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THURSDAY, MAY 17, 2007
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Mark Gilreath with his turkey, Philadelphia, at his home on Friendship Road. The bird is fond of car rides, and when she was younger, she'd ride on his shoulder. She is also the sole survivor of a clutch of 60 eggs.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Mark Gilreath with his turkey, Philadelphia, at his home on Friendship Road. The bird is fond of car rides, and when she was younger, she'd ride on his shoulder. She is also the sole survivor of a clutch of 60 eggs.

Flock gets best
of everything

Postal clerks deliver for chicks,
turkeys at Somerville home

SOMERVILLE — Mark Gilreath and Ginger Sebright live here off Alabama 67 on a stretch of asphalt called Friendship Road.

For the animals and the fowl they keep, no other name could be more appropriate.

In the backyard of their 4-acre spread, tucked among towering pines and ringed by thick woodland, the Decatur post office clerks deliver special packages to their corral every day, free of charge and sealed with love.

If Peggy Brown, an Americana rooster, could string his shrill crowing into words, he’d just say “thank you” for genuine friendship. Yes, for the record, Peggy is a male.

Gentle

Despite dart-like spurs that could puncture the hide of a rhino, “He’s as gentle as she can be,” Gilreath says.

“We didn’t know what he was when we named her.”

Steve, a Polish chicken the couple named for postal carrier Steve Hood, and Merle, a Cochin — an Asiatic breed with feathered legs — would agree with Peggy’s assessment.

So would Brumey, a white leghorn, and Ray Kidd, a black Australian Australop rooster “who’s so black he’s green,” along with the Bud girls, five Rhode Island reds named for the chicks in the Budweiser beer commercials “because they’re always dressed in red.”

But a turkey named Philadelphia for Sebright’s Pennsylvania roots gobbles the most expressive praises for food and love and safety. Gilreath says she is the only “really trained” fowl in the barnyard.

“She’s a character,” Gilreath says. “When she was younger and smaller, she’d sit on my shoulder anywhere I went, walking or driving. She’s always ready to ride. When I open the truck door, she’ll hop in.”

Phil knows about struggles, too. From a clutch of about 60 eggs, she is the lone survivor.

Infantcide

“We had two mamas laying the eggs,” Gilreath says. “As the clutch hatched out two days before Christmas, either jealously or their drive to become the dominant mother caused them to kill the babies. When I got to them, it was all over, except for Phil. So sad. I took them away Christmas Day. And since she didn’t have other turkeys to grow up with, Phil is more human than anything else.”

Gilreath and Sebright offer the best to their flock.

“Nobody has to fight for food or water,” he said. “We give them the best of everything, and we gather the best eggs in return.”

Gilreath “hammed up” a storage shed into a barn for the chickens, and installed air-conditioning and heat, an automatic water trough and a gravity feeder.

The turkeys live next door in a pen but are free to come in and out of their section of the barn that Gilreath wired off because they can’t live together. The chickens have their doggie-type door on the other side.

Great horned owl

Still, outside dangers lurk, like the great horned owl that took over the loft of the barn before Gilreath sealed if off and made a meal of baby chicks.

“I didn’t know what all the commotion was about before I went down early that morning and opened the doors,” Gilreath said. “There she sat with the remains of the chicks behind her. Owls eat only the necks and heads.

“And she was one mean owl, too, her claws dug into the rafters, daring someone to make her leave. I tried to get her out with a broom, but that didn’t work. They can’t stand noise, so Ginger and I got on either side of the barn and beat pots and pans together. She finally flew out, but the damage was done.”

Hawks

Then there are the red-tailed hawks that swoop down for their prey.

Gilreath said Decatur attorney Milton Yarbrough gave the couple two sets of silkies, some five-toed, some seven-toed, with black skin and white furry hair.

After losing three silkies to a hawk, Gilreath built a pen for them and placed two metal houses inside the wire, side by side, one for two goats.

“The theory is that red-tailed hawks won’t come down and try to get the goats and hopefully won’t bother the silkies anymore because they’re so close by,” he said. “So far, it’s worked. The goats go into their house, the silkies into theirs. Chickens roost in the same spot every night.”

Outdoor life

Gilreath and Sebright have long had a fascination for the outdoor life. Gilreath said growing up in Birmingham, he always liked farm animals and the idea of farming, but didn’t have the opportunity to raise animals or plow a big garden until moving here.

As the day drew to a close and one of the goats fell asleep in Sebright’s arms, she talked about raising chickens as a teenager in Red Line, Pa., a role to which she heartily returned.

She and Gilreath began pulling a flock together in February 2005 by ordering a box of 25 chickens from a hatchery in Webster City, Iowa.

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Ronnie Thomas
Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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