Now that warmer spring days are finally here, I’ve been spending more time gardening which is one thing that I really miss in the winter. I see my friends on social media who live in warmer climates gardening all through the winter and getting their spring plants in the ground way before I can plant most things in our climate, and by this time of year I can’t wait to get my hands back into the dirt. I transplanted some of the cool season veggies from the greenhouse into the garden a few weeks ago, and they are now at the stage where every day you can almost see them growing. Every weekend I have been planting more of the raised beds, and it’s finally starting to look like a garden again. Most importantly, my absolute favorite thing to grow – the tomatoes – that were transplanted into larger pots while waiting for warmer temperatures are now almost big enough to be planted out into the garden. I planted seeds for the last batch of the warm season veggies last weekend, including some beautiful bean seeds (Jacob’s cattle gold bean and good mother stallard bean) as well as some black corn and popcorn seeds. These are all new things I’m trying this year that I received in seed swaps that I participated in. I also planted several varieties of flower seeds that I received from trading with friends over the last few months that I’m excited to have in the garden this year including zinnia, cosmos, poppies, coral sage, and a milkweed “Hairy Balls” variety that sounds pretty interesting!
Our six baby chicks that we got a couple of months ago are doing well and growing up fast. They are living in a screened off section of the coop that they will eventually share with Millie and Pepa when they get a big enough that they won’t be picked on too much by Pepa. Millie has already fallen in love with the chicks, so she is allowed to spend much of her day in with the chicks. Millie is a silkie breed of chicken, which is known for being excellent mothers and they are often used to hatch eggs laid by other chickens because of their excellent mothering instincts and their desire to go broody and hatch eggs. For a couple of weeks Millie would watch the baby chicks on the other side of the divider we placed in the coop to keep the chicks separate and safe from the larger chickens. Then one day Millie started making all sorts of cute mother hen sounds toward the chicks and acted like she really wanted to get in with the baby chicks. So I let her in under a watchful eye, and she adopted them pretty much instantly. She calls them over for treats and watches over them just as if she had hatched them herself. Pepa on the other hand is more interested in chasing the chicks than befriending them, so for now Pepa has to stay on the other side of the divider while Millie plays momma hen. I was pleasantly surprised that of the three Mille Fleur d’Uccle chicks we got, only one is a boy and two are girls. They are turning out to be beautiful birds with very sweet dispositions. It’s still too early to tell the sex of the silkie chicks, they are notoriously hard to tell the boys from the girls until four to six months old or until they crow so we still have a couple of months to go before we’ll know how many boys and girls we have.
In turkey news, it wasn’t too long ago that I was wishing that one of our turkey hens would go broody so that I could give her some eggs to hatch. Well it seems like I went from having zero broody turkeys to four broody turkeys in a matter of days! Two turkeys went broody in the small vacant coop that we use for hatching turkeys, so that was perfect. I gave them a dozen eggs to hatch, although several have been broken or rejected over the last two weeks, so now they are currently only sitting on seven eggs. This is actually fine because we don’t really NEED any more turkeys, I just love the experience of watching a momma turkey raise her babies so much that I like to do it every year. Almost immediately after the first two broody turkeys took up residence in the small coop, two other turkeys decided to go broody in the spaceship – which is a repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is a very popular egg laying destination for whatever reason. With the spaceship now occupied I decided to add a new wooden nest box right next to it in the hopes that the non-broody turkeys would have another option for laying their eggs, but do you think it’s been used even once? Nope! Such is the way of turkeys, you can never predict what they will like or what they will do. Which of course is one of the reasons that they are so fun to have on the farm. Unfortunately, Eleanor who has hatched eggs for us in the past and is a great momma decided to go broody in the spaceship which is not big enough to hatch chicks safely so I didn’t give her eggs to hatch this year. We’ll have new turkey mommas this year, which hopefully will work out okay. The breed of turkeys we have is also known for being good mothers, so hopefully on May 19 we will have a new little turkey family.
