Not on the menu: Butterball rules the roost at Fort Mohave home

November 22, 2018

FORT MOHAVE — While many Americans eat turkey that comes into homes encased in the wrapping of a well-known product brand, there was no doubt a local turkey named Butterball would be alive to enjoy the holiday.

Jena Morga and her husband, Marco, share their home on an acre of land with an array of fowl. Along with Butterball, a handsome 25-pound tom turkey, there’s a goose, a duck, some turkens (the result of crossing turkeys with chickens) and chickens.

Jena, known in the community as the director of marketing at Western Arizona Regional Medical Center, is the turkey’s favorite human.

And she admitted that she loves him, too.

“The post office called to tell me I had a package that I had to pick up right away,” she said, remembering more than a decade ago collecting a container of more than 20 baby chicks, including Butterball and some of the other fowl still living in the backyard.

Her future son-in-law, Jeff Mangum, sent them as a joke.

“Jeff thought he was being real funny,” she said. “But he had to build me a coop.”

Today, she smiles when she claims the feathered menagerie served as the dowry provided by Mangum to marry the Morga’s daughter, Sarah.

Jena admitted she knew virtually nothing about raising fowl but began looking into how to best care for them. She learned what equipment was necessary for the baby chicks to thrive, but already heard there was a way to ensure that the animals would be domesticated.

“I knew to hold them a lot so they would be tame,” she said.

So that’s what she did.

Initially planning to eat the birds, they gave most of the chicks names of people they disliked to discourage emotional attachment. Her children chose the names of past love interests they strongly detested, for example. The birds, however, became like members of the family so they were saved from being the primary ingredients in soups, sandwiches and Sunday dinners.

Some of the females lay small, picture-perfect eggs.

“Every day is like Easter in our backyard,” she said.

The backyard eggs are of the same quality as pricey free-range eggs at the grocery store. The birds have a similar diet and consume plenty of grass, Morga said.

Some of the original birds flew off to the great beyond and were replaced over the years. Butterball almost made that same journey after being attacked by a stray dog that came into the yard. It was thought the turkey wasn’t going to survive but he somehow managed to pull through and has no visible scars or bald patches.

“He loves me,” Morga said of Butterball. “He marches along with me wherever I go.”

The family member Butterball seems to dislike most is Marco. He sneaks into the backyard to avoid upsetting the turkey. One time, Butterball jumped up on Marco’s shoulders and began using his wings to beat him about the head and shoulders, an incident that left Jena bent over in hysterics, she said.

Butterball has shown his dislike for Marco in various other ways in hopes of making him leave, Jena said.

The bird “has that little bit of devil in him,” she said with a laugh.

That bad-boy charm might be why the duck and goose hang around with Butterball and compose a sort of barnyard clique.

Even though Jena said Butterball is the smartest bird they own and has talent for “conniving,” the jealous turkey hasn’t devised a successful plan to send Marco packing.

The strutting bird isn’t a big fan of any men — human or animal — and tries to make sure he’s the only guy monopolizing Jena’s attention.

The family will be celebrating Thanksgiving with turkey enchiladas. The main ingredient isn’t any bird they all know but it helps not to see the juicy turkey meat.

“It’s so we don’t know it’s turkey,” she said.

But the feathered family members are involved in a Thanksgiving tradition that doesn’t involve food. In a form of freeze tag, the human Morgas go out into the backyard and stand perfectly still while the fowl strut among them.

It requires a gift for remaining very still because the birds quickly want to touch or even go after someone they see make a move. When someone is touched or attacked they are out.

The person who remains untouched is declared the winner.

“There’s no prize except bragging rights,” Jena said.

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