Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turkey breeding woes

Last year we were quite successful hatching turkeys in the incubator and with hens, but this year was a totally different story. We had a complete failure in the incubator so none of the 19 eggs hatched, and although we've had two mamas setting, only one actually finished the job, but she then left the nest after five of them had fully hatched and one had only pipped the shell.

Mike didn't know you aren't supposed to "help" with hatching turkeys, so he finished ripping off the shell, thinking that mama would then take care of the little poult. But she didn't. So we put it in the incubator to dry off and get his land legs. That didn't really happen. For two days I kept finding him flipped over, and I kept sitting him upright and leaning against the side of the incubator. Just about the time that I figured we should put him down, he finally got the strength in his legs to be able to stand! Although that little story has a happy ending, it still meant we wound up with only five total turkeys, which isn't even enough to take to get processed. I waited around for another hen to hatch her eggs, but then realized she wasn't really serious about the whole thing when the eggs started to stink.

We were also supposed to be getting some blue slate and lavender turkeys from a hatchery in Indiana, but they had problems, so they said the poults wouldn't be shipping until July or August, which isn't enough time for them to grow out by Thanksgiving. I told them to just wait and ship in late August, as I was planning to keep the hens and a couple of toms for breeding anyway. We can butcher the extra toms next spring.

So, we were in the middle of June and had only five turkeys for the year. It was too late to get any heritage turkeys from another hatchery because they were all sold out, so I decided to get some broad breasted turkeys. I checked all the usual hatcheries, and no one had any left. Then I started looking at hatcheries that I've never used before, and I finally found one in Iowa -- Meyer -- that had some broad breasted whites that could be shipped towards the end of July. They'll be four months old by Thanksgiving, but that's big enough for this breed to be processed at a decent size. In fact, when we've kept this breed for six or seven months, we've wound up with some 35 to 45 pounds toms!

I finally got that long-awaited phone call from the post office yesterday at 11:45 a.m. Since the invention of Click-n-Ship, I don't know our post office workers as well as I used to, and the woman on the phone said, "You've got some chicks here. What do you want me to do with 'em?" Hmm ... what were my options, really? I said that I'd come get them and should be there in ten to fifteen minutes, to which she replied, "You've got 15 minutes!" Geez! Seriously? Was she really going to let the little thing stay in the post office until the next day if I didn't get there by the usual closing time of noon. (Welcome to life in a rural community!)

Not knowing her and not knowing whether or not she would really leave the poults there, I quickly told my son that I was heading to town to get some baby birds. At the time I didn't know if this was my turkey order or my Delaware chicken order that should have arrived from another small hatchery a couple of weeks ago. I drove as fast as one can responsibly drive on rural gravel roads and managed to get there before closing time. I had ordered 15, and that's exactly how many they shipped. All of them looked healthy and happy except for one that was already cold and stiff. I took the above photo seven hours later after everyone was settled in and eating and drinking.

I am still looking forward to getting my new breeders next month, and next year I'm planning to purchase a better incubator than the little styrofoam thing that we've been using.


Debby said...

Last year, one of my turkey hens sat on a nest near the road. Slowly, one by one eggs started disappearing. Finally the turkey hen was gone. Later in the year, we found a 3 inch diameter rat snake near where she had been nesting. This year, I was prepared with a new pen for the girls. They laid during the winter on top of the hay before the eggs could be sustainable. Once it got warm enough, they quit laying. I am thinking that these four, two hen and two toms should be processed this year and I should start again next year. Would you start now, so they will lay in the spring or just start in the spring and process them in the fall?

Deborah Niemann said...

If you want your own breeding turkeys, you could start now, but remember you do have to get heritage turkeys if you want them to breed naturally. If you are just interested in having your own turkey meat, you could get poults in the spring and butcher all of them in the fall. Both are sound plans.


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