Friday, May 22, 2009

Turkey surprise

No, it's not a recipe. It's nine turkey poults hatched by a very smart slate mama turkey who decided to hide her nest in the barn. It's been years since one of our turkeys did this, which is why we decided to try hatching eggs in the incubator this year. Usually they make nests all over the woods and pasture, and they wind up being eaten by coyotes. But this smart mama made her nest in the barn. We never saw it until yesterday when Mike discovered the mama and her babies. They look like all purebred slates and lavenders, which is even more exciting because they're a rare breed. The slate mama and the lavender tom live in the chicken house, but they're perfectly free to fly over the fence and mate with the turkeys that live in the middle pasture.

What's a slate and lavender? A lavender has two blue genes, and a slate has a blue gene and a black gene. The mama is a slate because she has black spots. Our tom has no black spots. If you breed two slates, you will get 25% solid black (2 black genes), 25% lavender (2 blue genes), and 50% slate (1 black and 1 blue gene). You can imagine my surprise when we hatched our first slate turkeys and saw black poults popping out of the eggs! So, if you don't want any black turkeys, you need to have a lavender tom, since he has no black genes to pass on to the babies. Half of these will be slate and half will be lavender, since the hen can pass on a black or blue gene, but the gobbler can only pass on a blue gene. (Note: some people call the lavenders "self-blue," so you may also see this term when referring to a turkey with two blue genes.)

When we ordered slate turkeys from hatcheries, the lavender ones didn't seem to be the healthiest, so it will be interesting to see if these are healthier since they have not had the added stress of being shipped at a day old. Typically, we have 100% survival of home-hatched poults.

Our five incubator poults are doing great. They're chirping in their box behind me. We need to get a stall cleaned out in the barn, so we can move them out there, where they'll live under a heat lamp until they're feathered out and can go outside.


Anonymous said...

I just love the study of genetics. Congrats on the 'natural' chicks.

Mom L said...

Lavender Tom - sounds like a song! I've never seen baby turkeys, so look forward to more photos!

Nancy in Atlanta

Anonymous said...

Very neat! Beautiful poults! So what is a good meat turkey out of the breeds you have tried? Taste-wise and survival-wise?

Lisa French

Deborah said...

I enjoy the meat from all the heritage breeds, which are defined as breeds that can fly and mate naturally. Grocery store turkeys are broad-breasted and are all the result of artificial insemination. We've raised some from hatcheries in the past, but their legs often blow out because they can't support their own weight -- even when fed an organic diet.

People who like dark meat especially love the heritage breeds -- it's the color of milk chocolate! A number of taste tests have been done, and heritage always beat broad-breasted, but the heritage winner changes. I've heard of bourbon red winning some and Narragansett winning some. Slates and lavenders are not usually in those contests because they are so rare. The bigger heritage turkey farms raise bronze and bourbon reds.

As for survival, the heritage all do extremely well except for the lavenders, but I am hoping they'll do better since they are home hatched this time. The stress of shipping is really much harder on turkeys than on chicks.

SkippyMom said...

What a lovely surprise. They are so cute! Smart Momma :). I hope they thrive. I can't wait to see when they get bigger.

Will these be sold at Thanksgiving or will you keep them for your family? [Excuse me for asking, but I could eat turkey once a week, year round as we did at my Grandmother's when I was growing up. Yum!]

Deborah said...

We will keep 5-6 turkeys for ourselves and sell the rest. At this point, we only have 14, so if we didn't get any more, I'd probably keep all of these for either eating or breeding. I will probably keep a couple of the slate or lavender females for breeding, since they're my favorite. I used to say that I wanted to keep about 12 for us, so we could have turkey once a month, but I don't cook it that often, and we wind up with a couple still in the freezer from last year as fall approaches.

Nancy K. said...

What a pretty Turkey! Please keep us posted with photos of the growing babies.

melanie said...

They're gorgeous! I am so jealous. We have been dealing with incubator and stupid human issues for the last three months - and no turkeys yet!

Deborah said...

I'm glad everyone thinks the slate mama is so pretty. I just love this color! It will be fun to see the babies grow up.

Tammy W. said...

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