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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Some Fowl Talk and a True Story

Be warned today's story is definitely adult.


No less an important an American than Benjamin Franklin said the turkey would be a better national bird than the eagle.  I'm not going to take sides in that debate although the National Wild Turkey Federation would probably agree with it as their motto is "Conserve, Hunt, Share."  I'm not a hunter, but wild turkeys have certainly made a comeback in my semi-rural Springfield Township home in Oakland County, Michigan.  I mentioned this to my yoga teacher who talked about the 14 birds having taken over her farm.  She pointed out that, since the turkeys were so successfully reintroduced to our area, the pheasants have disappeared.  Hmmm. 

Wikipedia notes the problem may be worse than that:

Human conflicts with wild turkeys

Turkeys have been known to be aggressive toward humans and pets in residential areas.[12] Wild turkeys have a social structure and pecking order and habituated turkeys may respond to humans and animals as they do to another turkey. Habituated turkeys may attempt to dominate or attack people that the birds view as subordinates.[13]
The town of Brookline, Massachusetts, recommends that citizens be aggressive toward the turkeys, take a step towards them, and not back down. Brookline officials have also recommended "making noise (clanging pots or other objects together); popping open an umbrella; shouting and waving your arms; squirting them with a hose; allowing your leashed dog to bark at them; and forcefully fending them off with a broom."[14]
Going on with that, while searching for an appropriate image to open today's story, I found the Country Farm Lifestyles article given in that caption link stated:
Raising turkeys is no different to keeping chickens, in fact, and in some ways turkeys are easier to raise. The one problem with turkeys is that they are big, ungainly birds with the larger breeds being so big that they cannot breed naturally. The males are so heavy that they find it difficult to mount the females successfully and the females often get scratched and injured after the many attempts.
There's a reason I include that information related to today's story.  Before I get to it, I ought to also include the Country Farm Lifestyles comment, "The good news is that there are smaller breeds of turkeys too, that have no trouble breeding, and If you want to keep turkeys on the farm as pets they live a long life. Many turkey breeds can live between 10 – 15 years."

I receive many newsletters from authors, including one from Ellen Byerrum.
I emailed Ellen back saying I made copies of the story she shared in it for each of the adults at our Thanksgiving table in case any discussions erupted in fights.  She emailed me that my idea made her night, considering it the highest compliment imaginable, and further saying "It was a most unusual story and I'm glad that people are enjoying it now"

(My own copy began with the heading "Turkeys: An Ergonomics Challenge", but the explanation I would have given orally is in the two paragraphs preceding the actual story.)
Thanksgiving, Turkeys & Reasons to Be Thankful
Some years ago, when I was reporting for a D.C. trade journal, I interviewed an ergonomist (a specialist in ergonomics) who described to me the worst job I can imagine. On a turkey farm. This job is just one small step, possibly the first, on the long road to getting that tasty roast turkey on your table for Thanksgiving dinner. On my job safety beat, I covered OSHA, workplace injuries and job-related stress and violence, and I regularly learned about horrible jobs. This is certainly in the top ten terrible jobs of all time. And I guarantee you, whether you're employed or not, and whatever it is you do for a living, you will be thankful you do not have this job.

My news article was never published. Anything that smacked of a smirk was frowned upon at this publication, and my editor said that although my story was fascinating, there was no way he would ever print it. Nevertheless, I always wanted it to see the light of day, beyond entertaining friends during cocktail hour. This story is rated PG 13, and it's about turkeys and how they ultimately get turned into dinner, so stop now, if you’re easily offended. Or a vegan. I will try to use euphemisms where I can.

Turkeys: An Ergonomics Challenge
Ergonomics is basically the science of fitting the workplace environment and equipment to the worker to maximize their comfort and safety. It’s not just about office chairs and keyboards, it can apply to any workplace, and ergonomic solutions can be very creative, as this informant of mine demonstrated. To preserve his privacy, I'll just call the ergonomist in this story "Ian."

On one of his first jobs after graduating with his shiny new degree, Ian was called in to address injuries suffered by women working at a turkey farm in Canada. The female workers reported chronic shoulder and wrist injuries. The stressful part of their job was holding the tom turkeys firmly with one arm, while with the other hand manually "encouraging" them to “donate” their sperm in order for the turkey hens to be artificially inseminated. It required a willing male turkey, a supple wrist and a little glass tube. The women's job title was probably something like "sperm collection technician." But what did these workers call themselves? TURKEY JERKERS. Well, duh, as they say.

