Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heritage Turkey behavior

The breeding flock of turkeys that I keep are allowed to free range this time of year. They forage for stuff they like to eat, and seem to have better survival rates this way. At this age they're pretty tough birds; I do lose the occasional turkey to a coyote, but not often. One of the main reasons that I don't is that the turkeys like to roost high.

Turkeys would rather walk

The turkeys in this picture are climbing a ladder up to the roof of a farm building (that I'm STILL waiting for Snohomish county to approve the permit for; 90 days and counting...). They'd much rather hop and flap up the ladder than just fly up -- which they can do pretty well. Given a choice, they'd rather run or walk than fly. When they do fly, they only do a few hundred feet at most It's almost like there's a no-fly zone over my farm. They do fly from time to time, but usually with a running start. They'll start running in a direction, take about 20 steps, flap and glide 200 feet, and then land running. Total elevation during this is maybe 3 feet. But when pressed they can and do fly. They fly up to their preferred roost on the posts of the half-finished barns.

Turkey behavior

The turkeys are pretty firmly segregated into two flocks at this time of year. One flock is male, the other female. Both flocks are sorting out the pecking order -- male turkeys are jockeying for position in their flock, and so are females. The male goal is to be able to command a good piece of real-estate on demand, hopefully in view of the hens. The hens goal is to be able to eat first. Some of the turkeys are showing signs of wear-and-tear in their feathers. Usually those turkeys made their bid for supremacy a little early and will usually not end up the dominant bird even if they are now. The ones that are hanging back a little will be fresh and rested when their time comes. So it'll be one of those turkeys that makes the final jump to King or Queen of the flock.

Egg laying and turkey timing

The turkeys are producing a small quantity of eggs now, but I'm not hatching them. It's too tough to keep turkey poults alive right now outside. Plus you don't really want to feed too many full-sized turkeys at the end of the year. The goal is to have most of the thanksgiving turkeys hatch in March/April, and most of the Christmas turkeys hatch in May/June. The replacements for the breeding flock can hatch in July/August, and the cycle will begin again.

A turkey hen averages an egg every other day for 4 months.

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