I’ve said it many times before, because it’s true. Every time there’s a sad day at the farm, I turn around and there’s something to make me smile again. On Fridays there’s a hashtag called #FunnyFarmerFriday that is a great time to think back on the entertaining events of the week. I thought I’d put together a few of my recent favorite funny photos from my Instagram account, because they’re not always the most photogenic photos so they may not make it into a typical blog post, but they are worthy of sharing nonetheless. Whether it be the cute photo opportunities provided by inquisitive baby chicks with their momma, molting chickens that fall into the so ugly its funny category, the never ending antics of the turkeys and their chicken pasture-mates, or my constant attempts at the perfect farmer selfie, there have been a lot of fun moments on the farm this past year. Whenever I find myself having a bad day, all I need to do is take a break from whatever I’m doing and spend a few minutes with the feathered ladies and gents, and I’m sure to have a smile on my face and a whole new attidtude.
This was our fourth year living at the farm full time, and every year it gets better and better. One of my favorite things about living on the farm is farm babies! We had several turkey and chicken mommas at the farm this year. We had two turkeys go broody at the same time, and I tried a new experiment and gave the turkeys a few chicken eggs to hatch as well as a dozen turkey eggs. They managed to hatch two chickens as well as ten turkey poults, and it was really interesting watching our mixed feather family grow up together (My Two Moms). One of the baby turkeys got rejected by the momma turkeys, and so I raised this turkey poult in the house for a week until she was strong enough to rejoin her turkey family. This little lady imprinted on me, and Pumpkin Pie is the friendliest of all of the turkeys we’ve raised on the farm. She loves to hang out with us and is so very inquisitive. She is also my most cooperative photo model which earned her her very own Flower Child photo shoot.
The repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is in the turkey yard became quite a popular egg laying destination for chickens and turkeys alike, but eventually the turkeys won out and another turkey decided to go broody in the dishwasher tub. I bought three young chicks at the feed store for our third broody turkey, and she raised her chicken chicks in the dishwasher tub for many weeks (Spaceship Turkey Momma). Sadly, only one of the chicks made it to adulthood, and she is named Baby Stardust. She and her momma also known as Starbuck, still hang out together, and Stardust spends much of her days hanging out with the turkeys. Stardust is another of our new favorites here at the farm. Baby Stardust just recently became a woman, and she laid her very first egg on Christmas Eve. We had one more batch of chicks hatched at the farm this summer, this time it was a more traditional chicken momma hatching chicken babies (Surprise Momma). Unfortunately, three of her four babies turned out to be roosters, so despite my efforts to raise up some new laying hens this year, we only ended up with Stardust and one young easter egger hen who should start laying in a month or so.
We had a run of bad luck with predators at the farm this summer, resulting in the loss of one young turkey poult and two young chickens. I never blogged about this because frankly, it was heartbreaking. One of the young chickens that was lost was Stardust’s sister, Sputnick, and for several hours after the attack Spaceship Turkey Momma was also missing, leaving Stardust a temporary orphan without any siblings. Thankfully Spaceship Turkey Momma returned, but the turkey poult that went missing with her on the night of the first attack never returned. Eventually some of our safety adjustments to the turkey yard kept the predator at bay, or perhaps he just moved on, but we did have an exciting night when Lucky the Rooster evaded an attack. Sadly, his sister chicken was not so fortunate. Lucky grew up to think he was a turkey, and he had to be rehomed when his turkey brother and turkey sisters got tired of his would be turkey ways and made it clear that he was not welcome. Lucky further lived up to his name by finding a wonderful home with his own flock on another farm.
It was another productive year In the Garden, despite a slow start to spring and an onslaught of ravenous rabbits, but in the end we managed to have a successful Fall Harvest. Our bee hives had another successful summer, and with three hives now producing honey we have been able to harvest a little more honey each year than the last. I don’t take enough out of the hives to sell, because I believe in leaving enough honey in the hives for the bees to survive on over the winter rather than taking out all of the honey and feeding the hives refined sugar as their winter food source as is the practice of larger scale honey producers. We have enough honey for ourselves and to make special gifts for friends and family, and we are doing our part to help the bees which is the main reason that I got into beekeeping in the first place.
The chickens and turkeys kept us plenty busy this year. It seems like there are always so many chores to be done, and even more so when there are feather babies to tend to and socialize, or injured flock members that need extra care (Sweet Rosie, Rosie and Reuben), but I’m more than happy to do whatever it takes to keep our flock as healthy and happy as it can be because they bring me so much joy. We finally managed to get the back deck coop that our three bantams live in expanded in preparation for adding a bantam rooster to our flock. I sure miss our Little Red Rooster, so hopefully next spring we’ll have a new little man on the farm tending to Millie, Salt and Pepa. On those rare occasions when I’m taking a break from farm chores, you can often find me taking photos of my pretty eggs or else taking photos of my chickens in funny hats! Yes, I’m an unabashed crazy chicken lady, but I’m happy and my chickens are happy and that’s just fine by me.
