Raising and Losing Turkeys
The last time I wrote about the turkeys was when we first got them in the mail. A lot has happened since then. We started out with an order of 15 to split among friends. One became weak after the first 24 hours, though, and even though we gave him some sugar water hoping to perk him up he ended up dying the second day.
14 turkeys. We kept four, we gave four to another friend, and two other friends got three each. Ours were three Narragansetts and one gorgeous Bourbon Red.
They were SO much fun to watch! And they were way friendlier and sweeter than chickens are. Ours did really well initially. Fortunately, a friend gave me a heads-up that turkeys need higher protein than baby chicks do or they’ll die. So we fed them Chick Starter (NOT Chick Starter/Grower), which has 24% protein. Two of our friends fed their turkeys Chick Starter/Grower, which has much lower protein, and two out of three of their turkeys died and they were each left with only one turkey.
We kept our babies inside in a large plastic tote under a heat lamp for several weeks. One day I noticed that one of the turkeys was strutting his stuff around another poult, like we’ve seen the roosters do to the hens, and we figured he must be a tom. We all cracked up at such a little guy acting so big and bad!
He was my favorite. I could put my hand down in front of him, and he’d climb in and sit down on my palm for as long as I’d let him stay there.
When they fully feathered out and didn’t huddle underneath the light anymore, we took the lamp out. At this point we figured they were probably ready to enjoy some grass beneath their feet, so we took them outside and let them roam in a movable pen.
As soon as they touched the ground for the first time, all four of them laid down on their sides in the dirt. I smiled with pleasure, “Oh look, they love it! They’re taking a dirt bath like the chickens!”
Little did I know.
In reality, the sudden temperature change from air conditioning to almost 90* was too much for them to handle. And even though I put shade over them, and gave them plenty of water, one died later that day.
It was my favorite tom.
I was so, so sad. In hind sight, I was so dumb.
I couldn’t figure it out. Why’d he die? I noticed that their water container had been knocked over, and I assumed maybe he died from thirst. Can turkeys die from thirst in a matter of hours? I brought the remaining three inside again for the night.
The next day, I took our three lively turkeys back outside to enjoy some fresh air. I put them in a shady place in the yard, and went about my day. A few hours later I went to check on them and noticed that their pen was now in full sun. And in horror I discovered another dead turkey. This time the water was still full, and I confirmed that it was the heat that had done them in.
We were more careful after that. We only had two left! But they were getting big, and really starting to stink in the house. I decided to put them back outside during the day, but I’d be more careful to keep them in full shade the whole time.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t good enough. We lost the beautiful Bourbon Red (the light colored one in the photo) a few days later to the heat. Even in the shade she still got too hot.
I called my other friend to check on her four turkey babies. I couldn’t believe it when her daughter told me that three of theirs had died from the heat as well!
Man! What were we supposed to do?! We couldn’t keep them in the house forever.
With only one left we had to be really careful. I still took him outside, but only for like an hour or two, and then I brought him back into the laundry room. He made a lot of noise though, so at night he slept in the closed up greenhouse.
Finally we decided that it was just time to build a permanent place for him outdoors. So, three days ago Jerry rigged a fence around our old goat shed (which is in the cool woods) and we moved the turkey in. We stuck the two guineas in with him (or her?) so he wouldn’t be lonely. They did fine the first two days. That is, until this morning.
When I went out to check on them earlier today, the turkey and the guineas were nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere, calling for them. And then I spotted it… a scattering of grey feathers, and a hole under the fence. A fox must have done it. Dang it!
I found one of the guineas a little while later, hanging out around the chicken coop. And I held out hope that maybe the turkey would miraculously show up. But it hasn’t. We’re out of luck.
We’ve decided that baby turkeys are just too much trouble. And at $10 each, they aren’t a cheap loss. I vow to no longer scoff at Craigslist ads asking $50 for a grown turkey. It just might be worth it if it’s one that can breed.
I’m so bummed out. Poor turkeys. I really loved having them.
Have you ever tried raising turkeys? How’d it go for you? Any tips on what I should have done differently?