Cuddle a Turkey This Thanksgiving Instead of Eating One, the Gentle Barn Says

Nov 6, 2018 at 6:17 am
It's like that.
Ellie Laks first cuddled a turkey because the turkey insisted on it. The turkey followed her around. She chattered. And she just kept chattering. "I started thinking she was trying to tell me something," Laks says.

Then the turkey took matters into her own hands: She crawled into Laks' lap and, comforted, promptly fell asleep.

"Since that day, we have been cuddling our girl turkeys," Laks says.

Laks is the founder of the Gentle Barn, an animal rescue that houses everything from cats and dogs to pigs, sheep and, yes, turkeys. Originally founded in California nineteen years ago, the Gentle Barn has expanded to Tennessee and, last year, Dittmer, Missouri — a 45-minute drive southwest of St. Louis, where Laks grew up.

That Midwest expansion means that you could cuddle a turkey this November — and also spend your Thanksgiving day feeding turkeys rather than eating them.

Each year, Laks says, the Gentle Barn hosts a gourmet vegan dinner on Thanksgiving. The one in Los Angeles draws 300 people from all over the world. And while the Missouri event is expected to be much smaller, it will have the same hoopla: plant-based food, a drum circle and a bonfire. "It's the most wonderful, joyous event of the year," Laks says. (For tickets, see the Gentle Barn's web site.)

Ellie Laks and a cuddly — yes, really! — friend. - COURTESY OF THE GENTLE BARN
Ellie Laks and a cuddly — yes, really! — friend.

And yes, there will be turkey cuddling — both on Thanksgiving and any day the Gentle Barn is open to the public (basically every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The Dittmer location has eight turkeys, and all of females are into it, Laks says.

Not so the males. "Male turkeys like to show off," she says, laughing. "They're like, 'Don't touch me, but tell me I'm handsome.' The gals are the ones that want to talk and cuddle."

And they're perfectly happy, Laks insists, to do it for hours — both domestic turkeys and even the wild turkeys who've made the Dittmer acreage their home.

"These are very unique conditions we have there," she says. "In most of the world, turkeys are not given the opportunity to be cuddle turkeys. But they're just like cats or dogs or people. Under the right conditions, they blossom."

The right conditions, in this case, include an annual gourmet feast. Gentle Barn tradition holds that turkeys are given a host of options to try in the week before Thanksgiving, from various pies to popcorn. Whatever they seem most interested in is what they're fed during the feast. "We're very excited to see what they'll choose," Laks says.

And if the whole thing — from cuddling fowl to feeding them on the very day they're traditionally eaten — seems a bit too California for Dittmer, Missouri, Laks has a gentle admonition befitting her Gentle Barn. "Don't knock it until you try it," she says.

Cuddle a Turkey This Thanksgiving Instead of Eating One, the Gentle Barn Says
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