They’re not pets, but apparently you can name them. Sometimes it’s just best to defer to the experts.
Danielle and Justine Geyer are more than a couple of turkey experts, or birds of a feather flocking together. They’re a Myerstown sister tandem bent on raising the delicious birds to the best of their abilities, together.
While it may not have started out that way, the Geyers have come to learn a little bit about themselves and each other. But raising turkeys together has also taught them about work ethic and the value of teamwork, as well as some of the universal realities of life.
“I guess they’re not technically pets, because they’re going to be gone,” said Danielle Geyer, who’s 14 and will be a freshman at ELCO High School in the fall. “You just don’t want to get attached to them. Sometimes it’s hard. We usually name the ones we take to show, but we haven’t done that yet.”
“Last year, I named my grand champion ‘Bryce Harper,’” said Justine Geyer, who’s 10 and will be a fifth-grader at ELCO intermediate school in the fall. “This year I want to name mine ‘J.T. Realmuto.’ I’m a real big Phillies fan, and they’re two of my favorite players.
“They’re different from pets because we see them live and when they get so big we butcher them and eat them,” Justine added. “Sometimes we cry when they die. They don’t live very much longer if you don’t eat them. They’re bred for meat.”
Currently, the Geyers are raising five turkeys at their Myerstown residence, two of which they will select to show at the 2020 edition of the Lebanon Area Fair, which will be staged July 25 through Aug. 1 at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center and Fairgrounds at 80 Rocherty Road in North Cornwall Township. The county fair has been scaled back immensely this year because of the COVID-19 crisis, but the Geyers will be competing against about 20 other local teenagers in the youth poultry category.
Neither is a stranger to livestock competition. Danielle’s a relative veteran at raising and showing poultry — chickens, ducks, pheasants and quail — while Justine was crowned the grand champion in her category at last year’s fair, the first to include turkeys in its judging.
Apparently, Bryce Harper was a hit.
“We work together,” said Danielle. “Most of the time we split up the work. It depends on what there is to do. Most of the time it’s pretty smooth rolling. I think I’ve learned responsibility. You have to feed them, watch them, water them and make sure they’re alright.”
“When they get older, we have to clean out their pen and their poop really stinks,” said Justine. “That’s the worst part. The best part is watching them grow. They’ve grown a lot since we’ve gotten them.
“What I’ve learned is how much they cost,” Justine Geyer added. “How much it costs to feed them. It’s interesting to know.”
The Lebanon Area Fair will conclude a five-month-long process for Team Geyer. The Geyers obtained five poults, or chicks, from the Lebanon County Poultry 4-H Club in March.
Initially, the young turkeys weighed about 2.5 pounds. But through Danielle and Justine Geyer’s persistent feeding, watering and care, the five turkeys now weigh close to 20 pounds.
“The most important thing is that they always have to have access to food and water,” said Danielle. “It’s usually twice a day, but when times when it’s hot, it might be three or four times a day.”No, it’s not really hard work. Sometimes you don’t feel like it much, sometimes it’s a drag. But it’s fun, I actually enjoy it.”
“You have to make sure they’re healthy,” said Justine. “We can look at them and tell, if they’re not moving around and not eating like they usually do. We also touch them and see if we can feel anything.”
Not only will the upcoming Lebanon Area Fair provide the Geyer girls an opportunity to have their work judged by an American Poultry Association professional, it will also allow them to rub shoulders with other competitors and compare notes. Like any learning process, some of it is trial and error.
“You have to look at them (the turkeys) and see which breasts are bigger. That’s what makes a good turkey,” said Danielle. “It’s always exciting to see how your bird compares to the others. It’s exciting to talk to other people who raise birds.”
“We all get them on the same day and then we bring them home,” said Justine. “One week I’ll clean out their living space, and the next week she’ll [Danielle] clean it out. They eat a lot, and their personalities are definitely different. One is really friendly, and when you go inside the fence, they like to peck at you. They can be mean to each other and they can be really nice to each other. It depends on how they sleep at night, probably.”
A lot of kids never know what they want to be when they grow up. Raising and showing turkeys can lay the groundwork for careers in both animal care and education.
“I want to be an exotic animal vet when I grow up,” said Danielle. “That’s a vet who focuses on animals that aren’t your average pet, or you could work in a zoo. I’ve pretty much always known I wanted to be one. A background in agriculture helps a lot, but there’s also college and vet school on top of that.”
“I think I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” said Justine. “I like kids. I like helping kids. I like to teach kids about animals.”
For the Geyers, the Lebanon Area Fair will produce a mixture of emotions. Their anticipation is mixed with excitement, pride and anxiety.
“Usually there’s a little disappointment,” said Danielle. “It’s hard to see the animals go. But it’s just what happens. You learn not to get attached.”
“Yes, I’m looking forward to it,” said Justine Geyer. “Partly because last year I got grand champion. I’m also excited to sell them, because they can be a pain in the butt.”
You can’t become an expert before first learning to channel your emotions.
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