Friday, February 26, 2010

Turkey Q&A from email

Hi Bruce,

I am an intern at [redacted]. We are
currently working on a show for [redacted].

In my research I stumbled upon your blog and found it very
informative. I was wondering if you could answer some questions about
the life span of your turkeys.

- When do your turkeys mate?

- How long does it take them to hatch?

- When do they hatch?

- Do the chicks stay with their mother? Fathers role?

- When is a turkey considered an adult? How long is it a chick?

- Time of slaughter?

Basically we are looking for exact dates of these events or the dates
when they would be happening. So they could be filmed.



Hi Tom

My turkeys start being interested in mating in early february each year. But the end of february they're in full-swing, the toms are trying to out-display the other toms and the hens watch with interest. They'll continue to display and mate throughout the summer, until next november.

small turkeys are called poults

It's 28 days for an egg to hatch, and they lay eggs from march until september. They're still interested in mating, but the egg production tapers off until the next year.

When chicks hatch, if there's any other poults of about the same age, all of the poult and all of the mothers of that batch tend to hang out together. The poults recognize and stick close to their hen, but all of the hens protect all of the chicks -- from other birds in the barnyard, or from percieved predators.

The hens and toms tend to stay in different flocks; there isn't much interaction between the hens and the toms after the chicks are hatched.

A hen turkey, sitting on a nest, will sit there no matter what. I've run over turkey hens with my brush hog (big mower that attaches to the rear of the tractor) and that means that the hen sat there, allowed the tractor to go right over her, and then got caught by the mower behind the tractor. That's a dedicated mother. The last one wasn't in any normal nesting area and I didn't see her in the tall grass. She survived, but lost a bunch of feathers. lucky bird. coyotoes will often pick them off the nest. They don't resist.

Turkeys are slaughtered when they're at the weight desired for the market, or for seasonal use, like thanksgiving. So theres no particular age that a turkey is slaughtered, depends on the use they'll be put to. So a slaughter scene can be filmed pretty much anytime. I slaughter my turkeys the week before thanksgiving and the week before christmas.

the poults require supplemental heat (either via their hen, or via heat lamps) for the first 6 weeks of their life, as they grow feathers and their body gets used to heating itself. After that they're gangly adoloscent turkeys for 2-3 months, and then start getting their adult feathers and weight at about 6 months. All of these figures are for heritage breed turkeys. Broad-breasted turkeys grow much faster and the concern there, at least from a farmers point of view, is that they'll get too big for sale.

Hope that answers your questions.



Marianne said...

Hi Bruce,
I wanted to ask you a quick question about turkeys. You wrote a great post a few months ago, answering most of my questions re: starting a flock. We are going to pick up our poults (Narragansett and Bourbon Red)
this weekend and I wanted to ask how many you think would be a good number to start with. These will be about 5 days old when we pick them up. We would like to end up with a few turkeys for eating/selling and a small breeding flock, but I am unsure of what the potential % loss would be. When our first chickens arrived, the hatchery said to expect a loss from stress, illness, etc. Of course, we didn't lose one and ended up with more chickens than we needed. Any guess on how many we might start with?

Also, do you mind me asking how many acres you have for your animals? I'm trying to imagine with all that you have (including the 800 weaner pigs a year you mentioned in a recent post) how big your place is.

Thanks in advance for the information.

Bruce King said...

if your goal is to build a breeding flock you cannot have too many. Not every turkey is worth breeding, and having a larger number to choose from will allow you to build a better quality flock.

I can't say how many you might lose; my experience is that turkeys are more finicky than chickens, and harder to get to the feathered-out age of about 8 weeks.

If I wanted to have 2-3 to sell, and a breeding flock of 8 (2 males, 6 females) I might buy 15, or if I was feeling pressimistic, I might buy 25.

Bruce King said...

oh yes; acreage. My primary farm, where the pigs are, is 12 acres. I have an additional 10 acres where the cows are and where I rotatationally graze the sheep. I'm looking at buying another 40 acres nearby.

800 piglets sounds like a lot, but that ends up being about 70 piglets a month, which is 7 litters or so. a sow and litter don't take much space at all.

Anonymous said...

Tom turkeys will set the eggs and help raise the poults if allowed to remain with the hens after breeding. They play a HUGE part in raising the poults, actually caring more for the poults than the hen at that time. My toms stay on the ground with the poults at night, sheltering them under their fluff, while the hen perches up high.
Most commercial raisers keep the toms separate from the hens except for breeding. That's too bad, as the toms have a lot to contribute.

Lisa A said...

I would love to get a turkey for Thanksgiving from your farm. I am new to the area and a friend led me to the website. Can I come buy to pick one up or how does it work? I do not want to freeze it so how close to Thanksgiving can I get one, and how long would it last in the fridge. If not whats the least amount of time I can freeze one?
Appreciate any input?