Last year in June we bought two turkey poults to raise as our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. They were Bourbon Reds, and that means they are a heritage breed. Heritage turkeys, we found out later, take much longer to grow into butchering size, because they spend the most part of their first year just developing bone structure. When we butchered the Tom we found he was way too small to use for Thanksgiving, so, we decided to let the hen continue to grow until she was at a mature size. She got along fine with our chickens, so, we just let her roost with them and for the most part they all lived together in harmony through the long cold winter.
Then Spring came along, and some of my hens went broody. That means they want to raise a clutch of eggs, hatch them and raise the babies. Since we don't have a rooster they really couldn't do that, which was frustrating for them, and annoying for us due to the wacky behavior they go through and the constant monopolizing of the nesting boxes. Add to that the fact that they stop laying eggs during the broody period and it's just not something we want them doing for very long.
Our hen turkey, Kris, had been laying eggs since January, and they were huge and delicious, but, she also went broody around the first part of April, and stopped laying, too. She just laid on the floor of the coop, or took over a nesting basket, not letting any of the chickens near her. So, I decided maybe this year, instead of getting a couple of poults we could get some fertilized turkey eggs and see if she would hatch them out. After all, having a hen raise her own chicks is so much easier, and more natural for them, and means I won't have to have baby turkeys in the garage again. The hen takes care of them, teaches them to eat (remember turkeys can have a tendency to starve themselves to death when they are stressed), and protect them from predators and the chickens. So, I contacted a local turkey farmer and bought four eggs. She sent six, as she had an over abundance, and the odds of all of them hatching out were only about 50% at best. I really only wanted two poults, so, I was okay with those odds. The new turkeys will be broad breasted bronze turkeys, which grow very fast, and are at butchering weight in a matter of months. So, they will be ready just as fall gets here.
One egg went awol the first day, possibly pushed away and buried by Kris due to being a dud. She sat contentedly on the other five for 28 days, and then, like clockwork, they started hatching out one at a time. Of the five eggs, we got three poults and two duds.
Kris was such a good mama. She took good care of her babies, and was so gentle with them. We ended up moving them all to their own new home we created out of the old turkey playhouse she and Hank the tom had shared last year, enclosed in the old chicken run. This kept her and the babies safe from neighboring cats, racoons (haven't seen one but I know they live around here), and our dogs, not to mention the chickens. Our hen, Pipi was broody at the time and would go after Kris when I let her out to stretch her legs, so, I had to keep them separated. Before the eggs hatched I would get Kris up and out once or twice a day to stretch, poop, eat, drink, and take a dirt bath. After they hatched she refused to leave them and even when forced would only be out long enough to poop and then wanted right back in.
Such a good mama.
I was gratified to watch the babies spend less and less time under their mom and more time exploring their new world. If they had been raised in a brooder they would have needed a heat source and that means either a dangerous, fire hazard heat lamp or a brooder contraption (I have a Brinsea brooder). With Kris, they feathered out sooner, and needed to be under her only for short periods once they were fully dry.
They've grown quite a bit in the three weeks since they were hatched, and are happy, playful little things. Kris is very protective, but, not mean about it. She just keeps a wary eye on them and only puffs up and charges the dogs when they get too close to her enclosure. She lets all of us interact with her and her poults, so, I'm considering keeping her for another round of poults for next year. Haven't made up my mind yet.
For now, everybody is happy, and even though I told the kids not to name the poults, they did anyway. We have chestnut, snowflake, and mistletoe. I just call them the poults. After all. I am the one that will have to take their heads off when the time comes. Don't want to get too attached.
It's officially summer here on our little semi rural homestead. The temps are pushing 100 degrees and that means the growing season has arrived. Our garden spots have evolved, but, not all in the way I wanted them to. We created a new garden spot more to the back center of the yard, and widened and lengthened the old garden spot, but, in choosing to put the kids swimming pool in a level location that won't destroy any more grass, we chose to use part of the old garden. So, that means we cut our growing area in the spot by half. Good thing we added the new spot.
We had to rent a sod cutter and a rototiller to break the new spot. That was a God send idea, because what would have been horribly back breaking work that would have taken a week or more given our work schedules, it ended up only taking a few hours. We broke the cut strips of sod in to sections and used them to edge the fence all around the yard to fill gaps and make it less interesting for the chickens to dig so they don't find there way into the neighbors yards. Some of the sod was laid along either side of our front sidewalk where the previous owners had removed sod to put some kind of border or some such thing in and then never did. We never wanted a border there, so, it was just a dip all along the sidewalk that filled in perfectly with the cut sod.
I let the chickens play in the newly tilled dirt all they wanted. They repaid me by fertilizing the entire area. They also took lovely dirt baths in the side garden and fertilized it, too. Once I was ready to plant the new spot I surrounded it with a temporary chicken wire fence. I was pretty surprised that the chickens respected the fence and never tried to get under it. Typically, chickens will not try to hop over a fence that is taller than they are unless it has a solid top. They like to hop first onto the fence and then to the other side, but, if they don't see a place to hop onto they just won't try.
