Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Happy Turkey Family

So many turkey babies have hatched this year! It's just amazing.  My incubator was full of eggs from April through June. I actually had to delay hatching some because my big incubator was full, my little incubator was full and I just had to hold some back until space was available.

We had three short term brooder boxes in the house. This got the turkeys through their first few days until they could handle the colder nights in the brooder in the barn. We had all 4 barn brooders full of birds at one point (including chickens). It was crazy.

The girls are done laying and some are hatching their own outside.

This is the tricky part.

#1) You need to provide places the girls will want to lay. That helps you collect the eggs daily, or you can choose to let them brood on it. The main point here is to keep the ladies AT HOME! If they don't have a good nesting spot, they will leave the property, then they are coyote bait. I don't like to lose my mama's!  We provide big dog houses, nesting boxes in their coop, and several hay bale huts that they loved to lay in! That was great, next year we will do a LOT more of those!  It still wasn't enough, and we had girls at the neighbors' houses, by the end of the driveway, in our front yard, etc. If they were out alone in a field, I likely never knew they were gone and they were eaten.

#2) Turkeys are much better at hatching their eggs than my incubator. So we collected eggs from nests that got abandoned. Some of them just wouldn't sit on them at night, so we gathered those up and incubated them. According to my records, we had 644 eggs that went through the incubator. WOW!  WE had an 84% fertility rate from those, and of the 84% that were fertile, 73% hatched. Now, that's a lot of turkeys, but that isn't the survival rate. Some may hatch and not survive for varying reasons - splay leg, wry neck, birth defects (I had one with no legs!), accidents, and other things turkeys seem prone to.  Those are just the incubated eggs! We had plenty of stalwart mamas that hatched their own

#3) So here's the real question - when a mama hatches her own, what do you do?  Typically, we take the babies and brood them. We have a history of mamas hatching their eggs and none of the babies make it. They disappear at night, maybe to snakes or owls. Maybe the mama wanders off with the babies, and SHE was grabbed by a coyote. The other thing is they may hatch inside the turkey run, where there are a LOT of other turkeys who peck at them, and they don't survive. So any babies hatched inside the turkey run get taken and put in a brooder. We had a family in the front yard we thought were doing OK, until she spent the night down by the pond - and she got killed by a coyote. We found 7 of her 8 babies and got them into a brooder.

So this brings me to our latest mama... Actually, 2 mamas! Two bourbon red hens hatched something between 12 and 18 chicks (they move too fast, too hard to count!)  This was after we lost the previously mentioned mama to a coyotes...  I thought back to many years ago when Friend Bird, our chicken, raised 3 chicks on her own to full adulthood. We actually moved her and the little ones into the BARN, so they could sleep inside at night where it was safe. (That third Naragansett hen is one who just sort of joined the brood, silly mama, those aren't your babies!)

Brilliant!  The front yard was scaring them off because out sprinklers go off in the morning. But it's the safest place for them - no other turkeys to peck the babies, no dogs or puppies to chase the babies, no lambs to accidentally step on the babies.... but the sprinklers made them leave the property.

So we picked up 2 Bourbon mamas and brought them into the barn and made sure all the little babies followed. We gave them food and water in the barn and kept them in for a few days. There is a ledge on the doorway out, it took a little over a week before the babies could hop up that ledge.  Now the whole family wanders the front yard during the day, eating bugs and whatnot, and at night they come back to the barn to go to sleep. These little buggers are almost big enough now that if I had brooded them, we'd be putting them outside on their own. They stick together pretty well. We've had to herd them back from the pond a few times, just to make sure they come home. But all is well. It might be the first chance we get at a turkey mama (or two) raising their babies to adulthood!