattle, or even the wattles on some goat breeds.

Like chickens, turkeys also have a wattle, which on the turkey is commonly referred to as the dewlap. A turkey's dewlap is a single flap of very thin skin that spans from the base of the lower beak, to the upper throat.   

Turkeys and Peacocks are both members of the Pheasant family, or "Phasianidae" Animal Diversity Web. Like Peacocks, turkeys have the ability to fan their tails for mating displays.

And like their pheasant relatives, turkeys not only gobble, but will "drum" or "boom". Our Tom started doing this a while back and it is an amazing sound that you almost feel, rather than hear. It's a deep, rapid thundering sound, almost like when someone takes a piece of sheet metal and bows it back and forth. It happens simultaneously to the gobble, but is a second sound, deeper and more resonating. Turkeys will also "spit", but only in the vocal sense. To me, it sounds more like a fast, short hissss. It is usually followed by a vibration or rapid shaking all over the turkey's body.

The snood is also considered a caruncle. This tube shaped, flap of skin that drapes over the beak can lengthen and withdraw depending on the turkey's mood. Some say, that the health and level of parasite resistance of a turkey can be determined by a long snood. University of Mississippi . Our boy looks like he's fighting bugs pretty well!

The beard of a turkey is a bristly bunch of feathers that grow where the two curves of the breast meet in the center. Our Jake is still young and his beard hasn't grown very long, only a few inches. You can barely see it poking out of his puffy display feathers, (which he insists on showing off whenever I get near him.) But you can feel the beard. The texture of these feathers are strange indeed. They are very stiff and hair like, almost like a scrub brush.

Like the terms hen, and pullet or rooster and cockerel (referring to young vs. adult chickens), turkeys share a similar set of terms to describe age and life stages. Adult female turkeys and adult female chickens share the term "hen" after they reach one year of age, or being laying. Young female turkeys are called "jennys". An adult male is called a "gobbler" or more colloquially a "Tom". The use of "Tom" is similar to calling a male goat a "Billy" rather than a "buck". A young male turkey is called a "Jake" and baby turkeys are called "poults", but are commonly reffered to as "chicks".

Wanna talk more "turkey"? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below, visiting the Community Chicken's Facebook Page or join us at Iron Oak Farm


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