For a bird that tastes so good at Thanksgiving, it sure is hard to keep young turkeys alive until November! Either our first year of raising turkeys was serendipitously easy or we are getting worse at livestock care, which is a rather depressing thought .
Rose is our only survivor of a hatching from last year and, as a hand-raised turkey, has the annoying habit of squawking in your face and staring down little children just her height and eye-to-eye. This year, she has been accompanied by her father, Tom, who hates me, her mother, Dutch Boy, the Narraganset, and a wild hen that flew into the coop about a month ago and has stayed for the corn and the love.
Not wanting to be out foxed by our Heritage breed turkeys, whom I suspect were feeding their eggs to the rats, Annie and I decided this year to hatch eggs in an incubator in the house. It could be that taking the eggs from the nest each morning was the turning point in Tom’s relationship with us. It didn’t help that the goose had become his best friend. The pair was so ferocious they actually cornered Annie in the coop one day and beat her with their wings until she had bruises on her legs!
However, we secured a total of 20 eggs and started the 27 day process of rotating them 3-4 times a day under a constant temperature and humidity control, all on the counter in my bathroom. No one figures all the eggs will hatch and it was bizarre the evening I tried to identify the tap-tap-tap coming from the bathroom. In the morning there was a fluffy, black chick trying to find its sea legs.
After that, we had more, and then the hatching stopped and we realized none of the other eggs was going to produce a live bird, or even had a bird in it at all. Two toms (one a teenager) and some inexperienced hens did not a baby make 100% of the time!
The chicks were raised in the house, but the most peculiar thing would happen from time to time. We would catch one doing poorly, its mates knocking it over, standing on its head or body, and the next time we checked it was expired. Our 12 birds quickly became our 6 birds, and then our 5 birds. We were back to not having enough to sell at Thanksgiving.
So, Annie searched Craig’s List and found more, because we are lame and hate to give up in defeat. She bought the most lovey Blue Slate poults, fluffy and gray and strong at peeping. Within a couple days, one had died!
Today, the poults live in the house, in the kitchen, under the heat lamp. They are not quite to the point of being tossed out for the stink, but I can tell their time is coming. We need to fix the chicken wire fencing before we do this for a couple reasons. Primarily, to keep raccoons out, but secondarily to keep the chicks in. They will have their own little turkey hotel as they wait to grow more pin feathers for warmth and larger for Thanksgiving. It all seems a bit ironic. If they survive, they become dinner. If they die young it’s only by a few months.
The goal is to have a purpose other than the dinner entree. Dutch Boy, our white Holland, figured it out last year. Be a totally different color from Tom, so the farmer can tell who is working out as the daddy, and defend the poor farmer’s wife and daughter from the tom turkey attacks. It makes the humans like you. And, as I have mentioned before, once you have a name on the farm, it’s unlikely you will be eaten. …unless you are a chicken named Boston that keeps scratching up the new spring plantings. Where’s my gun!
Photo: Nell with Nelvira (RIP)
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