*potentially controversal/difficult read - you have been warned*
Hunting is a pastime that I believe fits the homesteading life well. You are practicing conservation of nature, by helping to keep a sustainable population of wildlife, while also feeding your family in a manner that is both financially sound, organic, and also timeless. If it were not for hunters, we would be overrun with deer, or turkeys, or various other animals, leaving not enough resources for all of them to continue to thrive. We mitigate this risk, by having carefully calculated seasons for hunting, with specific rules regarding quantity and permitting.
Dogs have historically been used for hunting purposes, assisting their human counterparts. Smaller breeds, such as our Cairn Terrier, Cash, were used to hunt rodents, or small animals that burrow. The breed has a hardy tail, that was often used as a way to pull them out of burrows when they had caught the desired critter. Our larger dog, Hank, is considered a bird dog. His lineage is full of pheasant, duck, quail, and sometimes deer hunting.
The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP), is bred from lines of pointers and water dogs, who are built for hard work and retrieving. Originally developed in Germany in the 1800s, GWPs were called "Deutsch-Drahthaars" at the time. When the breed was imported to the U.S. the name was changed while seeking registration of the breed with the American Kennel Club (AKC). The unique wire-haired coat is perfect for water, and all season hunting. They are extremely versitile hunters, and are often referred to as a "utility breed".
Given this background, placing Hank in a yard FULL of birds, is borderline torturous. However, I believe it has significantly helped to awaken his inner bird dog. As he as grown, he has become more and more interested in the birds walking around. We have had a couple of run-ins between Hank and some of our larger birds (geese, turkeys) but up until recently, it hadn't ended in anything life-altering...
Let me begin by stating that I am very proud of Hank, but that did not make this situation easy or simple. After putting the Homestead Honey down for a nap recently, I let Hank and Cash out to their pen to romp around. I opened the sliding door, and Hank shot out - like a bullet. What I hadn't seen around the corner, was one of the adult turkeys wandering around the pen. It had flown the fence, and meandered into the dog pen. Hank had been far more keenly aware of this ongoing, which is probably why he was so interested in going out.
I will spare you the details of what happened next... it was not a pretty sight, but it happened fast. Before I knew it, I had a fully grown, mature turkey in my hands. I was a little traumatized at the time, as the specific turkey was not one that I had planned on processing, especially not in the manner it took place. I had hoped to keep that one for eggs. We fully planned on butchering some of our turkeys, as that was the intended purpose for owning them, but not this one.
As upsetting as it was, I can't blame Hank. He was doing what he was bred for; what was engrained in his fibers, after hundreds of years of breeders perfecting a champion hunter. I couldn't be upset with him, when the turkey was completely within his reach. If Hank had been in the woods, 10 ft. up the road, and had done the same thing, I would have been elated. It was just very sudden, and unfortunate. However, it was at least a bird that was at butchering weight, and in the end, we had to get comfortable with the idea at some point (as this was our eventual goal).
The Homestead Husband was able to harvest breast meat and turkey legs from the bird, and we saved as many intact feathers as possible for later projects. As upsetting as it was, it felt good to not let the bird have been hunted in vein. The end result looked exactly the same as what you'd buy in the grocery store, with the only differences being that we know it lived a very happy life on the homestead, and was only fed high quality feed, with the option to free range daily. These are things you are not promised from most turkey farms that produce your grocery store variety.
I roasted the meat with apples, and white wine and seasonings. Honestly, I was impressed. It was rich in flavor, and was not gamey. The thing about raising your own meat, and growing your own food, is that you appreciate it so much more. You savor it, because you know how much effort went into it. You don't waste a bite, and you count it as a blessing, because it truly is.
In the end, I'm thankful to Hank for helping me to get through a difficult commitment. I now am looking forward to future meals grown completely at our homestead, as well as future birds that we will continue to raise naturally. With continued training, and more guidance, Hank could become a skilled hunter. In the meantime, he can be found lounging on the sofa, or curled up by the baby's crib keeping her safe.