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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Externalities

I have an uncle who lives in the Sutter Buttes in California. He is a farmer and Thanksgiving at their house always means fresh turkey, as fresh as they come.

But he didn't raise turkeys for food, that was a positive externality. It turns out that turkeys are good for killing rattlesnakes, a big problem if you live in the Buttes, or at least that's what I was always told. Peacocks too, apparently, but they were too messy so after trying them for awhile, they go rid of them.

I always wondered if turkeys really do help to control rattlesnakes, but you don't argue with a farmer who has the accumulated knowledge of several generations living on and working the same land. He knew it worked and that was that, so I never questioned it much as a kid, I assumed it was true and repeated it often. But before repeating it here, I thought I should finally check to see if it really is true. A search with Google doesn't help much. Anecdotally:

I asked the owner if he had ever seen any rattlesnakes around.

"No," he said. "There used to be some around years ago, but since the turkeys became so abundant, I haven’t seen any. I guess the turkeys eat the babies."

I thought that sounded pretty logical.

And, from Wikipedia:

They also eat small vertebrates like snakes, frogs or salamanders.

But are turkeys up to the task? Are they brave like an eagle?:

The idea that Benjamin Franklin preferred the Turkey as the national bird comes from a letter he wrote to his daughter in 1784 criticizing the choice of the Eagle as the national bird and suggesting that a Turkey would have made a better alternative.

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

This letter to Franklin's daughter was written after congress spent six years choosing the eagle as the emblem of the newly formed country. While Franklin's disapproval with the choice of the Bald Eagle was evident, it is not apparent that he ever officially advocated for the turkey.

But for me, for today, just thanks.

I hope you all enjoy the day. I plan to.

[This is kind of a "turkey post," and not sure I should post it. Ah, what the heck, mostly just want to say thanks to all of you, it won't surprise anyone to learn I'm thankful for everyone who stops by here, even the cranky ones - you all make this work, I have little to do with it.]

    Posted by on Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 09:21 AM in Economics, Miscellaneous | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6)

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