Eager to scurry out from their coyote-proofed hut on a November morning at Chris Allen’s livestock-rich spread were an array of ducks and hens. But mostly, and appropriately, turkeys. Allen and her husband, Paul Knight, have lived on their Corrales plot since 1981, the year they bought the land and built their home. And turkeys have long been part of the mix.
It’s a well-gardened place, with vineyards, plots of freeze-killed chiles. Plus two horses belonging to Allen, a gaggle of goats and a mix of sheep. The sheep largely provide wool for Allen’s yarn and knitting activities, rather than chops. She’s been a member of Las Arañas Spinners and Weavers Guild for years. Her mom taught her to knit way back in the day when the family lived in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where she also was on horseback from an early age.
Zeroing in primarily on Allen’s turkey selection, given the season, and in spite of one tall white goat’s focus on nibbling this visitor’s vest, there were three traditional big white birds in view, destined to be cooked, given that they are bred to be big, to not lay eggs, and to generally be pitied. Allen said one year she neglected to dispatch one Broad Breasted White when she should have, and the poor beast could barely walk. He ended up weighing close to 50 pounds at his demise.
Her heritage breed Bourbon Reds appeared happy to show off their rich red plumage as they exited the pen. Bred from a combo of Kentucky Reds and Pennsylvania Bourbon Butternuts in the late 19th century, they once ruled the meat roost, until the Whites took over as the favorite of commercial breeders. Her one black-and-white turkey is a Royal Palm, prized for its appearance, not its meat.
Allen has turkey tales to tell. “One year one of my Bourbon Red turkeys set a clutch of eggs. My husband came in to tell me the eggs had hatched, and we had five light brown turkey chicks and one black one. “A black one?” I asked. "That’s not possible. We don’t have black turkeys right now."
“I went out to check and discovered our turkey hen had hatched out a black duckling. I have no idea how the duck egg got in her nest, but it hatched along with the baby turkeys. As the chicks grew, she would take them out for walks. Every time they passed the duck pond, the little black “chick” would head for the water. This caused great consternation for the hen. I pictured her saying, ‘No! Don't go near the water! You'll drown!’
“The duck, as he grew, lived his life as a part of the turkey flock since that was what he imprinted on, although he would on occasion take a swim. His condition in life was most distressing for him during breeding season as he thought he should be mating with the turkey hens. Given the body type and height differential though, he was never quite tall enough for the task.”
Allen also recalled one year that her husband sought to involve his mother who was visiting in choosing which turkey would go to table. They returned from turkey review, he saying, “This Christmas we shall serve ham.”
Which brings up the topic of eating animals. One time a lamb “reject” was dropped off at Allen’s place. They cared for it, and it thrived, her two children naming it Bubba. The inevitable day arrived, and some of the animal was served up at table. “What is this?” asked her daughter. “Well, um..” replied Allen. “It’s Bubba, isn’t it?”
Trained as an anthropologist, Allen notes that humans are omnivores, yet not all cultures are big meat eaters, and that much depends on latitude. “Ninety percent of the Inuit diet has been animal,” for example, “While that percentage flips when there is arable land for easily growing vegetables.”
Still, as any 4-H kid will tell you, and many farmers as well, it is not always easy to kill off a critter you have raised. Allen said recently she had decided to send one of her lambs to be butchered, and as she drove it to its fate, she kept saying to it “I am so sorry, so sorry.” She stresses that nothing is wasted when one of her animals is killed —“we use every bit—” saving turkey feathers, for example, to share.
The wool end of the Allen-Knight spread is much less fraught. Allen has her Shetlands, Teeswaters and Merino sheep professionally sheared twice a year by a fellow from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and sends wool for “roving yarn,” that thick coiled material, to a place in Mora to be processed. At the moment her wool shed is overflowing, her horse trailer holding the excess. There’s also mohair from a couple of Angora goats.
Occasionally Allen’s hobby impinges inappropriately with her husband’s hobby, grapes. “Goats eat grapes.” Still, a wine cellar is filled each year with their own vintage, up to the legal limit.
Entering and leaving the family’s place, near the front gate, nestles a remarkable sculpted image of a dog. It’s Paul’s rendering of Chewy, Allen’s empath of an animal who lived with her for 17 years, always knowing when she was about to return home. An irreplaceable creature, no matter how many turkeys, goats and sheep abound.