So why do we need turkey jerkers? Why not just let the turkeys do what comes naturally, you may well ask? I asked that question too. According to Ian, apparently the toms are very aggressive in their mating, and they tend to scar the poor hens with their talons. Better to lend nature a helping hand. Ian also noted that the workers’ problems were exacerbated because---well, the tom turkeys really enjoyed this part of the process. So much so that after making their donations, they would line jump to take another turn with the turkey jerkers. But the second time, that tom would take much longer to deliver the desired results, if at all. Bad for productivity--and the wrists. (The turkeys didn't seem to mind.) There was no system to determine which turkeys had already had their fun for that day. And to make it worse, Ian said, the tom turkeys were huge, up to fifty pounds apiece, and very excitable, while most of the workers were petite Asian women. With sore shoulders and aching wrists.

Obviously, it was in the best interest of the employer and the workers (and the turkeys) to find a better way to do this job and keep these women from sustaining musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). After all, how many people, even in these recessionary times, are willing to do that job for a turkey? (“Not I,” said the little red hen.) And for the Washington, D.C., attorneys who argue that up is down and night is day, and there are no such things as work-related MSDs, just save it for the turkeys, guys. Okay?

Now, if I had ever thought about it, which I hadn’t, I would have assumed there was some high-tech machine that handled turkey sperm donation. For all I know, at present there may be some kind of space-age SpermGizmo that does the job. And I hesitate to consider what happens in the rest of the animal kingdom. We’ll leave that up to the Nature Channel. But these women at the turkey farm were doing it all by hand.

Ergonomic and Creative Solutions
Ian set out to find a solution. A couple of fixes to address the shoulder injuries seemed relatively easy. He had stands constructed so the big wiggly birds could rest on them, instead of the tiny women struggling to hold them up. He devised a labeling system--birds now wore colored rings around their necks to determine whether they had donated that day, so they could be separated from the rest of the turkeys waiting their turn.

But how to alleviate the wrist injuries? Ian put his mind to it and the light bulb clicked on. Remember, ergonomics is finding an effective solution to the problem, whatever it takes. He went to an adult “specialty” store, named something like the "Pink Pussycat," where everyone wore tight black leather outfits and showed a lot of bare flesh. Except Ian. He was wearing his best suit. He wasn’t there for posters of pretty hens to entice the toms. He asked for two dozen--let’s call them “personal massagers.” Needless to say, the sales clerk was impressed.

“Two dozen? What on earth are you going to use two dozen for?” the clerk wanted to know.

“Don’t ask,” Ian said.

“Oh! I see,” the clerk responded, as if he had a clue. “I’ve got to go in back.”

Ian heard some commotion in the back and the manager came out to meet this amazing customer. “Wow. We’ve never sold a case of these before,” he said. "You're gonna need batteries too. Use the Duracells, they last longer."

Ian returned to the farm with the massagers and distributed them to the workers. VoilaThe massagers “worked like a charm,” Ian said. The turkeys were happy. The turkey jerkers were happy. Mission accomplished. Until...

The turkey farm called him back one day. Their batteries were all dead. No problem, Ian said, just buy more batteries, keep them in stock. But the farm had a company policy, he was told. Batteries were considered part of an an employee theft problem. They wouldn't stock anything people might easily steal. When the farm's purchasing manager asked what they were used for, Ian explained.

“Oh my god! That will never do,” the manager said, and refused to okay the battery purchase. “I can’t expense these!"

Our intrepid ergonomist went back to work on the problem. And he headed back to the Pink Pussycat. The clerk remembered him well. He was a local legend. “You’re the dude who bought twenty-four [massagers]!” Ian explained they were working just fine, but they were running out of batteries. The clerk, in awe, asked him how long the massagers were being used at a time.

“About sixteen hours a day,” Ian said. "Don't ask."

The clerk was stunned. The manager was stunned. Ian asked if they had a comparable plug-in model with a long cord. They did. He bought two dozen of those.
They begged him to reveal what he was using all those massagers for. You gotta tell us, dude! Our resourceful ergonomist, however, kept his professional secret--and the turkeys' mystery. Finally the ergonomic challenges of turkey jerking had been solved. Human ingenuity saved the day (and the turkey jerkers' shoulders and wrists--and jobs).

In the course of my interview, Ian went on to tell me other stories, for example about ergonomics for strippers and poker players. But those are tales for another day.

* * * *
As it turned out, I never had the need to present the story.  The closest we came to a disagreement was one person, who shall not be named, but it wasn't my husband, saying this Saturday he'd prefer Ohio State beat the University of Michigan.  HMMPH!  My master's degree in library science came from U. of M., but at least I am willing to let Michigan State University do well if the "Maize and Blue" has a bad season.  Only once a year my husband and I root for different Michigan football teams.

Ms. Byerrum writes, among other things, cozy mysteries and I freely admit I'm not a fan of the trend where cozy mysteries feature food and even include recipes.  When I read I prefer not to have the story encourage me to eat.  That said, it's good that our Thanksgiving didn't require her book, Recipes for Disaster.
May the coming month of holidays avoid all Recipes for Disaster in your life with the possible exception of stories.

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