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.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 37 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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