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In Character with Sara Cogan

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sara Cogan, farm manager at Zenger Farms, herds a flock of turkeys that just might be able to read her mind.A turkey neck is something you definitely want to avoid. If you’re talking gobbledygook, you’re not making much sense. And if someone calls you a turkey, well, let’s hope it’s just in jest.

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, somebody needed to stick up for turkeys. We tried Sara Cogan, farm manager at Zenger Farms in Southeast Portland.

Portland Tribune: Let’s talk turkey. I hear they’re not the smartest of animals?

Sara Cogan: I hear the same thing.

Tribune: From the animals or from people?

Cogan: From people. The turkeys think they’re quite bright.

Tribune: Is there evidence to support that assertion?

Cogan: As individuals they may not appear very bright, but there’s a lot of intelligence in the flock. A couple years ago we didn’t get them put into the coop quickly enough and dusk started to fall, and the turkeys survival instinct kicked in. They went to the highest spot on the farm, which is the rooftop of the barn.

Tribune: Wait a second. Why is that smart? If there’s someone with a rifle around they’re sitting ... turkeys.

Cogan: We’re in the city limits; it’s illegal to discharge a firearm. They were safe from their predators, coyotes and raccoons.

Tribune: So they climbed up the building to get away from coyotes.

Cogan: No, they fly.

Tribune: Turkeys can fly?

Cogan: Yes. They don’t fly far, but they can fly high.

Tribune: Then why don’t they get out of here before you guys take them to the butcher?

Cogan: They know where their food is.

Tribune: But not where our food is, apparently. One point for the dumb turkey theory.

Cogan: One time we slaughtered them on site. And we arrived in the morning to get set up, to get the water boiling and the knives sharpened. And the turkeys were gone. A person had accidentally left open the door, but they weren’t in their run. They were on the farthest side of the farm. They had never been there before.

Tribune: Was this before the knives came out or after?

Cogan: Before. When we arrived they were gone.

Tribune: You’re trying to tell me turkeys are prescient?

Cogan: Yes.

Tribune: OK, we’ll count that as one for the turkeys’ side. What other powers to they possess?

Cogan: They’re really amazing vocalists. They gobble when they hear kids laughing, when they hear an ambulance going by, or a truck backing up.

Tribune: Is there anything they don’t gobble at?

Cogan: No.

Tribune: You’re making my case here. Let’s talk about the people who buy your turkeys.

Cogan: I had a request for the feathers of the bird that (a family) was going to eat. There have been requests for the feet of the bird.

Tribune: Why in heaven’s name?

Cogan: The feet make really great stock, or backscratchers. I know somebody who made jewelry out of the feet. They used the toenails in a necklace.

Tribune: Of the bird they ate on Thanksgiving? I mean, it’s one thing to eat the guy, but carrying his toenails around your neck is like some ...

Cogan: Head on a post.

Tribune: Yeah. That’s upsetting. Forget the humans, let’s get back to the turkeys.

Cogan: Around their pen there is a flexible plastic fence. They roughhouse and invariably will knock into the fence. Occasionally a turkey gets his head stuck in the fence and needs assistance.

Tribune: This has happened more than once?

Cogan: Yes.

Tribune: They roughhouse to the point where one of them needs rescuing to save his life, and then they keep doing it again. Another point in the dumb turkeys ledger. What have you to offer in defense of this species?

Cogan: They are tasty.

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