It’s been five months since the sweetest little turkey ever, Pumpkin Pie, came into my life. She is by far the friendliest turkey that I’ve ever had, and I look forward to seeing her every morning when I make the first rounds of the day and every night at tuck-in. I raised her in the house for about a week after she hatched because she was too weak to stand and was rejected by her momma, you can read that post here (Pumpkin Pie). After she rejoined the flock, she remained imprinted on me, and to this day she still runs up to me when I go out to the turkey yard. For her first couple of months, Pumpkin Pie was a bit of a runt, and I thought that she would remain a runt due to her slow start in life. But gradually she started catching up to her sisters in size, so I put a little white leg band on her so that I could easily identify her at a glance, and I’m glad I did because she is now as big as her sisters. I don’t know why, but turkeys of the same breed look almost identical to each other, whereas our chickens of the same breed all have distinguishing features. With chickens of the same breed, either the tips of their feathers are slightly different colors, or they’ll have a different pattern for multi-colored feathers, or their combs will be different sizes, but with the turkeys even I have trouble telling them apart at times. So I’ve banded a few of my favorites, including Prudence, Spaceship Turkey Momma, and now Pumpkin Pie. Ringo and Eleanor were also banded at one time, but they are talented leg band removers and now I have to confess that I can only tell who Eleanor is when she’s barking a greeting at me, of which she is quite fond of doing, but I digress.
Turkeys are very inquisitive by nature, and Pumpkin Pie is especially so. She follows me around as I do chores, sticking her face in my business and making adorable little sing-song noises and chortles all the while as if to say, watcha doin’ there? If I have ties or anything dangling on my clothing she’ll tug on it repeatedly. Anything shiny like jewelry or protruding like buttons will get repeated pecks. If I have a tool or something in my hands, she’ll peck at it trying to figure out what on earth this fascinating item could possibly be. We have lap time often, and although she’s getting big, she still manages to fit after awkwardly finding a place to settle her big feet. Ringo, my tom turkey, is quite jealous of Pumpkin Pie, and he is always hovering nearby looking sideways at me from his big eyes in that wrinkly blue head.
Pumpkin Pie is still a low turkey in the pecking order, as are all of the younger generation compared to the females from last year’s hatch and Prudence and Eleanor the flock matriarchs. At evening tuck-in sometimes Pumpkin Pie will be roosting on something lower in the turkey yard than the six foot tall roost that the older turkeys roost on. If she’s not on the high roost I will pick her up and put her up there so she won’t be as vulnerable to predator attack if one should come into the turkey yard at night. For a couple of months this summer we had repeated night-time attacks in the turkey yard, by what I believe to be a larger member of the weasel family, and each time it was the smaller chickens (of which we lost two) that would sleep outside with the turkeys that were attacked. After each attack I worried that Pumpkin Pie would be next due to her being the smallest turkey in the flock, but I worry less about her now that she is larger in size. We have tried, and are still actively trying to trap the predator, but with no luck. So every morning when I go out to the turkey yard I can’t help myself from doing a quick head count – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and Ringo makes ten. Once that is done I breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a few minutes with Pumpkin Pie and the rest of these amazing birds.
We have three turkey mommas at the farm this year, and they all have interesting stories. Two of the turkey mommas are co-raising nine turkey poults and two chicken chicks, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in My Two Moms. But this is the story of the third turkey momma, who decided to go broody at right about the same time as Eleanor and her daughter, June, went broody in the small chicken coop. Only this turkey, who is now known as Spaceship Turkey Momma, decided to go broody in the stainless steel dishwasher tub in the front pasture that I call the spaceship. A couple of the turkeys had decided to start laying their eggs in the spaceship this spring, and it was not unusual to see one or even two turkeys in the spaceship at the same time. After a few weeks of frequent turkey sightings in the spaceship, I realized that we had a third broody turkey on our hands. I debated about whether I should give her eggs to hatch, and if so how many, and should I give her turkey or chicken eggs to hatch. I had already decided that Eleanor and June would be the ones to raise the new batch of turkeys for the year, since they had the good foresight to go broody in a coop which would be a suitable and safe environment to raise the babies in. The dishwasher tub, however, is small and crowded and not a very safe or suitable location for raising babies. There was not much room for a family to grow in, and at night it could not be locked securely to keep predators out if they should happen to get in through the electric fence. But this turkey seemed very committed to her broodiness, and the quickest way to get a broody turkey or chicken over their broodiness is to give in and let them raise some babies. She had already been broody for quite some time by now, so rather than give her eggs to hatch which would take either three weeks for chicken eggs, or four weeks for turkey eggs, I decided to buy some chicken chicks at the feed store and slip them under her at night. I had done this successfully with our bossy alpha chicken, Raquel, several years ago (Raquel, Reinvented), and I was hoping this strategy would work again.
