I have a goal this year. And that goal it to increase our turkey flock. We chose a heritage breed of turkeys because I wanted a breed that could sustain itself year to year after we harvested the birds that we plan to eat.
Turkey poults are expensive to buy outright each year, and raising a heritage breed to table-weight takes longer than a breed you would find in a factory setting. Even at maturity, the heritage breeds are just not that large. We simply don’t get the amount of meat you would with a store bought bird.
But that’s not why we chose this breed. We chose to raise our own turkeys because of flavor, personal ethics both about the scarcity of breed and how our turkeys live and are treated. So it may not be the most cost effective plan, but I feel good doing it.
It amazes me that most factory turkeys, usually the Broad Breasted White, are not able to breed naturally. Most of the time, the birds are butchered before they reach sexual maturity. But even individuals that have been rescued from slaughter and allowed to mature will not mate, brood or rear young. These basic instincts have been bred out of them or they are too large or unhealthy to reproduce. Instead, the birds are artificially inseminated. Many factory turkeys don’t live past the age of 3 if given the chance.
This will be our third year raising turkeys. The first year we started with 9 poults which grew into stunning creatures. It was quite a sight to see the whole flock move across the yard. A striking dark mass shinning with their black feathers in the sun and the red and blue heads of the males popping out against the velvet darkness. I really am a fan of turkeys.
That fall we harvested 5 for the freezer, leaving the largest Tom and three respectable hens for rearing future generations.
The following spring brought us our fist turkey eggs laid by our hens. One hen decided that she would try to sit on a small clutch in the corner of the coop. But her devotion was spotty. She would sit for a few days and then I’d see her free ranging for hours with the rest of the flock. I left her be and deiced to leave her the eggs even if they were dudds to let her work things out. A few more clutches were made in various corners of the turkey coop. She seemed frustrated and immature. I even witnessed our big Tom taking a turn sitting on the eggs, as well as our Silkie hen. Which was a pretty funny story, read it here Mamma Silkie’s At It Again!
But in the end, none of the eggs hatched and our freezer was rather turkey-less this past winter.
But this year I have renewed hope as our hen seems very dilligent. She has been sitting on eggs for a good two weeks, and I often see her plucking feathers from her chest to open up her broody patch. Female poultry will do this to allow a skin to egg contact, thus keeping the eggs warmer. I didn’t notice this behavior last year. So that’s encouraging.
Another thing that’s encouraging is that she is gathering ALL the eggs that ALL the hens are laying and attempting to sit on them. And when I say “attempting” I mean…she’s having a hard time.
I got a peek yesterday and there must be 15 to 20 eggs! They’re rolling out from under her, and she’s in a constant state of tucking them back in. Her body is puffed out as fat as she can make herself and it’s still not big enough for this ambitious clutch.
So comes my dilemma…to move her into a nesting box, or leave her be? My insinct say “leave her be” as it seems like everytime we try to “help” it always seems like it wold have been better if we’d left things alone. It’s the Murphy’s Law of farming. But she’s having a hard time and I’m afraid that she’ll give up like last year and abandon the whole thing. Not to mention that the eggs are getting dirty and dirty eggs don’t hatch as well. The ones that roll a little too far are getting stepped on by the other turkeys and causing a mess of the coop. I also don’t want our flock to get into the egg eating habit, which is terribly hard to break. So we decided that a nest box is in order.
A. Side 1
B. Side 2
C. Roof (This piece can be made from a single piece of ply wood, we had scraps of individual boards so we used those.)
D. Entrance Lip
4×8′ sheet of 3/4″ plywood
table saw or hand held circular saw
straight edge or yard stick
nails and a hammer -or- screws and a drill
Measure and cut the pieces from the plywood using saw. Attach the entrance lip across the front.
Then attach the roof. Again, a solid piece of plywood would work well, we were making the most of our scraps from another project.
This simple box design can be reenforced with “L” brackets or a basic frame of 2×2″s to create a more solid, finished product. We were in “GO” mode, as we wanted to provide our hen with a box ASAP. But the dimensions and the main idea work well for a basic turkey nesting box.
Once the box was finished, we gently moved our hen off of her nest, moved her eggs out of the way, sat the box down, filled it with clean straw, and placed the eggs back inside…as quickly as we could. We were encouraged that many of the eggs were still warm. We counted 16!
Here is our Tom inspecting things.
I really didn’t want to place the box in this corner, (under the roost board), but this is the corner our hen originally picked and we wanted to keep her happy. If you’re installing a nest box in your coop, keep it out from under the roost so the turkeys don’t poop on the roof when they perch at night to sleep.
Once our Tom decided the new box wasn’t a threat, the hen was allowed out from behind him to check out her new nesting area. We felt like our presence in the coop was making her nervous so we left her in peace to decide if she liked the new nursery room.
I checked on her a little later and she had settled in quite nicely. She seems very comfortable and didn’t get agitated when I came in to feed, water and freshen some of the bedding. I’m not sure how long it took her to sit back on the eggs, but hopefully they are still viable. We will see in 3 to 4 weeks, depending on when the eggs were laid.