“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
- John 10:14-16
I have mentioned, maybe not on this blog, that I grew up on a turkey farm. That is sort of true – for a while. We lost the farm when I was about seven and moved from the farm about the time I was eight. I have been practicing a new testimony that goes back in time, roughly eleven years before I accepted Jesus as my Savior. This is to weave my love of humor, the lack of joy in our home, and my seeking the Joy exhibited by classmates who had found Jesus.
In the process, it dredged up old memories. We moved to the operating turkey farm when I was two years old, driving over roads that had not yet been paved and fording creeks where bridges had not been completely built. By the time I was three years old, I was already given an assignment, an employee of Chiwapa Farms. When our hatchery released a ‘flock’ of little poults, or chicks, to the brooder house, I was assigned the task of teaching them how to eat and drink. For most of the little ones, it was instinctive and might not have ever mattered. I took each poult and baptized it. In other words, there was a dish with water in it. I stuck each beak into the water to show the poult where the water was. I did the same with the feed. The water and feed were semi-continuously fed. A small supply of food was added to a hopper that gravity fed a dish. There was a cover, looking like a flying saucer, over the area where the food dish was placed where heat could be concentrated. The water was in a large jar, maybe a gallon size canning jar. A dish was threaded onto the jar and then inverted, so that as long as the jar was reasonably full, the dish would fill with water.
With most of the little turkeys, it probably wasn’t necessary for me to help them, but it kept me busy and saved the lives of the little ones who would otherwise be ignored and left behind if they did not figure it out, thus it improved our yield in turkeys sold versus eggs hatched.
But it did something else. I checked on the small ones to ensure each was eating and drinking and thriving. Since these poults were segregated from their mother, the hen that laid them, someone had to keep an eye on them. Tom turkeys, who fertilize the eggs, get very territorial and could destroy the unhatched eggs or kill the poults, once hatched. The brooder houses at our farm were only used for about a year of the life of the turkeys, giving the young a chance to grow to the point where they could defend themselves in the fields. Even though ‘free range’ was not a term, the turkey flocks were free range after the protective first year, forest-raised as opposed to pasture-raised.
A few years later, not long before we lost the farm, our farm was featured as the cover story for Progressive Farmer magazine. Several hundred turkeys were gathered for the cover shot. I walked into the middle of these full-grown turkeys. It was an interesting picture – a bunch of brown-feathered birds huddled around a 6 or 7-year-old boy in a white T-shirt. The photographer had set up his camera on a tripod in the bed of a pick-up truck to get the best angle and to establish some separation between the photographer and the turkeys.
The photographer complained that the turkeys were not strutting. He told my Dad to do what was necessary to get them to fan their tail feathers out. My Dad told the photographer that I had been there with those turkeys from the time they were hatched. They knew me. They only strutted when they sensed danger. He then said, “I know how to take a photograph. Why don’t you walk out there next to my son? They’ll strut for you.” The photographer choked back his fear and said that the shot was good enough as it was. I think the magazine editor actually used the photo of my Dad and I standing in the middle of the turkeys with trees on one side, a feed silo behind, and the corner of a brooder house on the other side, and hundreds of turkeys in the photo. Sorry, I don’t have a copy handy.
What my Dad could have said, but it might have ‘scarred’ my manhood, “My son has been imprinted as the mother hen.”
A few decades later, my wife wanted to visit her mother in Texas. We were living in northeast Mississippi at the time, while I worked on a NASA project. We had obtained a Walker Coon Hound, rescued from a dumpster. We named her “Chloe.” I was into Spike Jones at the time and loved the idea of calling for the dog to come for dinner, “Chlo -eeeeee.” My boys would then sing, “Dum da dum da dum!” before I could call Chloe again. For those who have been deprived (or spared) from the Spike Jones Musical Depreciation Review, here is a Spike Jones version of the song from the movie, Bring on the Girls.
I prefer the second phone ringing with “you don’t say” ending with “Who was it?” “Same Guy!” They seemed to constantly change their comedy bits.
But my wife renamed Chloe, “Chloe Dumb Dog,” when I bought an automatic feeder so the family would be reassured that Chloe would be alright while we were on vacation to Texas. All she had to do was to use her head to push a spring-loaded door forward. That released a dog-sized amount of dry feed into a bowl, protected by the door if Chloe wasn’t that hungry. It was a well-designed system, but Chloe refused to push the door open. She would eat only when I shoved the door open and held it for her. If the door touched her head, she was finished eating for the night. So, I waited for her to get really hungry, and I shoved her head through the doorway, like I had with the turkeys, decades before. Even then, she refused. I did it again the next day. This continued, and she kept refusing to eat. One or two days before we were to leave, she finally figured it out. I had to be her mother hen until she got it. Instead of a coon hound, maybe she was a bird dog.
But bringing these old memories to the forefront when looking at the Scripture, Jesus is our shepherd. He knows us and we know Him, because He has imprinted Himself in our hearts.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.