I bought three Light Brahma chicks, which are a large breed chicken that I thought would be a nice addition to our mixed chicken and turkey flock. I waited until after dark, and I went out to sneak them under the broody turkey. The thing about broody hens is, they are known for getting a bit of a mean streak, and they will peck anything that gets within beak’s reach with a surprising amount of force. I picked up the first chick and quickly put it under her, although not before she pecked my hand and wrist several times. I realized that I needed to get the other two chicks under her and get out of there quick, before she got too upset and ended up pecking the chicks instead of me. So I picked up the other two chicks in one hand, and I put my other hand in easy pecking distance of her as a sacrifice to allow me to slip the other two chicks under her while she was vigorously pecking my other hand. I left quickly, and I crossed my fingers for a happy outcome. It is not unheard of for chicks to be killed by a momma hen when attempting this, or even when the chicks are hatched from eggs by the momma. The next morning I awoke early and rushed down to check on her. I was thrilled to see her transformed from the hissing, pecking broody turkey of the night before to a proud momma, purring contentedly with the happy sounds of a momma hen talking to her little ones. I could not see the chicks because they were tucked safely under her, but I knew from the sounds she was making that my plan was a success!
For the next four weeks, spaceship turkey momma raised her chicks very devotedly, keeping them in the outskirts of the pasture or hidden in the grass, safe from the other chickens and turkeys and in particular away from the other two turkey mommas who were very protective of their mixed brood of eleven little ones. Early on in her foray into motherhood, one of the chicks passed away in the night. It’s always hard to lose them at this young age, and you usually don’t know what the cause was, but it happens. For four weeks, spaceship turkey momma and her babies slept in the spaceship at night, until one night the momma decided it was time for her to rejoin her turkey flock. I heard loud peeping one night from her two chicken chicks, and I looked outside to see her perched on the six foot high roost while her babies screeched at her quite pathetically from the ground below wondering why their momma was way up there and not in the spaceship getting ready for bed. I confess to being a bit of a meddler in the affairs of my chickens and turkeys. I just can’t help myself when I see someone is unhappy, so I try to fix the problem, with varying degrees of success. On this night and for the next several nights when I heard the chicks peeping loudly, I went down to the pasture and gave spaceship turkey momma a few pokes in the chest until she stood up, heard the plaintive calls of her babies, and flew off the roost and went back to the spaceship for the night. Then one night when I did this, instead of flying down to be with her babies, she gave me a stern look and hissed at me as if to say not tonight, I’m staying on the roost. Which she did that night and has every night since then. Her chicks are very different in terms of their flying skills than the two chicken chicks raised by the other two turkey mommas. The chicken chicks raised by Eleanor and June have no trouble flying up to the roost at night to sleep with their turkey family. The chicks raised by spaceship turkey momma do not seem to have gone to flight school, and they remain firmly planted on the ground the majority of the time. The spaceship turkey chicks continue their pathetic calls for their momma at night, and now my nightly ritual is that I wait until the chicks are setting down for the night in the spaceship, and I pick them up and place them on the roost in the small coop which is currently unoccupied. During the day, the chicks still hang out with their momma, and they are getting a bit braver and are spending more time in closer proximity to the rest of the flock. When they get larger, I am hoping that they become part of the chicken flock and will learn to go into the larger coop at night with the rest of the chickens. Oh and if you’re wondering about names for the spaceship turkey chicks, thanks for all of the great space-themed name options that my Instagram friends have suggested! I’ve decided on Sputnick and Stardust for the chicks and Starbuck for the momma. To keep up on daily farm happenings and photos, follow me on Instagram @5rfarmoregon.
