PORT ROYAL, Pa. — Fourteen-year-old Connor Peterson has shown many types of poultry at past Juniata County 4-H fairs.
But he hadn’t shown a turkey.
With the addition of the turkeys to the newly named Juniata County Poultry Peeps Club this year, Connor knew he wanted to be one of the clubbers to work with the gobblers.
A turkey he has raised since it was a poult in January will be strutting around the ring the week of the youth fair, July 29 to Aug. 2, at the Port Royal Fairgrounds.
He is also showing goats, market chickens, and a variety of “fancy” chickens.
But Connor admitted he didn’t always like the idea of poultry.
“I wasn’t into it at first,” he said, as his first project was market chickens. Connor described them as “dirty” and not as nice to handle.
Connor’s mom, Denise Peterson, said her son was definitely skeptical of the chickens initially when he was 9 years old.
“My husband (Bryan Peterson) wanted to have some chickens around for fresh eggs,” Denise said, and someone suggested Connor try showing the poultry at the 4-H fair.
He had also joined the Kidding Around Goat and Sheep Club in Juniata County and found dealing with some stubborn goats was challenging, but more enjoyable.
Three years ago Connor started showing fancy chickens, those with an exotic appearance and ornamental features.
Connor has shown at American Bantam Association (ABA) Sanctioned Poultry Shows and has earned ribbons.
Showing the fancy chickens is a challenge, said Denise, as American Poultry Breed standards must be followed.
Some of Connor’s birds, including Welsummers and Wyandotte bantams, have earned him reserve grand champion ribbons at the 4-H fair, and ranked well at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, too.
Currently, he has 64 fair and show ribbons hanging in a room in his house. This year he wants to add one for the turkey.
Since January, Connor has not only been busy with the chickens and goats, he has been paying close attention to what is taught at club meetings about the turkeys.
The poultry educator from the Juniata County Extension office visited the club and demonstrated how to work with the sometimes stubborn birds.
Of the 20 youth in the club, at least six are showing turkeys for the first time this year, Denise estimated.
Connor has two turkey hens he has been training.
“One’s faster than the other,” he said, admitting that at first they were not sure of the gender. The faster one is the bird that will get the ticket to the fair ring.
Connor has been filling two books of information for the club and has been walking the turkeys daily.
“We learned to pick them up and to feel their breast,” Connor said of the proper position to hold the gobblers.
“After you hold them up a little while, they are OK,” Denise said, “But at first they really flap and go crazy.”
When the poults arrived in January the family faced an obstacle.
Connor said he learned the turkeys needed to stay away from the chickens because of blackhead disease. This was a challenge because the initial plan was to house all the poultry together.
“So we put the poults in with the goats,” Connor said.
The relationship between goats and turkeys has been a fun one to watch, Connor said. Both species have less-than-cooperative temperaments and a tendency to want to do their own thing. Connor was not sure how the turkeys would respond to the goats and the two rams who often slam into each other and knock horns.
However, the two different types of animals seemed to get along just fine.
“My dad fed the goats one night and he said when he turned around he found one of the turkeys sitting on the goat’s back!” the teen said.
Connor purchased a cane to herd the turkeys when he walks them. A ramp inside the goat pen is used to lead the birds up one side and down the other.
The wobbling birds turn corners with ease as Connor pushes the cane in their direction.
For the Petersons, this summer, like every summer for the last several years, has been dedicated to daily preparation for the youth fair, Denise said.
“There is no vacation for us until after the 4-H fair,” she said.
Most of Connor’s time is spent outside feeding and watering the animals and walking each of them individually.
“The goats take forever,” Connor said.
There is also grooming that takes place.
Denise said Connor also spends his Tuesdays in the summer volunteering for the local food pantry as a member of the goat club.
By the weekend prior to the fair, Connor will have his animals ready to go to the fairgrounds, including five fancy chickens, two market chickens, three goats (two wethers and one doe) — and the unnamed turkey.
The turkeys, Denise said, are surprisingly friendly. The Petersons expected the turkeys to be a bit of a challenge and present some attitude.
“The poults were very lovable right away,” she said.