The Story Behind the Turkey Book
If you've read my children's book Turklet, Squeaky, and the Seven Chicken Chicks, then you know the charming tale of a duck and turkey who co-parented to raise chicks despite their differences, and you may have noticed that it was based off a true story. But it does seem a little farfetched, doesn't it? It's not!
So what's the story behind the book?
(Scroll to the bottom to see videos and pictures of Turklet, Squeaky and the chicks!)
It started with an egg...
Just like the book, the real turkey story started with a farm girl (me!) who incubated some turkey eggs and some duck eggs. One turkey and one duck hatched, and they were quickly named Turklet and Squeaky respectively. I did indeed carry those cuties around for a good long while and took them on all sorts of adventures. Of course, some things in the book have been altered slightly for it to be easier for children to understand. For instance, our farm doesn't actually have a pond, but we do have an above ground swimming pool that had been drained that year for repairs and I would often take the turkey chick and duckling in there to play in the little puddles of water that was left. Squeaky loved swimming but Turklet would often just get her little feet wet and nothing more.
Then just like the book, they feathered out and became ready for the real world. Turklet went off with Tom turkey and another turkey we had named Yarow. Squeaky went off with the 10-duck flock and for a while they were just seemingly normal farm animals.
Then Turklet became broody in an old hay manger in one of our old sheds (she has a nest in the woods in the book). She did indeed lay her own eggs and also sat on the eggs of chickens who would hop in the nest to lay. Turns out chickens and turkeys really can't tell the difference between eggs! She was ready to hatch them all. Also just like the book, a chicken hen decided she wanted to share the nest and also became broody with Turklet. They both sat on the eggs until they hatched.
Turklet was SO excited to be a mother. She would hop out of the nest and try to call the chicks to her (animals have very specific calls for food, danger, and safety that are completely unique to not only their breed but also to each individual). But sure enough, the chicks preferred the chicken mother who they could understand. They just didn't know what Turklet was or what she was trying to get them to do. It was honestly really sad to watch how Turklet would follow the hen and chicks around and try to catch bugs for the babies but they ignored her!
Eventually, Turklet went back to the nest where she still had turkey eggs (chicken eggs hatch out about a week earlier than turkey and duck eggs) but none of her turkey eggs hatched (they were most likely unfertilized. Our Tom was a little lazy at the time).
During this time, I had another round of chicks in the incubator. When a few hatched out, I decided to see if Turklet wanted to raise them. This was a tricky situation because most chickens won't want babies after a few days. Their mothering instincts just disappear, and they go about their normal lives. Most chickens won't even accept their own babies if they hatch out too late. But sure enough Turklet was SO happy to have babies. She took them right in and was extremely tender with them. We put her in a little chicken tractor (which is like a little mobile chicken coop). It was very clear the chicks still didn't understand her. They spent a lot of time wandering around confused. But Turklet would sit down close to them and tuck them under her with her beak. Eventually, they adapted to their mother's sounds and feeding them wasn't even an issue.
After a few days, we started letting them out of the tractor during the day. And just like the book, the hen who had originally sat on the nest with Turklet started attacking her yellow chicks. This isn't always common but in some cases, animals can be quite racist! We hated seeing her pecking on her babies, so we had to take them away from her before she seriously hurt one of them. We wondered if Turklet would accept them. Again, this was a tricky situation because they were older than Turklet's current babies as she was far past the usual period of time when poultry mothers would accept new babies. But she did and just like the others, she taught them her language and they fit in perfectly.
A few more hatched out of the incubator and over the course of a week, we kept giving Turklet new babies and she took them all in. We could NOT believe it.
Then after another week we noticed something truly incredible.
Squeaky the duck was sleeping by her tractor every night after we locked them up. And the older they got and the more we let them out to explore, the more Squeaky followed the family around. He was never once aggressive with them, and often he would follow after the chicks if they strayed from Turklet. He really did become their dad. And just like the book, Squeaky did have a croocked tail (you can see it in the videos down below).
Unlike the book, we never had a specific incident when our cat Smokey tried to eat one of the chicks (he's actually really good about not eating them), but we saw many times where Squeaky would protect the chicks from the other ducks, roosters, and sometimes hens as well.
The rest is history. Some of Turklet's babies still hang out with Squeaky and sit together in the shade and even though Turklet passed away, Squeaky also has a very playful and close relationship with Tom turkey and we often see them chasing each other around like they're playing tag before sitting next to each other at night.
I always look back and think how incredible of a creature Turklet was for the unbelievable patience she had and the overwhelming amount of love she gave to her chicken babies. And to see Squeaky swoop in to help her was just over the top.
Animals have so much to teach us and so much love to give us. I really hope that in writing this children's book that people will have a different outlook on life and what it means to be different than someone and how we can work through those differences by using patience, good communication, and most of all, love.
Because love always has, and always will, overcome all differences.