Our momma turkeys hatched their poults a month ago, and all of them were doing well except for one little turkey that came to be known as Pumpkin Pie. We had a camera set up inside the coop that live streamed to our TV so that we could observe the two turkey mommas and the poults and make sure that all was well without disturbing them too much. Right away I noticed that momma Eleanor would get up and move to another area of the coop, and all of the poults would follow except for one that would be left lying on its back waving its feet in the air frantically trying to right itself and not being able to. I went out to the coop a couple of times that first day to pick up the poult and stick it back under the momma, and hoped that after a good nights rest all would be well. The next day I noticed that the same thing was happening, so I brought it into the house and set up a small temporary indoor brooder with a heat lamp for the poult. I had read that sometimes newly hatched chicks had problems such as this which could be caused by not getting enough nutrition during development in the egg. So I decided to keep this poult inside, give it vitamins in its water and make sure that it was getting enough to eat, and hoped that after a few days of good nutrition, it would stop having this problem and be able rejoin the flock.
Turkey poults need to be kept in a very warm environment, approximately 100 degrees, for their first week after hatch. Within an hour or so of getting the poult set up in its indoor brooder with a heat lamp and a stuffed animal for company and feeling like everything was under control, a big wind storm blew in and knocked out our power! I quickly lit a fire in the wood stove and moved the brooder right in front of the stove. We spent a couple of hours hanging out by the wood stove, and by that time I was already becoming quite attached to this little one. Thankfully the power came back on later in the day, and we settled into a routine. Throughout the day I would check on the poult, and I would tap my finger in its food and water dishes, encouraging the poult to peck at them as a means of making sure that it was getting enough to eat and drink, since it didn’t have a turkey momma to show it the ropes. Whenever I wasn’t with the poult and I would hear a loud peeping, I would run to check on it. Occasionally I would find it on its back, although mostly it would be just fine, standing on top of its stuffed animal companion and peeping happily as if to announce its climbing achievement. In the evenings we would sit on the sofa together, and after a few days when it seemed to be doing well and I was no longer worried that it wouldn’t survive, I decided to name it Pumpkin Pie and let myself love her. I would get up several times during the night whenever I would hear loud peeping. Usually everything was just fine, I think she just wanted a bit of company. After the second night of loud peeping, Sean set up a metronome at night, which seemed to provide some soothing companionship. That’s when I knew that little Pumpkin Pie had worked her way into Sean’s heart too.
After about five nights in the house, Pumpkin Pie was eating and drinking well and was very energetic. I wanted her to be able to rejoin the flock, so I didn’t dare keep her inside any longer for fear that she would be rejected if I kept her inside too long. The morning I went to reintroduce Pumpkin Pie to the flock I carried her out to the coop in the pocket of my jacket. I opened up the coop door to find the mommas and the other eight poults and two chicken chicks all running around eating and doing what turkeys do, so I quickly put the poult into the coop with the others and no one seemed the wiser that there was a new poult in their midst. The reintroduction seemed to have gone perfectly, and I went back inside the house hoping that little Pumpkin Pie would remember me now that she had her turkey family back. I was pleasantly surprised to find that every time I would go out to the turkey yard to fill feeders or waterers and check on the little ones, that Pumpkin Pie would come running up to me. I would kneel down and lay my hand open on the ground, and she would sit down in my hand and let me pick her up. She is now a month old, and is still running up to me whenever I go out to visit the turkeys. The other poults will also come over to me to see if I have treats, but they will quickly lose interest in me if there are no treats to be had. Little Pumpkin Pie, however, is content to sit with me for as long as I like, no strings attached. It seems that after two years of having turkeys, I finally have the lap turkey I’ve always wanted, and I couldn’t be happier.
