Sunday, March 28, 2010

Turkey goals for 2010 & heritage turkey Q&A

I raise heritage breed turkeys, and a small quantity of broad breasted. I prefer the heritage breeds because they appeal more to me. They can reproduce naturally, are beautiful, and are good at foraging for themselves. The broad breasted I raise because the market demands a bigger bird, and I raise them on pasture as well.

The heritage breeds are more expensive to keep at every stage in their life. They cost more as poults; they cost more in feed, and they take longer to reach market weight. I think that they taste better, and for a holiday meal, there's something to be said for having a special bird. That's what the heritage are for me.

My goals this year for turkeys are as follows:
Maintain my own breeding flocks of Bourbon Red and Narragansett turkeys.
Collect and hatch eggs from my home flock
Locate and include different genetics to widen my home flocks gene pool.

I'm putting my first batch of turkey eggs into the incubator now, and will be hatching for the next 3-4 months. Some of the birds produced now will be for thanksgiving, some for christmas.

Marianne Reimers wrote as a comment, the following:

We are thinking Bourbon Reds, as I read about them in Barbara Kingsolver's book. We would like to try to have them breed naturally and hatch their eggs, but understand this can be quite a challenge. I see if you have several heritage breeds. Would this be a good one for beginners?

Turkeys are more challenging than chickens. If you can keep them alive for the first 6 weeks you're usually good.

Here's my tips for raising turkey poults (heritage, or broad-breasted)

1) Make sure your brooder setup is ready and warm before you get your turkeys. Take the time to make sure that there is a 100 degree spot on dry chips, that your water and food are fresh and clean, and that all you need do is put the turkey in and dip its beak. It is important to get the turkey warm as soon as you get it. Even an hour makes a difference.

2) For the first day of a turkeys brooding, cover the chips with newspaper. Turkeys will eat the chips, fill themselves with the chips, and die of starvation. Sprinkle some food on the paper.

3) after the first day, take the paper out so you don't get spraddle.

4) Dip their beaks in the water on first arrival, and then, when they're all in the brooder, tap the food with your finger. the tapping noise will draw the poults to you. keep tapping until they're pecking at the food dish you're tapping on. by accident they'll get some food. yes, they will sometimes starve to death with food in sight.

5) I will sometimes put chicks in with the turkeys if the turkeys are particularly clueless. chicken chicks will show the turkeys how to eat and drink by example. There is a risk of blackhead disease in the literature, but i've never had any problem and I've raised a few thousand turkeys over the last few years

6) Turkeys are particularly sensitive to the quality of the food that they are fed. You must use a higher protein feed to support a turkeys growth. 25-28% protein being a good guideline. If you don't do this you'll have turkeys die in 3-4 weeks for no apparent reason. Start with and keep feeding good quality feed. Game bird feed or turkey poult feed, or you can use standard turkey feed if it is supplemented with crumbled hard boiled eggs for protein.

7) I have had turkeys kill themselves in the following ways: drowned in 2" of rainwater in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket; squished under a piece of plywood that they managed to tip over; suffocating in groups as they huddled in a corner because it was dark, killed by rats chasing them out of their brooder tub and onto the cold floor, death by hypothermia because they turned over the feed dish and trapped themselves under it against the cold, wet ground. I have had to carefully turkeyproof my pens, and to make sure that all buckets are set down with the opening down.


Anonymous said...

I've heard that turkeys spend the first weeks of their lives thinking about how to die. All the methods you describe seem to work...

Across The Creek Farm said...

good tips Bruce! I'm a few steps behind you, and I've got my first Narrangasett tom and hens breeding. My understanding about blackhead is that earthworms are the vector for transmission, so I don't worry about it in the brooder. I'll try the newspaper thing this year. Great tips.


Marianne Reimers said...

Thanks Bruce. Your tips are great. There is so much info in books and on the net, but it is so much better to get it right from the horse's mouth (though I'm not suggesting you are a horse of any type.) Our sheep are due to lamb any day - I'm going to check out your lamb posts for more tips.