I asked my neighbors if any of them had branches or stems they were getting rid of. Since it was spring cleaning time a lot of people prune trees, pull out shrubs and the like, and one of our neighbors was glad to be rid of the pile of prunings they had on their driveway. My plan was to create a waddled fence around the new garden spot, and it's coming together nicely.
For months I've been bringing home shredded paper from the office with the thinking I could use it as bedding for the chickens, but, they prefer the pine shavings, so, other than putting some in their nesting boxes, I didn't really use it. Then, I had the idea to spread a bunch of it on the area we were going to till up for the new garden, thinking it would stop the grass from growing, which would have worked if I had topped it with cardboard, but, since I didn't all it did was slow down the grass growth. So, I raked it all up into a pile with the dead leaves under the trees behind the garden spot, and the chickens loved climbing it and digging through it. After a few weeks they had it turned into a nice mulch, which I now use between the rows in the garden and around the tomato plants to hold in moisture and slow down weed growth. It also makes a nice pathway that doesn't get muddy and yucky, with the added benefit of being white and kind of snow like.
I planted the tomatoes and peppers I grew from seed, and the sweet potato slips I grew from a single sweet potato. I also planted some russet potatoes. The onions I grew from seed didn't transplant well, so, I got a bunch of sets and put those in. Some volunteer cilantro from last year came up, and I'm letting that do it's thing. I also put in parsleys, green beans, peppers, cabbages, and chives. It's all growing like mad. In the old garden spot I still haven't put anything in, but, a ton of volunteer potato plants came up, and are starting to set potatoes, so, I'm leaving them there. I also have a lovely patch of purslane growing all through that spot, and I'm leaving that, too.
Once upon a time, this time last year to be exact, we were in the beginnings of our journey raising chickens. We had our first little group of chickens just starting to lay eggs, and had gotten a few others to add to that flock that were just a few weeks old. The coop we were using was an old playhouse that we converted for the chickens, and it worked fine for a while, but, it was impossibly difficult to clean and the fighting we knew would happen when we tried to cram a few more into the limited roosting space was just not what we wanted for our littles, so, the plan for a new, bigger, better coop was "hatched". See what I did there?
Now, almost a year later, and with many steps along the way, the girls are enjoying a wonderful, large, roomy coop, and we are enjoying being able to walk inside, clean it without having to stoop or bend or strain, and we have extra storage space to boot.
The progression was slow for the first few months, but, by Thanksgiving the girls were in, and we just worked on it from there to finish the inside. it now holds the chickens in the back portion, with a storage space over top of them, and then storage for all their stuff and my Christmas decorations (well some of them) in the front section. It's all divided by a chicken wire wall and a storm door to allow for maximum ventilation. There are three windows, two in the coop area on opposite sides, and one in the storage area. The eaves are open for ventilation, but, there is no draftiness inside. We put two large, 8 foot long roosting bars and graduated heights, and then one 6 foot roosting bar on an angle at one end (that was for our turkey hen, because she likes to be with the chickens but is too big to fit on their roosts). All the roosts are 2x4's to allow the chickens to tuck their feet under them in the winter. There are curtains on the windows that I tie back in the summer, but, make great draft breaks in the winter. The is a large droppings board which also serves as a jumping down point to allow the chickens to get down in stages rather than having to jump all the way down from their roosts. Tim installed a second platform on one end that is about a foot lower than the droppings board. The girls hop onto that as their last step to the floor. The nesting boxes are still on the floor, which is what our chickens prefer, but, I do plan to gradually move them to their own exterior mounted nesting areas on the back of the coop.
And this is the almost finished product as it looks today.
All it needs is the new run to be built, which is going to be twice as long and much sturdier than the one they used to have. The roof of the run will be beamed and planked for snow and rain run off, and the inside will have lots of different high and low roosts for them to climb on. There will be rock paths and logs to play on, and a wind break on the back. It will be about eight feet tall to allow for easy cleaning and maximum roosting spaces so nobody feels cramped or unable to get away from a bully or broody hen. The whole thing will be eight feet deep and 18 feet long. We aren't in a huge rush but the plan is to have it complete and ready for the fall weather, so, that gives us the summer to build it.
A local greenhouse had a bunch of old, weathered cedar posts they were getting rid of. They had them just piled up with a bunch of various length 2x4's and 4x6's, waiting to burn them, and we offered to haul them away. They gladly agreed, and said we could take whatever we wanted and just leave what we can't use. So, now we have enough lumber and posts to build a solid run, and a pergola on the back of the house, which is the other big summer project.
It's going to be a busy season.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 32 years, Latter Day Saint, and 911 Dispatcher and a budding homesteader. Come along with me as I journey toward self sufficiency, one baby step at a time.
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