Barn Buddies: When Hercules Lays An Egg

by | 11.11.2016 | 5:19pm
Hercules settles down for an afternoon nap with a friend. Kristin Mulhall Photo

When California trainer Kristin Mulhall made a weekly trip to her local feed store to pick up hay for her string of racehorses, she used to pass by a pen of 27 baby turkeys. She grew accustomed to seeing one bird standing out from the rest, looking for attention. Each Saturday, she'd stop and play with the turkey until one weekend, the friendly turkey was the only one left in the pen. Mulhall hated the idea her little feed store friend would soon become someone's dinner, so she named the bird Hercules and loaded it up in her truck.

And that is how one ends up with a ‘barn turkey' at Santa Anita Park.

Seven months later, Mulhall discovered Hercules was, in fact, female when the bird laid a large brown speckled egg in the shedrow. (There are no immediate plans to change the bird's epic name to ‘Herculeah' or similar.)

Other than that initial miscommunication, Hercules and Mulhall seem to understand each other just fine. Hercules has adapted well to life as a barn turkey, rising to supervise/participate in soundness jogs first thing in the morning and settling for a midday nap under horses' haynets or inside their stalls after they have cooled out.

“All the horses love her,” said Mulhall. “They don't bother her at all.”

Hercules the turkey Kristin Mulhall Photo

Hercules the turkey Kristin Mulhall Photo

Hercules accepts nuzzles from whichever horse she's napping next to and horses gently sniff at her with interest. On post-Breeders' Cup Sunday, her bunk buddy was Mulhall trainee Black Tie ‘n Tails. She waited for the gelding to pull several strands out of his haynet and made a comfortable nest underneath, ignoring stems he continued to drop on her head as she dozed.

The resident barn cat and barn goat have welcomed Hercules to the string with no animosity, although a rooster from a neighboring barn was decidedly less pleased to see her. He occasionally came by to instigate feather-plucking arguments with Hercules and chased Mulhall out of the barn aisle with his spurs one day when she tried to shoo him home. Luckily, he eventually found a new home at a nearby farm with one of Mulhall's exercise riders.

As part of her duties as a barn turkey, Hercules seems to understand she has a responsibility to stay in the barn area. She made the journey to Del Mar this summer in a cat carrier (she was much smaller then) and adjusted to life in the new shedrow quickly. Now she's bigger, Mulhall said Hercules often waits for the racehorses to go down for their afternoon naps and settles in the stalls with them.

“Half the time we can't find her in the afternoon,” said Mulhall, who often discovers the bird in a stall. “It scares the crap out of me, because I'm always afraid she's going to get stepped on when they get up.”

So far, so good. Hercules doesn't seem to have a favorite horse, but there is one horse in the barn who is a big fan of hers. Mulhall had gotten one of her fillies a goat to settle her nerves in the stall, but the plan backfired when the horse attacked the goat instead. (The goat, she said, was rescued before any serious damage was done and is none the worse for wear.) Hercules strutted in one day before anyone could stop her, and the filly took to the bird instantly.

“She's kind of spoiled,” said Mulhall. “She loves little kids. If she sees a little kid, she'll get up and follow them all around. She goes right to their feet and just stand there, like she thinks she's protecting them.

“They say turkeys make really good watch birds, like guard dogs, almost. They get to know everybody in the barn, and then they chase everybody else out.”

Whether Hercules takes on the security guard role for the barn remains to be seen, but for now she's pulling her weight as a calming influence. And, Mulhall added, those eggs are pretty good, too.

  • Bob Blake

    just great!

  • Quilla

    Love this series!

  • beachdoode

    Very Cool indeed !!….

  • tbpartner43

    Best story yet!!!

  • Mark E Gory

    I can’t
    believe they can be on the back side !

  • Bev

    This article made my day! Was great! :)

  • MA

    Now that’s different!

  • Erin Casseday

    That is awesome!

  • Tinky

    Nice change of pace! Better keep her under watch around Thanksgiving, though…

    • cgriff

      That was my very first thought after “what a great story!” I still remember the less than happy ending for the barn duck a few installments back.

    • OopsyDaisy3

      I had started my Thanksgiving Dinner list for groceries. After reading this article, I have just now scratched (pardon the pun) through ‘ turkey’ and replaced it with 2 chicken littles!! Oh no, i mean 1 large tough rooster !!! : ) Linda

  • Larry Ensor

    She should be glad that it turned out to be a hen and not a gobbler. Ours turned out to be the latter at our farm barn. He could be real mean and unpredictable at times. Attack people depending on mood. Very progressive of the hens (chickens). Never bothered the horses but never had any interest in them either. But was entertaining at times. Especially when he would try and have his way with a ball or football. We had a “paper boy” who was fascinated by him. When we were selling the farm he asked my mother if he could have him. Absolutely. He tried to return him not long after. My mother told him no refunds, no returns.

  • pachyderm

    have a friend that got a goat to calm his filly in the barn and the mexican’s ate him.

    • Ida Lee

      I hate myself for laughing so hard ….

      • pachyderm

        sad but it’s no joke.

      • Jbumi

        Now you’re talking turkey!!! 😜

      • artistinwax

        Started laughing at you laughing and my cat jumped on me purring loudly and I almost fell out of my chair!!

        • Ida Lee

          LOL….LOL….LOL….please stop people….my husband looked at me funny when he asked what I was laughing at and showed him the comment on the ill-fated goat and your kitty …. said he: isn’t this a horse blog? …. LOL …. hysteria is setting in ….

          • artistinwax

            Ida, the cat is a little over 15 pounds and when he launches from a silent crouch you can’t hear him coming. I laugh at him a lot … he is a clown … and he thought I was laughing at him. That pleases him to no end and he launched for his obligatory pet. Tears are streaming down my face over laughing too hard!

          • Ida Lee

            Funnnnnny …. I had the meanest and let’s just say, pleasantly plump black cat ever….one morning I called him fat and he gave me a dirty look…later in the day, he walked in front of me and as he passed, he took a flying leap, bit my arm, gave me a contemptuous look and kept walking…. I apologized for calling him fat …

          • artistinwax

            I swear they can read our minds. That goes for horses too. They are so sensitive to how I am feeling that I am amazed. And, my cat looks like a cartoon version of Mr. Atlas. Wide at the shoulder, narrow at the hip, and not one ounce of anything but muscle. He struts like a prize fighter and is all man! Funny too when he clowns around. And he is black also! Apologizing for what you said to your cat was necessary to keep life in your house livable I am sure! They remember every slight!

  • Marilyn Shively

    Love this story

  • Delrene

    Just love this story. I hope “Herculeah”/ aka Hercules has a wonderful Thanksgiving with her barn buddies. Beautiful horse too in the video

  • Audrey Gulla

    There are so many kind people out there: Lucky Hercules to be ‘found’ by one. I hope she has a long life @ the barn. Greyt story. Thanks.

  • rockybudgeboa

    She is so precious

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