We have turkey babies at the farm! Eleanor, who raised turkey chicks, known as poults, for us last spring is raising another batch for us this year. The twist this year is that she is raising them jointly with one of her daughters that she raised last year. Eleanor and her daughter, we’re calling her June for now, both decided to go broody at the same time in the small chicken coop where Eleanor raised babies last year. After I was sure they were committed to the task, I gave Eleanor and June 12 turkey eggs. I also decided to try something new and give them some chicken eggs as well. I know a few people who have had turkeys raise chicken chicks successfully, and I thought it would be fun so see them all grow up together. Turkey eggs need to be incubated for 28 days, and chicken eggs need to be incubated for 21 days, so I added 8 chicken eggs under the turkeys 7 days into their incubation. Eleanor and June devotedly sat on the eggs for 28 days, rotating the eggs back and forth between themselves. Eleanor, as the experienced momma, kept most of the eggs underneath her, but I noticed on warmer days the eggs would be split more equally between them. We had a good hatch of the turkey eggs – 10 out of 12, but only 2 out of 8 chicken eggs hatched. Perhaps it had to do with adding the chicken eggs after the mommas had already been incubating the turkey eggs for 7 days, or maybe its because the chicken eggs looked different compared to the turkey eggs, either way I’m pleased that two of the chicken eggs hatched, and it will be fun to see them grow up with the turkeys.
We set up a camera inside the coop that live streams to our TV so that we can observe the turkey mommas with the babies and make sure everything is going well. The mommas tend to be very protective of their poults, and the poults are also very wary of anything that’s not their momma. The first few days after the poults hatched, whenever I would open up the coop door the mommas would call the babies and they would all run and hide under the mommas. Having the camera set up so that we can watch them without disturbing them allows us to see all kinds of things that we would probably never see otherwise. We did have a couple of things go wrong this year, both of which we saw on the camera. One of the chicks that hatched was weak, and it kept falling over on its back and couldn’t get back up. The mommas wanted nothing to do with this little one and would move away from it rather than sitting on it to keep it warm. I brought this poult into the house for some TLC, and I’ll post the happy ending to little Pumpkin Pie’s story in my next blog. We also had one poult die in an unfortunate accident. I found the poult after it was already dead so there was nothing I could do, and while it was very sad, it was helpful to rewind the footage on the camera to be able to know exactly what happened instead of it being a mystery.
About a week after the poults hatched, they were ready to go outside and start exploring. Both of the mommas escort the poults around the pasture. The mommas are very protective, and they make alarm calls over practically every bird that flies by, whether it be a harmless robin or mourning dove, or an actual threat such as a hawk, or many times something that their keen eyes see in the distance or in the fir trees but that I do not see. The mommas and poults are in their own fenced area, separated from the rest of the turkeys and chickens, so that the poults can eat the special high protein feed that they need and also for their protection from being pecked by the other chickens and turkeys that they will one day share the pasture with. I’ve begun treat training with the poults to hopefully get them to be a bit less skittish around me. They are so fun to watch grow up, they are two weeks old now and are already taking their first dust baths and practicing their perching skills.
Spring is the time for chicks at the feed store and all manner of cute baby animals on the Instagram pages of my farm friends. I have been telling myself to stay strong and resist the temptation of baby chicks, that we don’t really need any more chickens at the farm. But need is a relative term, and I’m happy to say that the countdown to cuteness has begun here at the farm! Three of our five turkey hens have gone broody, meaning that they are ready to set and hatch eggs. Last year Eleanor did a great job hatching and raising eight turkeys for us in the spring, and then she went broody again in the fall although we didn’t let her hatch that late in the season. I had a feeling that she would go broody again this spring, and sure enough she did. Even better than that is that one of her daughters also went broody at the same time, and they are camped out together in the small coop in the turkey yard. I gave them a dozen turkey eggs to hatch ten days ago. Eleanor and her daughter are so adorable, sitting side by side and sharing the egg incubation duties.
A third turkey, another one of Eleanor’s daughters, decided to go broody a few days ago in the repurposed dishwasher tub that I like to call the turkey spaceship. I debated about whether to give her some eggs as well, because the quickest way to get a broody girl over her broodiness is to just give in and give her what she wants! I thought about giving this third turkey some chicken eggs to hatch, since none of our chickens seem interested in going broody. But the spaceship is really not all that spacious, and I thought it would be better if all of the turkey poults and chicken chicks were hatched in the same location so that they were already integrated together and I wouldn’t have to relocate the chicks and momma to more suitable location for raising chicks. So I decided to put eight chicken eggs in the coop and see if the turkeys would accept them and sure enough they did. Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch, and chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. I put the chicken eggs in after they turkeys had already been setting on the turkey eggs for a week, so all of the eggs should hatch at approximately the same time. I know several people who have had turkeys raise chickens and vice versa, and I’ve been told that after the little ones grow up and reach the age where they leave the care of their momma, they just naturally know to join the rest of the flock of their species. I am really looking forward to seeing how this all works out – two momma turkeys raising a mixed flock of turkey poults and chicken chicks. This should be interesting!
