I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase be careful what you wish for. That might be touching on a bit of what we’re experiencing with our turkey population here.
We decided to raise Black Spanish turkeys a few years back for meat and to help with the movement to further the breed’s numbers. The first year we raised 9, butchered 5 that November, and decided to keep the best 4 hens and tom for our breeding stock. It was our hope that each year our turkeys would lay eggs and replenish our turkey population. We would raise those birds to adulthood, keep the best ones and eat the rest. It was going to be great!
That was the plan… 5 years ago.
Since then, we’ve learned that our hens are terrible mothers, yet at the same time wonderful at outsmarting us.
Every year it’s been something!
The first year they hardly laid any eggs, and those that they did lay were odd shaped and probably not fertile. The next year one of our hens decided to go broody. She was terrible at sitting consistently and nothing hatched. Then we had a pair co-nesting, but they must not have had their shifts worked out because they’d leave the nest for hours, then days at a time. Finally we had a hen hatch out two poults and everything seemed to be doing good until she accidentally stepped on her chicks and killed them.
That was it! The last straw! I’d had enough…so much for leaving things to nature.
I placed a few eggs in the incubator last year and we successfully hatched out a few turkeys. I vowed that I wouldn’t leave it up to the girls this year.
This spring the turkey laying menagerie started up once agin. The girls started in their usual way of laying their eggs right in the middle of the coop floor for everyone to walk on, smash and jostle around. “Good job girls!”
Thankfully I saved a few eggs before they were broken and placed them in the turkey nesting box. This seemed to clue them in that the box is where they should be laying.
Things were going well for a few days. The girls took the nest box hint and I had a little clutch going ready for the incubator. Yay!
Then suddenly they all stopped laying.
Everyday I’d go check the box for more eggs and nada!
We checked the girls for health problems, made sure they were eating enough food, drinking…all that jazz. Everything was fine, the girls seemed perfectly healthy, but no eggs.
This went on for almost two weeks. By now the small clutch I’d begun collecting was pretty old to attempt to hatch. So I abandoned that along with the hope that we’d repopulate our turkey flock this year with Black Spanish.
Then one day Oliver (our Golden Retriever) and I were out playing and he got a whiff of something and took off into the tall grass.
It’s unlike him to just give up at a game of fetch and go wandering off, so I followed him.
I found him with his nose to the ground smelling the back feathers of a puffed up, very annoyed turkey hen.
She squawked and hissed at him and I called him over before she pecked him.
Gently I moved her over to the side and saw about 15 eggs under her.
“So that’s where you’ve all been laying your eggs.”
She growled at me, annoyed, as I sat her back down over the egg clutch.
Now, this would seem like the perfect opportunity to collect these eggs and place them in an incubator. Except for the fact that I knew the hens hadn’t been keeping these eggs warm at night. We do a headcount each night and all our turkeys had returned to perch in the coop.
I looked at her crouching over her precious clutch and gave in.
“Whatever!”, she could have her eggs and sit on them if it made her happy. Chances are they weren’t viable after the cold nights we’d had anyway.
Oliver and I left her be.
A couple hours later, I noticed the turkey hen emerge from the grass. She shook her feathers, wandered into the coop for a while, ate some feed, came out, took a dust bath, grazed around the yard a bit and laid down in the sunshine with the rest of the turkeys in the yard. I kept watching her to see when she was going to go sit on her nest again! I wanted to shout “You have responsibilities!” as she casually stretched out a wing and a leg to the warm sun beams. ~Slacker!
Hours went by as she casually strutted around the yard with the rest of the turkeys.
As the sun lowered in the sky that evening she followed the rest of the turkey flock into the coop to perch for the night.
“Uggh!” I threw my hands up in the air and marched around the back of the coop to the nest that lay in the tall grasses.
The beautiful pile of smooth white eggs glowed against the green grass.
“What a waste!”
Leaving these gorgeous eggs out in the grass was too much for me to take.
I gathered them up in my shirt tail and brought all 15 in the house. I set up our incubators, let them warm up for a bit and filled them with 7 eggs each. A tight fit for a Brinsea Mini, but at this point, what did I have to loose?
I figured I’d candle them in a few days and they’d all be dudds anyway right?
Meanwhile…in another part of the forest…
Zach and I had other plans in place.
To ensure that we would at least have a few more turkeys to enjoy this year, Zach and I had put our names on 4 heritage breeds. Two Narragansett’s and two Bourbon Red turkey poults.
I also had a Silkie hen sitting one a smodge podge of eggs that she had collected herself, along with a couple turkey eggs for added measure.
I figured something HAD to work between all these different possible ways for a turkey to hatch. This year we had to get something to work.
Well, it worked…it all worked.
Fast forward 28 days and ALL 14 turkey eggs hatched in the incubators.
We lost two early on, but the rest are fine, robust and growing.
The DAY the turkeys hatched I got a phone call that our other turkeys were ready to pick up also.
A week later our Silkie hatched out one of the turkey eggs that she was sitting on, and she’s proving to be a better turkey mother than anyone. Though this turkey might have some identity issues, but we’re willing to work on that.
In total, our current turkey flock is at 21 and I’ve learned that there IS such a thing as being over prepared.