Talking Turkey

While I grew up on a farm, it wasn’t until after I started farming as an adult that I realized how many phrases in our everyday language have their roots in farming.

Money management can be a harrowing experience, but we are told by investment companies not to put all our eggs in one basket.

Sage advice tells us not to count our chickens before they hatch. And having horse sense is actually a good thing.

If you plant a seed in someone’s mind, you hope it will take root and eventually bear fruit.

Then there are the terms used to describe personality traits. Being persistent is OK, but to be bull-headed or pig-headed isn’t much of a compliment.

To be chicken is to be a coward; to be a silly goose is … well, to be very silly. As for being a turkey … let’s just say that it is more of an insult than I first thought.

Turkeys are not very smart, judging by their actions. I have seen them hunkered down in the pouring rain five feet away from a dry, warm shed.

If they had been geese, this wouldn’t be that big a deal. But when turkeys get overly wet, they can get sick.

And being prey animals, they don’t really show they are sick until they are dead or dying, which is very hard to treat.

A couple of phrases that come to mind while I am doing chores apply directly to our pigs.

When the food is put into their trough, they all rush and push to get to it. Nothing orderly about their mealtimes.

If a pig wants to claim more than it can eat quickly, it will stand in the trough with its body over the feed so another pig can’t eat there – all the while pushing the ones standing next to it, trying to claim even more food.

When a bigger pig pushes aside a smaller one, I have been known to tell them not to hog it all, or that they are pigging out.

Then there is happy as a pig in mud – which describes pigs in the summer, cooling off in mud because they can’t sweat out their excess heat.

A dog in the manger is someone who prevents another from taking or having something, even though they have no intention of using it themselves.

A manger is where feed, usually hay, is put for cattle or sheep. Having a dog in the manger prevents the animal from eating, but the dog won’t eat the hay, either.

The term cut and dried most likely comes from a time when the harvest of grains and hay was all cut by hand and then dried in the field.

Once all cut and dried, it was a simple task to deal with. Getting it to this state can be more difficult if there are fall rains at the wrong time.

If a young sprout takes after his or her parents, we comment that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

And people who may be past their prime, or are neglecting their appearance, are said to be going to seed.

Acting sheepishly suggests a sense of shame or embarrassment, but beingmad as a wet hen implies a loud, irrational emotion.

Being a mother hen describes a very protective mother. Being broody orbrooding over something is similar to when a chicken will sit on a clutch of eggs, incubating them until they hatch.

With this term, however, I am not sure whether the human behaviour was later applied to a chicken, or the human description came from a broody hen.

It’s a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

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