Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Raising Turkeys: 2012

Raising turkeys in a brood box is basically the same as chickens, but the turkeys ought to be kept away from chickens when they are young.  Some chicks are carriers of Blackhead Disease which is fatal for turkeys.  We have a few brood boxes that we have used for chickens, ducks, and geese so we just tried to clean the brood box as best as we could.

One important difference we noticed between turkeys and other critters is their friendliness.  For some reason turkeys are a lot more friendly than all of the other critters we have raised.  All the other critters would run away whistling or peeping in terror at the sight of the evil hand and required a lot of time to get used to my presence.  Usually day old chicks, ducklings, goslings, etc. are too confused to be afraid so that is a good time to start bonding.  Turkeys do not require much time, if any.  This is not inherently good.  If you intend to free range turkeys it is possible they will try to follow you everywhere.  And by possible I mean extremely likely.  When the turkeys were in their temporary enclosure they would follow us around as best as they could every time we walked by.  We used to "free-free-range" the chickens and some ducks, which means they had complete freedom.  Unfortunately, they would get into all kinds of mischief, so now they only "free-range" in an enclosure about the size of an acre.  We intended to do the same with the turkeys, except their enclosure was smaller.

When we finally finished Fort Aqaba, we released the turkeys from their enclosure and actually just walked them over to their new home.  It was like walking a dog, except we did not even need a leash; they just followed making only occasional stops to grab a bite to eat.  Unfortunately, when we shut the gate of Fort Aqaba and walked away, the turkeys started crying.  After a minute or so I thought they would not stop unless we did something.  I was concerned that they would not eat or drink because they were so upset.  I made a rickety scarecrow frame out of OSB and some other random filth I had on hand, and put some old clothes on it.  I held the "calmturkey" in front of me as I walked towards the enclosure and quickly placed it inside.  It seems to have worked since they quit crying so much.  It is possible they would have stopped eventually, but I had no way of knowing for sure, especially since they were all piled on top of each other in the corner of the enclosure.

Some days I would see my likeness tipped over on the ground and trampled into the dust and would wonder what was going on, until one day I noticed the turkeys fighting each other near the "calmturkey".  Thankfully their disrespect was unintentional.  It is not uncommon to see turkeys strutting before they are even a week old.  Usually turkeys will puff out their chests and bump into each other, but you will also see pecking and even kicking.  We never had any serious problems, but if you do, you will want to separate the wounded bird from the others as quickly as possible or simply despatch it.  Leaving a wounded bird with the others is a bad idea because it will probably get picked on by everyone until it dies.

It is amusing when little turkeys in the brood box peck your hand, but when they get bigger you need to watch out as they can easily draw blood.  Usually you will see a glint in the turkey's eyes before it strikes or you will notice a slight change in posture.  This is not something they do out of malice.  It is possibly just a pecking order issue or they simply see something interesting to peck at.  Whenever I detected they were about to peck I would use my knee to push them back and I would do that as often as was necessary.  Sometimes it would just be once, but it could take three or four times.  The turkeys will make a noise that lets you know they find such behavior offensive, but it is better than being pecked.  Turning your back is an open invitation to be pecked so never turn your back.

Unlike its namesake, Fort Aqaba was not sited very well.  The worst problem was that there was no shade. We hoped to overcome that by setting up tarps and palletts, but they did not work so well.  There were no casualties, but I am still not pleased with Fort Aqaba.  If I were to station other critters there I would definitely make some changes.  What really sucked was that 2012 was incredibly hot.  Words cannot describe it.  We lost over one thousand strawberries because of the intense heat.  They were just baked to death.  So there are turkeys were in a crappy location in the hottest year ever.  The tarps helped a little, but we needed something else.  We placed a small swimming pool in the enclosure and called the turkeys over so they would stand in it.  This is a good way to cool turkeys off because they are big enough to enter and exit, and you do not have a muddy filth hole to deal with.

Turkeys will forage, but they do like their feed.  Unfortunately, the enclosure was not very large nor was our feeder setup very good.  We could not make the enclosure any larger due to the cost, and we did not want to mix the turkeys with the other critters we were raising.  We were not able to let the turkeys out to forage like we had hoped due to time constraints and other issues.  We set the feeders on tires and added tires as needed, but some of the feed was wasted.  It would have been better to create feeder shelters which would protect the feed from the elements and prevent turkeys from clambering all over the feeders.  At night the turkeys would try to perch on whatever they could find, and since there was not enough room on the palletts some would try to perch on the feeders.

We did not place a lot of objects turkeys can perch on in the enclosure because we did not want the turkeys to get used to roosting outside.  Sadly, after a certain point it was always a struggle to get the naughty birds to bed.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like if they were "free-free-ranged".  At this point we had already experienced the agony of herding filthy McMutants and wanted to avoid that with the turkeys.   Herding turkeys is basically the same as herding every other critter--they will go in the exact opposite direction you go in.  This means you will be flapping your arms and running around like a South African signer.

I cannot help but wonder why the turkeys never got used to going into the coop at night since almost every other critter we raised finally admitted defeat and put themselves to bed.  It is possible the coop was not large enough for the turkeys, but there did not seem to be any serious problems.  Perhaps turkeys just prefer to be outside or the heat was just too intense.  We did design the coop with summer use in mind, but maybe it was still too hot for them.

We never really found a good way to despatch the birds.  First we tried to bleed one of the birds out but it was taking too long so we switched to decapitating them with an axe.  We used feed bags to contain the birds and then I sat on them while Lostminds chopped them.  Turkeys can get quite large and one of ours was nearly fifty pounds.  They are also powerful, so if you are not sitting on them properly you will get bucked.  Sitting on them is a bit like sitting on a rotortiller.  On the day of doom we were actually able to walk some of the birds over to the execution site one at a time, but as you can imagine they became increasingly more hesitant.

One problem we never encountered before with any of our fowl was an enlarged crop.  One of the turkeys had a huge bulge and we had no idea what it was until we butchered it.  We thought it was a tumor, but it was an enlarged crop which is not a serious issue.

We did two turkeys whole but had no way of scalding the birds because we did not have a large enough pot.  We had to dry pluck the birds, but this was not really hard.  The turkeys have tough skin and none of it broke while we plucked.

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