Incubation progress and dealing with detached air cells.

I’ve set up a second incubator full of Pilgrim goose eggs;

This has been my little surgery-recuperation spot, with a rocking chair, reading material and incubators close at hand.  Currently I am (finally) reading SJWs Always Lie, which I received as a birthday gift this year, as well as Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, in anticipation of 15 Midget White poults due to arrive in June.

Also, Domestic Geese by Dr. Chris Ashton has been invaluable as I learn to hatch the notoriously challenging-to-incubate Pilgrims.

I purchased some extra Pilgrim eggs on eBay from a farm in Missouri.  Although the seller packaged them well, the post office seriously mishandled the box, crushing one side and breaking one of the eggs, which leaked all over.

Smashed Pilgrim egg in bubble wrap

The problem with this is that fertile eggs have an air cell within them that can be damaged if they are jarred and jostled too hard.  Though the remaining eleven eggs are not cracked, there’s little chance of them developing if the air cells are damaged.

Eleven eggs from another farm plus three from Abigail; our hope is to increase genetic diversity in our flock.

I have propped up the purchased eggs with the blunt end up in hopes of getting the air cells to repair themselves back at the top of the eggs.

Here is the progress on Abigail’s eggs that I put in the other incubator about 12 days ago:

You can see a well-formed and intact air cell at the top of the egg. The blood vessels in the developing chorioallantoic membrane are also visible.

It is still a longshot that we will actually be able to hatch any goslings, but so far everything is moving in the right direction with Abigail’s eggs.  Now that the weather is warming up, we have stopped collecting the eggs she is laying in hopes of enticing her to sit on a clutch and hatch them the old-fashioned way!

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Lessons learned from my first season of turkey-raising

 

Most of the blogs I read are homesteading or microfarming sites and for the past month have all had scant posts mainly consisting of “Haaaalp, there are not enough hours in the day!”  Which I can relate to.  I simply cannot get it all done between dawn and dark, no matter how hard I work. On the bright side, my chronic insomnia is at an all time low due to overwhelming exhaustion by the time I collapse into bed.

 

It’s just been one problem after another. Something ate all the blueberries; gotta net the plants.  Something is eating all the blackberries, gotta make a tree-limb-n-twine-lashing fence around them. Something died out in the woods and the dogs keep dragging home greasy bones, a pelvis here, a femur there; gotta find whatever it is and bury it.  Why are the huckleberries dying?  Not enough nitrogen says the internet; time to pee in a bucket, mix in a gallon of pond water, and use it to fertilize them (studies reliably show that human urine, which contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, is an excellent replacement for chemical fertilizers, and provided you aren’t sick, it’s pretty much sterile, though you might not want to use it when the plant is actively giving fruit that you are harvesting).

And on and on.  So much work, so little yield yet.  Do you realize those wild-eyed preppers are right, we’ll all die if the electric grid goes down because none of us knows how to produce our own food successfully?  I never really believed it until this summer when I’ve worked so damn hard just to keep everything from out-and-out dying, let alone yielding anything edible.

 

But let’s talk about those turkeys.

 

We started out at the end of April with two adorable Broad-Breasted Whites and two Broad-Breasted Bronzes.  We thought we’d process them at five months, right around the beginning of October, but they just grew so incredibly fast.  Earlier this month one of the bronzes went lame…

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so we took it to Munsell’s Poultry Processing; he dressed out at just shy of 15 pounds and into the freezer he went.  Bronzes have dark spots on their flesh and don’t look as lovely when roasted whole…

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Note the dark spots on his flesh

…so I was really looking forward to seeing how the Whites turned out.

 

Several days ago I loaded up the three remaining mondo-ginormous turkeys and hauled them to Munsell’s…

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…but when I went to pick them up, the girl told me that the USDA inspector had condemned two of my birds after they were opened up due to septicemia.  One white was deemed acceptable:

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I was so shocked I could hardly speak. I keep a very clean coop if I do say so myself, frequently cleaning feeders and waterers with disinfectant and letting the birds out to free range all day.  How could my birds not be healthy?  They’d looked and acted just fine.

 

The ladies who slaughtered them came out to chat with me and said it just happens sometimes. One of them told me she raises turkeys herself and sometimes the inspector condemns them.  They told me they process around 500 head of fowl per day and on average the inspector condemns about 20 birds.

 

Still, I fretted about it all evening and tried to find information online about how to prevent this from happening again, but I could not find much information aimed at the small-time backyard turkey producer. What I found was publications generated by the poultry industry, which I started to read with interest.  Last year, around 1% of turkeys were condemned after slaughter, which is significantly better than my 50% condemned rate, though it’s not really comparable since I had only four birds. But guess who has much higher rates of condemned birds?  Antibiotic-free producers!   Ahhh, that makes a lot of sense…my birds had septicemia, which is usually caused by E.Coli infection, and guess what we never, ever give any of our poultry?  Antibiotics.

 

So I’ve learned some things for next time.  To summarize:

 

  • Broad-Breasted turkeys, which are the industry standard, are specifically bred for extremely rapid growth with an excellent feed-to-meat conversion ratio.  This rapid growth stresses the birds, however, which means…

 

  • They are prone to infection.  If they are given antibiotics regularly, losses will be lessened, but…

 

  • If you are committed to raising them antibiotic-free, expect to lose significantly more birds, either due to mortality or due to being condemned at the time of slaughter.  Make sure to buy twice as many poults as you want finished turkeys.

