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Zephyrhills High agricultural student raising two lucky turkeys


The sight of Rebecca Wilcox's two turkeys is enough to get just about any poultry eater's mouth watering, especially around Thanksgiving.

One is a hen, the other a Tom, and these turkeys are pleasingly plump, like lip-smacking plump. Like at least 50 pounds apiece plump, and according to one estimate, add 10 pounds of plumpness on that for Tom. Get the picture? Now, dress that goodness up, add sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and cranberries, put it on some fancy platters and that's a feast worth experiencing. Except for one thing: These two turkeys aren't going to be on anyone's plate anytime soon. That's because they're Rebecca's pets.

"They're just around-the-house pets," said Rebecca, a 16-year-old sophomore, during a recent afternoon at the Zephyrhills High School's agriculture facility. "They just hang around and visit people."

While they usually keep to visiting people on their own property, on this day the turkeys were visiting Zephyrhills High's agriculture facility on 11th Avenue, where Rebecca, the school's Future Farmers of America chapter vice president, spends countless hours each week as part of the agricultural program. The turkeys aren't part of the school program, they're just one of the more than two dozen pets, including chickens, dogs, and horses, she has at her family's 3.5 acres.

Rebecca aspires to become a veterinarian. As part of the school's agricultural program she learns to raise animals for market, like her 937-pound 8-month-old cow, an Angus mix, which she will sell at the Pasco County Fair in February. But her turkeys aren't for sale and definitely not for eating.

Sure, people have asked her to sell them so they can feast on them, but no way, Rebecca says.

"Everyone asks, 'Are you gonna eat them? Are you gonna eat them?'"

"No!" she said she tells them. "They're my pets."

No doubt these are two lucky birds.

Agricultural teacher Rob Brown chuckled, looking over at the two feathered friends.

"They're really nice turkeys, but they're too big to eat now," he said. "They'd be good soup stock."

Back home, the turkeys roam freely on the property amongst the other animals. They don't have names and Rebecca isn't sure how old they are, but she's had them for about two years. At the agricultural facility, they were hanging out in a large cage in the back of a blue livestock trailer. And, just like at home, they spent a good amount of their time clucking (the hen) and gobbling (the Tom or "gobbler"), drinking water and eating corn. That's pretty much all they do, Rebecca said. Well, actually Tom can be a bit of a free spirit.

"He actually likes to chase everything," Rebecca said. "He gets in these moods where he just wants to run after anything."

But the hen, whose feathers aren't as colorful or puffed up as her male counterpart's, mostly just calmly hangs around.

"She doesn't really do anything," Rebecca said.

What these two do have, however, is togetherness.

"They're inseparable," said Rebecca, with a sweet smile. "He won't leave her side."

They just make good pets, period, she says. Though she has no problem eating their distant relatives: Her plate will be piled high with grandma's fresh turkey on Thanksgiving Day for sure. She just won't eat these turkeys. Unless of course, they die of natural causes, and then, she said, they're fair game and no longer just pets.

"Food," she said, "can't go wrong with that."

Talking turkey

In 2010, more than 244 million turkeys were raised and more than 226 million were consumed in the United States. It is estimated that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States last Thanksgiving.

Turkey consumption has nearly doubled over the past 25 years. In 2010, per capita, turkey consumption was 16.4 pounds compared to 8.3 pounds in 1975.

Source: The National Turkey


.Fast facts

Zephyrhills High School's agricultural program

• Between 125 to 150 students participate in the program each year.

• Graduates of the program have become doctors, attorneys, welders, mechanics and more. In the classroom and at the agricultural facility, they learn everything from record keeping for animals' weight, feeding costs and more, to raising animals for market, building animal shelters and riding horses. The program has its own herd of registered Maine-Anjou, and Charolais cattle, eight quarter horses, seven draft horses, two donkeys and provides a home to the Pasco Pioneer Museum Mule, Molly.

• The program has about 150 acres on Handcart Road where they keep the cow herd, and recently planted 30 acres of Tifton hay to feed their stock and that of other Pasco schools. This is expected to save $25,000 next year and was made possible through a $5,000 grant

Source: Zephyrhills High

agriculture teacher Rob Brown

Zephyrhills High agricultural student raising two lucky turkeys 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 12:35pm]
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