We’ve come full circle with our adventures in turkey raising this year, and what a ride it’s been! On May 25th, Eleanor hatched eight adorable babies. I watched anxiously as they grew up from fragile hatchlings, to young poults (First Day Out), to adventurous Turkey Teens. Eleanor was an attentive and very capable mother, and Aunt Prudence also pitched in to care for the youngsters, frequently letting them snuggle under her large wings on the roost at bedtime. Although I spent time with Eleanor’s little ones every day, socializing them, and feeding them treats out of my hand, they are still a bit on the wild side. For the most part they will come when called with a “turk, turk”, especially if they see that I have treats in hand, but there is no lap time to be had with this bunch. But that’s okay because they are such beautiful birds and have such interesting behaviors and calls that I am more than happy to observe them from a short distance away. Our two-year old tom turkey Ringo, who is quite a jerk to my husband, let’s me walk right up to him and stroke his lovely feathers, whereas none of the other turkeys will allow me to do that. So as long as Ringo behaves himself with me, and continues to do his job by contributing his good genetics to future generations and fulfilling his duty as flock protector, Ringo has been granted a pardon from the usual fate of a turkey at Thanksgiving time.
There was plenty of excitement as Eleanor’s poults were growing up including many instances of the turkeys flying over the electric fence that surrounds their pasture, and for quite a long time this summer I was hesitant to be away from the farm at dusk when the turkeys settle in on their roost for the night for fear that one or more of the turkeys would have accidentally flown over the fence and would have to spend the night outside of the safety of their fenced pasture and risk getting eaten by a predator. On one morning I awoke to Eleanor’s loud barking lost call, and as I walked down to the pasture I could see that five of her youngsters were missing from the pasture. I could hear her poults calling back to Eleanor from a distance and from several directions, including one of the young girls who was about 40 feet up in a tree! After an hour or so, everyone was reunited with their mom, thanks to repeated calling by both Eleanor and I, the power of treats, and a strong flock instinct. There was another time that I walked down to the pasture, and I saw two of the young girls, roosting about 30 feet high in one of our neighbor’s fir trees. Luckily, I had treats already in hand, and with a couple calls of “Here, turk, turk” and a shaking of the treat cup, they both soared down majestically from the tree into the pasture.
Eleanor’s poults grew up to be five boys and three girls. I sold two of the boys when they were three months old to a couple of small farms that needed a tom turkey for their flocks, and I hope that our boys are out there doing their job of carrying on the genetics of the heritage breed Narragansett turkey. We kept three of Eleanor’s boys along with her three girls until they were six months old, and they lived fairly peacefully alongside Ringo, Eleanor, and Prudence. But as Thanksgiving drew near, the young toms were displaying and challenging each other for dominance more frequently, and these challenges were turning into fighting matches more often too. No serious injuries had occurred yet, but I knew based on our experience raising our first four toms last year that it was just a matter of time before the fighting turned increasingly violent. If our turkeys were living in the wild, this would be the time that the males would disperse and go off to claim their own territories. We just do not have enough space here to keep four mature tom turkeys in separate living areas so it was time for our boys to fulfill their destiny which had been predetermined from the day we decided to let Eleanor hatch eggs.
Initially I had planned to take the toms to the poultry processing facility that is located about 50 miles from us, but as the day drew near, I began to rethink that decision. Our turkeys had lived every day of their lives as nature had intended, with the freedom to engage in all of their natural behaviors, living with green grass under their feet, enjoying the fresh air and sun above, and able to forage and explore to their heart’s content. Even though these turkeys were not really pets in the same way that many of our chickens are, I had cared for these turkeys for six months and done everything possible to give them the best life they could have. It was only right that on their last day, which would be the one bad day of their lives, that they were treated as respectfully and humanely as possible, and that meant doing the job ourselves. There have been a few people who have responded negatively to my posts on social media about harvesting our turkeys for Thanksgiving, saying that it’s awful that I killed my turkeys or that they are disappointed in my decision. I don’t expect everyone to understand my decision to do this, but it was precisely because I cared so much for our turkeys that I made the decision that I did.