 

So next year, maybe we’ll try a slower-growing heritage breed of turkey.  They take longer to reach a decent dressing-out weight and the feed conversion is a lot less efficient (which I don’t care about, since we only raise a few birds and we free-range them for part of their feed). We are leaning toward raising either Midget Whites, which are reported to taste very good and be easy to raise…

…or Bourbon Reds, which dress out rather larger:

In case you are planning to raise turkeys, here are the sources of information I found helpful regarding septicemia (be aware that these publications are produced by the poultry industry and have a pro-antibiotic slant to them):

Specialists explore new options for managing flock health while defending judicious antibiotic use

Antibiotic-free poultry production: Is it sustainable?

Even though we only ended up with two out of the four turkeys in the freezer, it was a good learning experience for our first attempt.  I’ll leave you with a few other tips I learned:

  1. Turkeys are friendly toward humans but somewhat aggressive toward each other and other varieties of birds.  Use Blue Kote to deal with pecking injuries. Given them half a head of cabbage suspended on a rope in the brooder so they have something to peck at while they’re little so they don’t get in the habit of pecking one another.
  2. Turkeys and chickens cannot be raised together due to the risk of the turkeys contracting Histomonas meleagridis from the chickens, which causes Blackhead disease.
  3. You MUST feed the turkeys separately if you are raising them in the same area as other poultry such as ducks and geese.  Turkeys are total pigs and will eat all their own food and then go eat the other birds’ food.  The Broad-Breasteds (BBs) will overeat if given free access to all the feed they want; we allowed ours to overeat and gain weight too quickly.  Here is a feeding chart (assuming free ranging in between feeding times):

4.Turkeys are excellent free-rangers and want to be out and about all day from an early age.  Plan for this.

5. It can be hard to find feed for turkeys. You need to start them out on 26-28% protein; we found a game bird feed that worked for this.  You can lower the protein to 20-24% later and then finish them out on 16% to get a nice layer of fat on them before slaughter.  Withhold food for at least 15 hours before slaughter so that the crop and intestines will be mostly empty.

6. They need a much larger coop than you think if you are raising BBs.  Our coop quickly grew too crowded.

7. Unbelievably, they seem to like to get in water.  Maybe ours were just imitating the ducks and geese, but they would actually get in the pond to cool off on hot days.  One saw my husband on the other side of the pond and swam all the way across to him! I wish we’d gotten a picture of that absurd sight.  Anyway, if you don’t have a pond, your jakes and jennies (but NOT poults) might appreciate access to a kiddie pool full of fresh water when it’s hot out.

Still here with the turkeys

Hello, gentle reader!image

Unlike some lucky folks (I’m looking at you, Kate),  I am not yet on summer vacation. Which means I am tending to the needs of 13 ducks, two geese, four turkeys, nine chickens, two dogs, a pond full of fish, the kids (who are involved in 9 million activities and constantly needing to be picked up from horseback riding lessons or driven to swim practice or taken to drivers ed – thank goodness for that last one!), 50+ kids on my caseload at work….well, you get the picture!image

The ducks helpfully ate my entire garden, so I haven’t had to do any weeding or watering of that, but due to the little drought we are having in Michigan, I have been hauling water to all the trees I planted this spring: 100 new Douglas fir trees, 25 baby sugar maples, a cherry tree, two almond trees, many blueberry bushes, a serviceberry tree, etc. etc. etc.

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So I cannot yet return to blogging. But I can post gratuitous cute pictures of our future Thanksgiving dinner!

Hope you have all been well.

 

Brooding turkey poults and managing pecking.

 


Along with assorted chicks, ducklings, and goslings, we are raising two broad-breasted white and two broad-breasted bronze turkey poults.  Despite my warning the children that the turkeys already have a fall date at Munsell’s Poultry Processing, they wanted to name them anyway. I insisted that the names be food related, so the bronzes are named Feast and Leftovers, but one of our daughters humorously named the whites Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

They started out at two days post-hatch in homemade brooder boxes on steel wire shelves in the garage. We use red lights because they are warmer,  but also because turkeys and chicks will peck at each other if they see a wound on one of the birds, to the point of cannibalizing each other. The red light makes it more difficult to detect a wound on each other.

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Nevertheless, Leftovers turned out to be a bit of a bully. He pulled some downy feathers off Guildenstern’s wing and made a little wound. That attracted the other birds’ attention, and they were all pecking and picking on poor Guildenstern.

My husband called a work colleague who raises turkeys who said to coat the wound with something called Blue Kote:

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Blue Kote is an antiseptic wound dressing for horses, but it not only cleans wounds on poultry, but it also dyes the wound and feathers blue, which disguises it from the other birds so that they will not peck at the injured bird.

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I also did some research online, and found the following helpful information about pecking behavior. First, if birds feel overcrowded or overheated they will peck more. So we separated the four turkey poults into two separate brooders. We also raised the heat lamps up in order to lower the temperature in the brooders.

Next, we increased the protein content of their diet by feeding them hard boiled egg that had been run through the food processor shell and all. We also finely chopped some raw beef liver and fed it to them with some finely ground granite chick grit.

I also added 1 teaspoon of seasalt to a gallon of water and used that as their drinking water for a few days in case they were missing any necessary minerals.  And to give them something appropriate to peck at, my husband hung a head of cabbage on a piece of rope into the brooder.

And finally, I moved them outside to a little coop in the backyard and made one of those heating pad “mama hen” brooders I wrote about before.

https://thesunshinethiryblog.com/2016/03/05/women-can-be-hard-working-and-innovative-in-their-proper-sphere/

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A wire mesh “cave” covered with a heating pad covered with a towel wrapped in press-n-seal and pine shreds over that makes a cozy outdoor brooder

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The poults were thrilled to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine with grass and bugs to peck at instead of each other:

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Rosencrantz’s wing is all healed up and Leftovers has been much less peckish.