By Marji Beach, Animal Place
Every tour, we invite visitors to bring food for some of the animals. Grapes are a favorite for the chickens and turkeys. I’m always impressed that people take the time to cut up an entire bag of grapes just so the chickens and turkeys won’t worry about choking (well, they don’t worry, but we do).
Margaret was one of the few birds anyone could hand-feed. In fact, she HAD to be hand-fed. Her beak was mangled beyond recognition, almost the entire top portion missing from her perfect face. The mutilation occurred when Margaret was only a day old.
People would be tentative at first, concerned Margaret might harm them with what remained of her beak. After an initial grab, they would quickly learn Margaret couldn’t harm them and soon, everyone would want to hand-feed her a slice of grape. She loved those moments.
Margaret died this past week. She lived nine glorious years at Animal Place, and she reveled in every moment.
Margaret was the first turkey poult (baby) I met when I started volunteering here nine years ago. I watched her grow, along with eleven turkey hens rescued from a breeding facility. She would be the only one to make it nine whole years.
Margaret was a mother. When we took in 140 hens, roosters, and chicks from a hoarder in 2010, there were dozens of chicks in need of mamas. One was Aurora, a small puff-headed dynamo with big personality crammed in a tiny form. Aurora initially found it hard to integrate completely into the flock. Sometimes chickens can be jerks. No one would let Aurora up on the perch at night, so she would be left alone on the ground. This did not last long, because Aurora met Margaret. Aurora found a safe, warm place to sleep at night beneath Margaret’s bold, white wings. Margaret would provide haven to any chicken needing it.
Margaret was a friend. Last year, we spear-headed the rescue of 4,460 hens from a battery cage egg farm where 50,000 hens had been left to starve. We took in 4,100 and found homes for most. Around 100 became permanent residents at the sanctuary. If a hen needed someone to keep her warm and calm, Margaret was the go-to turkey. She could be best friends with anyone in need, providing safety and protection.
Margaret was bold. Margaret did not let other chickens and turkeys push her around. Despite being smaller and less stable (her toes had been cut off at the farm, leaving her unbalanced), Margaret made sure to lie in the middle of the open stall door so that birds had to go around her to get inside. She wouldn’t move for anyone if she didn’t have to!
Margaret was fond of simple pleasures. Margaret had days when she would preen alongside her human friends, seeking their presence and physical comfort. She would sometimes lift herself up and plop herself down with a sigh in the lap of a beloved caregiver. Other days, she would encourage caregivers to give her extra food or an extra grape, because those were special treats to her.
Margaret lived a long life for a turkey bred to be slaughtered at 16-weeks-old. She lived 104 months longer than the 277 million turkeys killed each year in the United States alone. And she lived a great life, surrounded by people who adored her and supported by a diverse, beautiful flock of chickens and turkeys.
But damn if it doesn’t hurt that she isn’t here anymore. That her snow-white form won’t be seen sunbathing from the safety of the barn. That people won’t get to feed her grape, slice by slice. Go vegan.