This is only the second time that we have harvested our own birds for the table, the first time being a few years ago when we ended up with too many roosters (Coq au Vin). We used the same process this year for the turkeys, although this time we had better tools and a better setup and the whole process went very smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do, it was a difficult day to be sure, starting with the moment that I woke up that morning with a knot in my chest knowing what the day held. But knowing that the turkey that we would be eating was raised with kindness in a healthy and sustainable way made it all worthwhile, and it was the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. It is hard work and not necessarily profitable to raise chickens and turkeys for eggs or meat in a small farm setting, raising them in a humane and healthy way on pasture and being fed organic non-GMO feed. I don’t raise the chickens and turkeys to make money, we don’t even cover expenses with egg sales and the occasional sale of birds. I do it because I enjoy the experience of caring for them, and it feels good to be doing our small part to provide an alternative to the confined animal feeding operations that provide the majority of eggs and turkeys to consumers.
We still have Eleanor’s three daughters, and they will spend the foreseeable future with us. One of the best things about raising turkeys is the turkey eggs. They are extra large and beautiful, very tasty for breakfast, and great for baking too. I am looking forward to having lots of turkey eggs next spring for eating and selling. We will likely also raise up another batch or two of turkey poults, probably selling a few more poults next year. Of all of the experiences we’ve had since moving to the farm, the experience of raising turkeys may just be my favorite. Heritage breed turkeys are amazing birds, and I am thankful that I have been able to contribute in my own small way to the continuation of this wonderful breed.
Eleanor’s little ones are eight weeks old now, and they are not so little anymore. They have officially entered the teenage turkey phase. We took down the pen that they lived in with Eleanor until they were six weeks old, and the integration with the rest of the flock went remarkably smoothly. Prudence was happy to have her friend Eleanor back, and after a few minutes of Prudence chasing Eleanor around as if to say I’m the dominant turkey now, they resumed their friendship. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-behaved Prudence has been with the youngsters. She quickly settled into her role as Auntie Prudence, looking after the little ones as if they were her own. Prudence spends most of her days roaming the pasture with Eleanor and the little ones, and occasionally giving chase to one of the chickens when one ventures too close to the happy turkey family. Eleanor is proving herself to be an excellent mother, and she is still looking after the youngsters and sheltering them under her wings at night although by now they are getting a bit too big for that.
With our chickens, when we’ve had teenagers that were integrated into the rest of the flock, the other chickens would chase and peck the chicken teens mercilessly. The mother hen typically grows tired of caring for her offspring by the time they reach six or eight weeks old, and she will begin pecking the teens to drive them away from her when they try to roost under her wings at night. During the day, the mother hen goes back to join her flock-mates, leaving the teens to fend for themselves. At this point, the young chickens are forced to separate from the mother hen and form their own roving gang of teenagers. This has not happened yet with the turkeys, and I’m curious to see how much longer Eleanor and Prudence will continue to look after the youngsters.
I love watching the turkeys throughout the day, but nighttime is my favorite time to watch them. At bedtime, Eleanor patiently allows her youngsters to jockey for position under her wings, even though barely two of them fit under her wings anymore. For a few days after they joined the rest of the flock, Eleanor and the youngsters experimented with sleeping up on the roof of the big coop, but it didn’t look all that comfortable and now they have settled into a new routine. Typically all eight of the turkey teens will get settled in the early evening up on the high roost that Ringo and Prudence sleep on. A bit later in the evening Prudence will fly up to join them, and several of the youngsters will manage to squeeze themselves under Prudence’s wings. Just when everyone has gotten cozy, Ringo will fly up to the roost and peck at everyone, including Prudence, until they all fly back down onto the ground. Eleanor will settle onto a different perching spot with typically five of the youngsters. As it starts to get dark and Ringo seems to be settling in for the night, Prudence will fly up again onto the high perch, and three of the youngsters will fly up to join Prudence for the night. It is truly adorable to see Eleanor and Prudence roosting at night, wings spread, with little turkey heads or tails sticking out from under their wings. I wish the turkeys wouldn’t grow up for a little while longer. Already they are showing signs of who is going to grow up to be a boy and who is going to be a girl, and it looks like five boys and three girls. Before you know it we’ll have a bunch of obnoxious young toms fighting amongst themselves to sort out the hierarchy. But for now I am going to enjoy these next few weeks of adorableness, before the almost certain chaos of turkey toms begins!