Everyone deserves the kind of friendship Joe and Mr. Black had, odd as it was.
From the start, it was an unlikely pairing. Joe is a domestic turkey and Mr. Black a rooster. While birds of a feather are said to flock together, turkeys and chickens tend to hang out with their own kind.
Turkeys and chickens should not be housed together, according to conventional farm wisdom. Roosters, particularly juveniles, can be jerks who bully and injure turkeys.
But not Mr. Black. He seemingly sought out Joe for the simple pleasure of his company.
The two lived with chickens, geese, a horse, a donkey, cats and dogs on Slater Farm Rescue in Washington County. It’s the kind of place where rescued livestock and poultry are pampered pets, not food.
Heather Halsey, who operates the farm, purchased Joe and his brother at the Common Ground Country Fair where they were being sold as meat birds.
“I never intended to eat them,” she said. “I’m not really sure what I was thinking.”
As near as she could tell, Mr. Black was born right on, or at least near, her farm.
“Mr. Black was one of those unplanned chicks,” Halsey said. “That’s where a hen disappears for a few days and you think something has killed it and then they return with babies.”
Around the time Mr. Black and his siblings walked into the barnyard, Joe’s brother had disappeared. While the two turkeys were not friendly with each other, it left Joe alone as the only turkey on the farm.
His loneliness didn’t last long.
“I started to notice this little black rooster and the turkey were always around each other,” Halsey said. “I started really paying attention and saw it was not by chance — they looked for each other to be near each other.”
Domestic turkeys do not normally perch off the ground to sleep, but every night Joe would fly up to the perch to sleep next to Mr. Black in the chicken coop.
“I’d have to lift Joe down off the perch every morning,” Halsey said. “He was too heavy to fly down himself without getting hurt.”
If one woke up before the other and went outside, he’d wait next to the coop door for the other to join him for a day of scratching in the dirt for tasty bugs and seeds, sun bathing, and dust baths.
“They were both close in age,” Halsey said. “They grew into mature gentlemen together.”
It was because of that close bond that Halsey tried so hard to save Mr. Black’s life after he suffered a broken hip last summer.
“We took him to the vets and because the break was high up in the joint, we were told it could not be set or fixed,” she said. “I kept him in a box with the leg splinted until it was obvious it would not heal and there was no choice but to put him down.”
As sad as that decision was for Halsey, it was devastating to Joe. Within a week of his friend’s death, Joe’s health started going steadily downhill as he mourned the loss.
“I started noticing he was putting himself out into a different, abandoned coop far away from the other chickens all by himself,” Halsey said. “He’d spend all day crouching in there and just staring at the wall.”
Joe no longer joined the chickens at night perched in the coop. He lost all interest in the activities he had enjoyed with Joe. This continued for months with Halsey having to gently remove Joe from his isolation and do her best to entice him with treats to eat and drink.
“It would have been easy to think he was physically sick,” she said. “But he was not sick, he was depressed.”
Halsey had just about given up hope when something unexpected happened.
Before he died, Mr. Black had fertilized a clutch of eggs. Halsey decided to let one of her broody hens hatch them. She never thought it would produce the miracle Joe needed: Mr. Black’s son, Mr. White.
“Since [Mr. Black] was black and the mother hen is white, the chicks came out white with black speckles,” she said. “But there was one white chick.”
As the white chick grew into a rooster, he caught the attention of Joe. It took some time, but now Mr. White has reignited Joe’s spark for life. Because, like his father before him. Mr. White wants to be Joe’s friend.
“When Mr. White started roosting in the chicken coop, Joe started going back into the coop,” Halsey said. “He was roosting right back up on the perch and right next to Mr. White.”
She’s not sure if Joe will become as close to Mr. White as he was with Mr. Black but the budding friendship has the turkey eating on his own again, much to Halsey’s relief.
“I really do think [Joe] was trying to die after the loss of Mr. Black,” Halsey said. “What he needed was something to help him rejoin the flock and now, thanks to Mr. White, he’s back to being an energetic, happy guy.”