Saturday, January 31, 2009

Turkey breeding flock; farm calendar

Here's part of my breeding turkey flock. Click on the picture for a bigger version. There are blue slate, bourbon red, narragansett, eastern wild, sweetgrass and black spanish turkeys here. They're pretty fun to watch. At this time of year we're penning them by breed so we can get purebred poults. Turkeys can store semen for weeks, so it's important to have them separated for a while before you need purebred birds. In our case we collect the eggs as soon as we have them all penned and most of the (probably) crossbred poults produced will be our thanksgiving/Christmas birds. The purebred poults we'll sell to folks who want a particular type of heritage turkey, and some of those will go for the holidays, too.

I keep a large breeding flock because it's often impossible to find full-grown heritage turkeys in a timely fashion if you lose one. So having one tom is a mistake; you need at least 2. Having 3 hens is a mistake; you need at least 6 to make sure you have replacements in case of predators, accidents, or other mishaps.

I want all of my heritage birds for the holidays to be hatched by may; it takes 20 days to hatch a turkey, so the latest we'll set eggs for holiday birds will be the first week of April. Which means that we have Feb/Mar/April to collect eggs for this years Thanksgiving turkey crop.

The eggs that are layed from April to mid-may are the Christmas birds, and then the eggs that are layed in June are the replacement birds for the breeding flock. I keep a mixed-age breeding flock, with some first-year birds, some 2 year birds, and some 3 year birds.

I find that my survival rates for birds on pasture are better if there are some older birds to show the younger ones around.

The turkeys are bunched up like that because I'm working with the puppies on herding. Turkeys are a good practice animal for the pups because they can fly if they feel threatened but don't want to. Plus a turkey can, as a last resort, smack a dog pretty good with its wing. A smack or two and the pups learn to keep their distance -- the pups respect the turkeys, and the turkeys respect the dog.

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