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The Paycheck Whisperer: Thiner in fourth year of raising Worthington’s racing bird

BREWSTER -- In 2014, when Worthington's Paycheck Race Team was desperate to find a turkey they could chase down 10th Street during the annual Great Gobbler Gallop, it discovered Mike Thiner's secret flock of Bronze beauties.

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Mike Thiner holds one of the Bronze hen turkeys he is raising on a rural Brewster farm. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

BREWSTER - In 2014, when Worthington’s Paycheck Race Team was desperate to find a turkey they could chase down 10th Street during the annual Great Gobbler Gallop, it discovered Mike Thiner’s secret flock of Bronze beauties.

Hidden on a rural Brewster farm amid Bantam chickens, some squealing pigs and a smattering of pheasants, the team settled on an old hen that was molting at the time.

“The thing didn’t want to run and it was so tame that it went up to the kids to be petted,” Thiner recalled. He said the two-block race seemed to take nine minutes before Paycheck crossed the finish line. In reality, Paycheck’s time was 1 minute, 47.17 seconds - just six seconds behind his opponent, Ruby Begonia of Cuero, Texas.

During the second heat, Ruby bested Paycheck by more than a minute at Cuero’s TurkeyFest, and Ruby and her Texas town garnered the Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph.

That was the last time Cuero has earned the right to call itself the Turkey Capital of the Year.

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By 2015, Thiner was better prepared to supply a fit and spry turkey for the annual race. He purchased one and a half day-old poults from the local Runnings store - the Bronze breed which resembles the coloring of a wild turkey - and put them in a galvanized cattle tank he kept in his garage in Brewster.

When the birds began flying out or “smelling so bad,” Thiner took them to a top-secret farmyard where they could roam the lawn, peck at the grass and fight over the apples that fell from the trees.

It’s a system that’s worked well for the past three years, judging by the string of wins for the hometown team.

But this year, a big problem arose when the turkeys were about two months old.

“A mink or weasel got in there (the pen) and killed them all and got 12 laying hens,” Thiner said, still disgusted because after he set traps he caught raccoons, skunks, opossums and even a fox, but never the critter that killed his birds.

With coyotes roaming around as well, Thiner is no longer able to let the birds roam unsupervised, and certainly not after dark.

While a new batch of turkeys was quickly purchased, they’re only about four months old - two months younger than the Paycheck of recent races. So, Thiner headed east on I-90 to another Minnesota farm with turkeys and brought back a pair of Narragansett toms.

The feathering on the birds boasts a lighter brown coloring and more white than the Bronze turkey. It may well be the first Narragansett to run in King Turkey Day’s beloved race.

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“He really is a pretty turkey,” Thiner said, adding that the bird is quick on his feet and flies low. “He doesn’t like to be chased.”

While last year’s Paycheck ran right to Thiner at the finish line of the Great Gobbler Gallop - garnering Thiner the nickname of the “Paycheck Whisperer” - he isn’t so confident this year’s turkey will do the same.

So, if Paycheck veers off course and ends up in the crowd, the hometown folks will be counted on to keep him close to the race track. After all, Thiner has a winning streak to uphold.

His new Narragansetts are breeding males, and Thiner has already hatched 17 poults in his incubator since the toms arrived on the farm. He’s hopeful next year’s Paycheck will be a late winter hatch from one of his Bronze hens.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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