The Turkey and the Hen, pt 1

You can check back and read the first post on this little adventure, A Surrogate Mother, if you want more background info.  At this point we have a turkey hen who STILL wants to lay her eggs and sit on them.

Sitting on them long enough, is the real issue.  She does very well for a few days and then will leave.  Those eggs need to be kept pretty consistent at 99.8 degrees F to actually hatch, for 28 days. I mean, I’m sure they can tolerate some lower temps, when mom goes to eat/drink… but they cannot end up being stone cold before she gets back.

ERGO, my broody hen was called in to help out. She, who is content to “sit”, almost forever (one time for close to 60 days).  That time we brought HER food and water to make sure she was getting enough, she was so dedicated to her egg-sitting.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we took the hen’s eggs that she was sitting on and put them in the incubator.  We took the turkey eggs and put them under the hen.  Turkey chicks are pretty fragile and do much better being raised by a hen, then by ME.

Now, the latest. This Midget White Turkey is obsessed.  She keeps wanting to sit on some eggs.. but unfortunately, she’s not exactly dedicated to the job.  She also likes to “flirt” with the guys… so will take off, forgetting all about her eggs.  When she remembers and heads back to the nest… she looks around for the eggs.

Bunk-bed sitting hens

On discovering that the HEN had eggs, she promptly set on the hen. I mean, actually climbed on top of the hen, and was sitting on her. Our broody hen would NOT budge. (did I mention the word dedicated????).

They did finally share side by side, with each keeping eggs warm. I hope the embryo’s are pretty sturdy to handle all the “action” they have been getting.

The turkey’s last visit back to the sitting area, she created a new nest and laid more eggs. Now we have way too many eggs for that little hen to sit on, plus the timing was going to be all off.

We took these newest turkey eggs, marked them, and put them in the incubator, to see if we could save them.  Maybe I’ll have another hen go broody (we’re certainly having spring like weather)… and can slip them under her before they hatch, and she can raise them.

Surrogate mother for my turkey’s eggs

pastued midget white turkeys

Our Midget White Turkeys

Our Midget White Turkey hens have started laying.  Never-mind the fact that this is the middle of winter (well, maybe that is the confusion, this winter has been so warm) and they are confused.  Coming in with the chicken eggs, we’re finding large speckled turkey eggs. Over a few days we’ve collected 4 of these eggs.  In just a few more days we should have at least 6-7.

Midget White Turkey Egg

Turkey egg on the left, Chicken egg on the right

While our midget is laying consistently, it’s unlikely that she will sit on her eggs, especially as this is off-season.

Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch… and I have a broody hen.  A hen that is insisting on incubating some eggs. So we will play the switcheroo game.  When we have collected enough turkey eggs, I’ll remove the hen’s own eggs and put them in the incubator to complete their 21 day incubation.  I’ll replace her eggs with a new batch of  turkey eggs.

Lucky for me the hen will keep sitting until those eggs hatch, even though turkey eggs take longer.  If we get really fancy, we’ll take some of my prime chicken eggs, and 7 days after the turkey eggs are started, we’ll put the chicken eggs under her, as well. They should all hatch within 48 hrs of each other.

Now why would anyone in their right mind do this dance?

Because turkey chicks are notoriously difficult to raise. AND are VERY expensive to order from the hatchery.  Roughly $10 a chick, and a 50% survival rate is the norm.  That makes it $20 cost base for each surviving turkey. If we can find a way to raise our own chicks, we are way ahead of the game.

While I can incubate the eggs to get them to hatch, it’s raising them up that is the problem… but mother hens do it without missing a beat.  They will raise their chicks, turkey chicks, guinea chicks, just about anybody’s chicks I think, and not lose a one! It’s awesome to watch.  She’ll even raise a combo… chicken & turkey chicks at the same time.

We’ve had a momma hen hatch out 2 little chicks, and I’ll give her another dozen (slip them under at night, just after her chicks have hatched).  She rises up in the morning and the baby chicks just keep streaming out from under her. Good thing for me hen’s can’t count! She does the job without a hitch.  And we have the fun of watching the mom teach the babies to scratch and hunt for food.

Broody hen with new hatch

Broody hen with surrogate chicks

If everything goes according to schedule, my broody hen should hatch out at least 6 turkey chicks… without me having to do too much work,  while letting her do the work she does best. By the time she is ready to leave her little flock, the turkeys will be able to hold their own.

It’s a variation on sustainable but as the “broodiness” has been bred out of turkeys it is difficult to get the to sit on their own eggs, or get them to raise their own chicks. Kinda sad really.   Commercial turkey’s breast are too large to allow mating, so they must be A.I.ed (artificial insemination). But at least OUR turkeys can breed on their own! At least we’re getting a bit back to the historical norms… not all the way, but at least, some of the way.

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