Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This years failed turkey crop

Two years ago I purchased all of my turkey poults and raised and sold them, but found it to be very expensive. Heritage turkey poults are $9 each, and with shipping mortality added in,
they end up costing you around $10 each.

Feeding the turkeys isn't that expensive, but I've found that turkeys, unless closely penned, tend to kill themselves at a uncomfortably fast pace.

So last year (2008) I purchased some turkeys, and hatched some turkeys, and watched my costs and decided that this year (2009) I'd keep a breeding flock and hatch my own turkeys.

So in February I was on schedule. I had 60 turkeys here, which given the laying rates I'd experienced, would produce me around 600 eggs a month during the high laying season, which I figured would allow me to sell some, and keep enough to be able to fill about 300 turkey orders come thanksgiving and Christmas.

The first problem I had is that free-ranging turkeys are very good at hiding their eggs. So good, in fact, that I didn't find most of them. I'm still finding turkey nests with rotten eggs here and there, 6 months later.

The second is that a turkey will not get off its nest for any reason. So I started loosing turkey hens to coyotes. This was actually pretty bad -- worse than I thought. Since the hen was out somewhere in the field it'd usually take me most of a week to notice the feathers, and by then, I couldn't even salvage the eggs she was sitting on. the cold and wet killed them after the hen was taken. I lost a good half of my birds to coyotes. I started shooting the coyotes, and I penned my remaining birds, but once in the pen they went off lay. I can't say how frustrating this was.

The third problem I had was with the incubators. It turns out that one of my five incubators I got never ever hatched even a single egg. I still do not know why. So 20% of my eggs didn't hatch right off the bad, and the fertility went way down when they hens got penned, and overall, I wasn't a happy guy. Since eggs take 3 weeks to hatch, noticing that one of my incubators was killing all its eggs took me 8 weeks to notice. I was throwing out buckets of turkey eggs. 5 gallon buckets of turkey eggs.

Finally, during this whole thing I had birds disappearing from my farm. Some got killed by dogs from the dog park, i think. I'm guessing that because the coyotes come from the back of my property, and the dogs come from the front, and I'd find feather trails leading from my main farm yard, where the turkeys hang out, towards the front gate and through it. When the coyotes take a bird they go out to the woods in the back to eat it.

The second thing that I believe was happening is that people would come by, see i wasn't there, and just take the birds. They're hand-tame, and I have a base of customers that buy live birds, and taking a bird saves them some money. I had several neighbors report people stuffing turkeys into their cars and driving off. I finally installed a security system, and so I can verify a bird being stolen, but this was the icing on the cake for a tough turkey year.

So I'm doing a post-mortem here. These are my notes for next years turkey crop:

1) Breeding turkeys need to be securely penned in turkey-comfortable coops during the entire laying season. I'd like to maintain the free-ranged part of my farm, but I've got to be realistic -- I'll never be able to produce the quantity of poults that I need in any other way.

2) I need to get serious about my coyote control program. First step is to improve my fences to deter them, but the second is to have the dogs out there every night watching the farm, and the third is to use the security system to keep watch every day for coyotes, and remove them as needed.

3) I will keep records of hatch rates for each incubator from day 1 and use chicken eggs to make sure that everything is good prior to the turkey hatch season. I also need to keep records on which egg came from which flock or even down to which hen -- because I suspect that some of the hens never produced a fertile egg.

4) I need to keep the production birds away from the road and driveway to help deter thieves.

This years turkey crop was pretty much a complete failure commercially. I'll have a couple of turkeys I can sell, but I'm pretty disappointed. This coming year I will be purchasing poults again, and I'll try hatching again. I'm going to maintain the goal of my own breeding flock, and hope that the change in husbandry makes the difference between success and failure.


Anonymous said...

didn't you candle the eggs?

Anonymous said...


When I read this, I thought of your remark One thing that factory farms have a very good handle on is expense.

How are the turkeys raised on the places that sell the poults? If they don't run them the way you do, it wouldn't surprise me you'd have so much trouble.

In general, it seems like if you want to produce turkeys (or any other animals) profitably, you have to use facilities that prevent predators (humans and animals) and the animals themselves from ruining your payday.

Hey - I have feedback from a pig guy for you about your pigs and crates. He says that you may just need to give them pens with rollers, not necessarily standard farrowing crates. Becasue if that sow can't squish the pig against a wall, the pigs will probably make it.

MMP said...

Sorry to hear about your turkeys. I'll be filing your experiences and ideas away as I have recently been thinking about turkey rearing for us. We tried 10 turkeys out this year (we did a trial roasting las weekend for QC). I'll be interested to hear further thoughts you have on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Dude! What a bummer! I think the only reason we only lost 20% of our turkeys last year to Yotes, was because we had them penned with a Llama. He kills yotes. Love him! But I can't let the family dogs in with him. The Turkey we lost went over a 7' wire fence... Darwinian rule.

Cathy said...

I hope the fact that turkey eggs take 4 weeks not 3 weeks didn't have anything to do with your troubles.

Bruce King said...

Hi Cathy. Four years later you caught a typo; thank you. Yes, 4 weeks to hatch a turkey. No, that wasn't the problem; The temperature control in the incubators was faulty.