Friday, September 10, 2010

Orphaned turkeys

It's not the big things in life that really stick with you sometimes. Little things can really get to you. And this would be one of those times.

Thursday afternoon I was walking from the barn to the house, and I saw three young poults pecking at the grass, but where was their mama? As I continued walking, I thought I'd see her behind some bushes. No, she wasn't behind the bushes. She wasn't behind the weeds. She wasn't across the lawn. I found myself circling around the poults, wondering where the mama turkey had gone. The three babies were sticking together foraging for food, just as I'd seen them doing for the three short weeks since they were hatched. But, there was no turkey mama.

"Mike!" I yelled across the yard to where he was putting together a movable turkey pen in front of the barn. "These baby turkeys don't seem to have their mama with them. Have you seen her?"

"No, they were wandering around by themselves this morning."

I remembered that every night she would snuggle up with the poults in the tall weeds next to the squash patch, so I walked over there to see if I could find her. The odd assortment of weeds were four to five feet tall, and as I moved them aside from the place I'd seen her last night, I gasped. Her long neck was stretched out on the ground in front of her body with her head laying on its side. One of her wings was fanned out unnaturally.

"Oh, no!" I gasped. "She's dead! I found her -- the mama turkey -- she's dead."

Mike came running over. He lifted her limp body and turned her over. One leg was stripped of meat, and the breast was bruised. What could have done this? We had no idea. The area is fenced, so it would have to be something fairly small to fit between the pickets across the front of our property. Our guard dog has been staying in this area almost all the time lately. Perhaps that's why she was not completely eaten?

"The babies! We have to catch the babies!" I screamed towards the house, "Jonathan! Jonathan! Come quick!" With the cooler days we've been having, the windows were all open, so I knew he would hear me. He stuck his head out the door. I called, "This mama turkey is dead. We have to catch the babies. I just saw them run into that flower bed. We have to catch them now!"

We forgot about the dead turkey laying in the grass as Mike, Jonathan, and I circled the flower bed in the middle of our front yard. The poults were hiding amongst the spent gladiolas, nasturtiums, and feverfew plants. Jonathan quickly snagged two of them, but the third proved to be a challenge. He ran from the flower bed into a patch of weeds around two hickory trees. I took the two poults from Jonathan and put them in a little dog crate in the barn. The three of us then spent fifteen minutes searching flower beds and weed patches trying to find the third one. Finally, I decided to bring the little dog crate into the yard, hoping the poults' chirping would attract the third one. It worked! Within five minutes, the last baby came running from the weeds near the hickories. He ran right past the chirping siblings in the dog crate and into the weeds next to the squash patch.

Finding a baby bird the size of a baseball in that patch of weeds would be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, so I suggested that Mike start pulling weeds in the area where we thought the poult had run. Remember, they're four to five feet tall. We were seeing and hearing nothing. Thirty minutes into our turkey rescue mission, we still had only the first two babies. I moved them closer to the tall weeds, but still sitting in the middle of an open area of cut lawn, and I went inside the house. I kept looking outside every few minutes, and about twenty minutes later, I finally saw the lone poult circling the little dog crate.

"Jonathan," I called to my son in the kitchen. "He's back!" We quickly came up with a plan for catching him, and we headed outside. We tried to keep weeds and trees and other obstacles between us and the poult, so he couldn't see us approaching. We were within a few feet when he saw us, and he made a bee-line to his dead mama. He tried to lift her wing with his little head and crawl to the safety of her breast, and that's when I wanted to cry. I've never seen an animal orphaned. He didn't understand that his mama was dead. Why didn't she lift her wing, so he could hide? Jonathan was on the ball and grabbed the little one just as he tried to run back into the weeds.

The three orphaned poults are a mix of heritage breeds.
We took all three into the barn and put them in a rabbit cage with food, water, and a heat lamp. The temperatures are getting into the 50s at night now, and they're not old enough to keep warm by themselves. But they are clearly not happy. They're trying to squeeze through the wire and are completely ignoring the food and water. As I watched them and coaxed them to calm down and eat, Mike reminded me that I had goats to milk. I couldn't watch the poults all night. Nor could I make them calm down or eat.

I'm worried though. I don't know that we've done any favors for the little ones. We once tried to save some guinea keets whose mama kept losing them, and they all died within a couple days. Birds visually imprint on their mama when they hatch, and they have a very hard time living without her. I don't think it's a simple matter of providing food, physical warmth, and protection. The little birds are accustomed to running around freely in the grass and eating bugs and being warmed by their mama's body. Now their whole world has changed.


melanie said...

Here's a trick that might help: (I learned it from an animal rescue person) find one or more old, feather dusters. For turkeys, you might need two. Real feathers, not poly fiber funkiness...

Fix them, inverted, in a corner of the cage, as near the heat lamp as is safe. The feathers should be about an inch off the bottom of the cage, no more. The babies will hide "under" the feathers, as they would with a mother's breast and wing.

A small chicken chick or young chicken companion in the cage for a week or so might also help, as they will model the proper eating and drinking behaviors. You have to decide based on what you have available if that is safe...

Natalie said...

I am so sorry.
I hope Melanie's idea is successful.

Chef E said...

I took a photo of a group of wild turkey the other a chef I have to watch my feelings, and licking my lips as they pass...but I maintain self control...and learn from you :)

momanna98 said...

Oh! That is SO SAD! The other night, we had a guinea keet who was freaking out for some reason and kept running out of the barn and finally we lost it in the weeds. The next day I woke up to it's peeping and he was reunited with his mom. So far he's ok. I was afraid the cold might get him.
Speaking of, we have a guinea on a nest. Did you want some keets when they hatch? I thought you had mentioned at one point wanting some...

Terri said...

An owl killed our momma turkey earlier this summer, at night when she was sitting on her babies. Maybe that is what happened?

Nancy K. said...

Hopefully, as long as they have each other and a warm pen, they'll be OK. I'd keep a heat lamb on them at night but take them out, into a securely fenced area, for grazing during the day.

Good Luck!

LindaG said...

Seems like you have some really good information here. I hope they survive. ♥

SkippyMom said...

Knowing nothing about farm animals I was going to suggest a stuffed animal they could snuggle up to [ala' the famous monkey experiments] but I think Melanie has it - the feather dusters sound like a great idea. good luck!

Velva said...

Wow, I am so glad you caught the little ones. They have a much better chance of surviving with you than without their mother.

keep us posted!

Em said...

I've used feather dusters with some baby chickens before and they loved them, cuddling up in them, then flopping down to sleep. Did you dip their beaks in the water? I remember having to do that with new chicks so some of them would 'get it'. Good luck with the poults, I know it's hard to see an orphaned animal and NOT do something about it!

The Chicken Keepers said...

Oh, my! You have such a wonderful blog! I am going to become a follower and add you to my blog roll! Love the blog!

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. I read them over and over again. Unfortunately, the poults never started eating the grain, and they died yesterday. More details are in today's blog post.

Welcome, Chicken Keepers! Thanks for following!


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