Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Re-establishing our heritage turkey flock

We had a flock of breeding heritage turkeys from the first spring we moved here until last summer when a predator wiped out every last one of them in only a few days. We never did figure out what was killing them. Heritage turkeys prefer to roost in trees or on top of fences at night rather than go into the chicken house, and at the time they were all killed, they were roosting on the top of a fence. Whatever snagged them either ate everything immediately or carried it off our property because we found no remains other than part of a wing nearby.

So, this year we had the opportunity to start from a blank slate. I originally placed an order with a hatchery at the end of January. Having raised all of the more common heritage breeds at one time or another through the years, I decided to let fate decide what turkeys we would have in the future, so I ordered a "hatchery's choice" of whatever heritage varieties were left over on our hatch date in the middle of March. Well, fate had different plans. The hatchery lost our order. So, in early March I was scrambling, trying to find a hatchery that had anything available soon.

White Holland turkeys

Heritage turkeys don't grow as big or as fast as broad breasted, so I needed to get them as soon as possible in order to have some decent sized turkeys by Thanksgiving, meaning 15-16 pounds for the gobblers and 10-12 pounds for the hens. There was one hatchery that had some turkeys available soon, and I didn't want to do a "hatchery's choice" with them because the last time I did, we wound up with only two heritage turkeys and the rest were broad breasted.

Royal Palm turkeys

I ultimately decided on 10 White Hollands and 12 Royal Palms. All of the white turkeys will be butchered for Thanksgiving because solid white poultry does not do well free range. They are a blinking beacon for predators. We will keep all of the Royal Palm hens and two gobblers for breeding.

We keep heritage turkeys in moveable pens, often called chicken tractors. (But it sounds weird to call it a chicken tractor when there are turkeys living in it!) We have tried multiple times to keep them in a pastured situation, and it has never ended well. One year we had almost two dozen turkeys just leave one day. Of course, they did this after they had already eaten a couple hundred dollars worth of organic feed! Twice, we had several fly up into a tree or fly off into the bushes when we were trying to catch them and take them to the processor. They all came back the next day, but it was too late for us to have them processed because we have to schedule months in advance.

I'm trying to decide when would be a good time to move the royal palm hens into the chicken house. They are much older than the ones that just walked off one day, so they're probably smart enough to stick around for the free food. Our breeding stock turkeys do live a free-range life, even though that can be a headache too sometimes. We have lost quite a few hens to predators when they were setting because they chose a location that was less than safe, even though sometimes they hide so well that we humans can't find them until it's too late.

If you're new to my blog, you may be surprised by my comment about my turkeys and chickens living together. No, we've never (knock on wood) had a case of blackhead. For more on that topic, you can check out my previous posts here and here.


MWaddell said...

We raised our broad-breasted turkeys free-range a couple of years ago and were really happy with the results. Now we have an annoying border collie (who we love dearly) who attempts to make them squeak and pulls out the feathers on their backs, tearing their skin in the process. We kept them with our new batch of layer chickens in the chicken tractor for a while, but they got a bit big and have been moved into the coop with our older chickens. Our coop would be considered more "free-run" than "free-range", but until the border collie is less of a $h!the@d we're stuck with containing the birds.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with your comment about all white birds being an easy target for predetors. We were given two Deleware chicks to add to our mixed flock of chicks. The were the only two that were killed by hawks, even fully grown. The others were spared.
Thanks for sharing your experience! You have beena great help.
Barb..Eastern PA


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