Friday, September 25, 2015

Unexpected Turkey Babies are a Cookin'.... Maybe...

Priscilla's turkey chicks July 2015
Look how they've grown! Sept. 2015
When people tour the homestead, one of the most common questions upon visiting with our heritage turkeys is, "Don't they fly out?" and "Aren't you worried that a Tom will come and lure them off?" These are reasonable questions and in truth I have worried about these possibilities. Just not enough to take the time to cover their pen or clip their wings. I love our turkeys and I want them to be safe. I, also, want them to be turkeys. It gives me great joy seeing them strut across the back yard and come investigate what we are doing. And, though I know it is safer to live in captivity, it just makes me sad to think of them entirely penned up. My honest and usual response to these well-meaning questions is, "They do fly out. But, they stay around the yard. The day may come when they wander, but so far, they are content to live with us." And they have been.

We had a bit of a scare a couple weeks ago. Mary, our blue slate hen did not put herself to bed with the other turkeys one night. A pattern that continued. We saw her wandering the yard early each morning and in the late afternoons, but when evening came, she was gone. This went on for several days. I worried a little about predators. As more than a week passed and her routine became habit; Mary always returning during the day and roosting in some unknown place at night, I found myself watching for her return each day with a sigh of relief. Yes, I know it would have been easy enough to cover the yard with bird netting. We talked about it. But, neither Sean nor I wanted to pen her in permanently. Besides that, based on her pattern of missing feathers on her breast and along her back, I had a strong suspicion that she was laying eggs in a nest. If that was the case, I wanted to give her every opportunity to hatch out chicks. Our intention was to follow her to wherever she was roosting to see if our hunch was right. I will tell you this, turkeys are as dumb as the day is long, but this old girl had NO intention of leading us to her nest. She just disappeared before we could follow her. Seriously. Fast like a freak.

About a week into Mary's new routine, Priscilla starting behaving in the same way. She'd disappear during the day for a bit and then not come back to roost with the toms at night. The difference with Priscilla was that she almost immediately stopped coming home every day. It was every other day and then, every third day- long enough to hop into the pen to eat and grab some water and she would disappear before we could throw on shoes to follow her to her roosting place. Frustrating for us. We were also relieved each time we spotted her, happy to know she was safe.

Last Monday, after I returned home with Angus from Ridge Runner Veterinarians, I caught sight of Mary in with the toms. I grabbed my cell phone and already had on my shoes and cannily followed her back to her nesting spot... the tall grass behind Ebony's shed. Standing 2 feet in front of her, I would have walked directly passed it, had I not seen exactly where she disappeared. Relieved to find her spot, I had no intention of disturbing her. I was happy just knowing that she was close by and that there was a possibility of more turkey babies this year. It took another 10 days before I had the opportunity to check the empty nest while Mary grabbed a bite to eat and drink. There
were 7 eggs in the nest and 1 that looked like it had no shell, only a soft sac encasing a partially developed chick. It smelled terrible and was covered with hundreds of nasty, wiggling bugs. It quite turned my stomach! But, I only had a small window and with the chance that the other eggs were growing normally and viable, I grabbed a large, green leaf nearby, scooped up the sac and removed it from the nest- just in time for Mary to return and me to beat feet in a hasty retreat. I am always sorry to lose any animal, but the excitement over the potential of Mary hatching out seven chicks soothed its loss.

Last Wednesday night, Sean and I caught sight of Priscilla. We quickly ran outside and was in time to watch her disappear into the alders near this year's fledgling guinea keet pen. Even with both Sean and I watching and following from two different sides, I lost sight of her in the brush. Sean had a better vantage point and directed me to where she had her nest. Can you see her?

No? How about now?

She blends almost perfectly into the scrub. Priscilla's nest is still in our yard, but on the edge of the woods- closer than I am comfortable with. But, with a nest of eggs underneath her, I dare not try to move her. Instead, Sean marked the area behind her and Molly spread her scent around the perimeter, too. We rely on the scent of larger predators to dissuade smaller ones from coming too close to our animals. It works decently. In six years, we have only had one loss due to a fox. Priscilla's nest should be close to full-term. As soon as it is, we'll move her and her chicks to a safer place. We'll do the same for Mary and her young. :) Tonight in a pleasant turn of events, I caught Priscilla off her nest and Sean was able to count her eggs. It seems she only has two in the nest. Whether that means she only laid a small second clutch or whether something bothered her nest already, we do not know. Time will tell and we'll keep you posted.

But as of now, we have the potential for 9 more turkey poults to hatch this year. If they all do, we'll double the size of our flock to 18 birds. We'll keep many of the hens since we are trying to increase our ability to provide turkey poults to local folks who would like to raise their own turkeys. Most of the toms will be for sale in the spring.

We miss Angus and I think of him often. The thought of new life growing brings some measure of comfort, though, something to look forward to in the days ahead. I owe you posts about entering an apple pie contest, one about making elderberry syrup- just in time to need some as Sean and I both came down with colds, and how foraged mullein seems to be helping with Meaghan's asthma and sleeping. And, I have a tale to share of Asher, the teleporting goat, messing with my breeding schedule. All these will come in the next few weeks. So, stay with us.

Thanks for the visit tonight, friends. It is nice to share your company.
~Sonja ♥

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