The Turkish are coming! The Turkish are coming!

I have just received notification from Porter’s Heritage Turkeys that my poults are on the way!

I have been disappointed by bad hatches so many times (a common occurrence with birds from a small gene pool) that I didn’t dare expect the shipping notice. I half-expected an email explaining that my order couldn’t be filled due to yet another bad hatch.

But, oh, they are coming, gentle reader!

I ordered ten of the Self-Blue/Slate turkeys, and am getting eight. I ordered five White Holland turkeys, and am getting seven. One must needs be flexible in the world of conserving rare and endangered creatures. These poults were ordered and paid for way back in September. That’s how hard it is to get these birds.

I have never ordered live babies before, not directly. I’ve purchased them through Chicken Debbie at Agway, who had them shipped from a large hatchery, but these are coming directly to me. I will drive to the post office at dawn, open the box and hold my breath to see if there were any losses during shipping. I will be responsible for their immediate care, making sure each and every one receives water immediately (with molasses for energy), and ensures each one knows how to eat and drink. I am nervous.

That may sound silly, but all reports are that poults are much slower to learn these essential skills than chicks are. Many people suggest putting a chick or two in with poults, to teach them. I thought to do this, but Chicken Debbie is no longer offering chicks, C3.0 is too big (and have now been exposed to the Great Outdoors), and C3.1 is three weeks too young. I shall have to be extremely diligent to ensure each and every poult is eating and drinking. Yes, they are that dim.

Here’s what I hope to find when I open the box:

Self-Blue (AKA Lavender)

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Slate (AKA Blue Slate)

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White Holland

Holland-hen-poults

I have been notified that the White Holland poults will be marked with yellow on their heads to distinguish them from the Self-Blue poults.

And as if that weren’t enough, I have also received notification that my BBS Orpington eggs are on their way from Wisconsin, and my Plymouth Barred Rock eggs are headed north from Kentucky. I will be receiving packages very early Thursday morning, very early Friday morning, or both.

Tomorrow, I will be bringing Heedley’s Hens eggs to the post office peeps as a token of appreciation/bribe, along with a heads up.

Fingers crossed, y’all…

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It IS easy, however, being blue.

Hatching the Marans was my first foray into the genetics of blue colouration, but not my last. Ten of my fifteen heritage turkeys are to be in the blue spectrum, and one dozen of the hatching eggs I’m expecting are for Blue/Black/Splash (or BBS, as it’s known) Orpingtons. It’s turning out to be my thing.

There are differences between the genetic laws of blue colouration in chickens and in turkeys, and I’m learning those as I go (as I do), but there are also similarities.

Here’s what I know from my very first hatch of a BBS chicken breed: it pays to be blue. Of the twelve Marans that hatched, eight were blue, three were black, and only one was splash. Two black chicks and the splash chick needed help hatching. None of the blue chicks needed any help at all.

Of the four blue chicks of C3.0, all are healthy, active and growing, two of them prodigiously so. Big Blue is just so…big. And it’s not just her size. She is feathering out at a fantastic rate. She is also fearless; she was the first to jump onto my knee, and the first to fly up to the (rather high) roost I placed in the coop brooder.

The first black chick I helped is the only chicks of the five I helped who has required no further assistance, and is doing just great. S/he is, however, considerably smaller than his/her blue siblings. The difference is remarkable.

I look forward to observing the poults. I won’t have any blacks, but I will have slates (the turkey equivalent of blue) and self blue (the turkey equivalent of splash). Just to make things interesting, there is a divide amongst breeders of Blue Slate turkeys: some refer to the colours as Black, Blue and Lavender; others refer to them as Black, Slate, and Self-Blue.

As my foundation stock is coming from Kevin Porter, I will be using his terminology: Black, Slate, and Self Blue. You can read about Kevin’s thoughts on blue colouration in turkeys here.

When the Orps eggs arrive, it will be back to the drawing board again. I’ll need to study this. I never was very good at science.

The upside? Both the Orp eggs and the Rock eggs will be light, and easy to candle!!

My heritage turkeys will fly away. Wait. What?!

So, I’m at a Christmas party a few weeks ago, and who should be a guest at said party but Doctor Turkey, the father of one of The Stepdaughters’ friends, who got my whole crazy turkey fever started in the first damned place. And he tells me that the farmer who got him started, neighbour to Doctor Turkey, is also at said party. What an opportunity!

Now, this man is not a dilettante, like Doctor Turkey and myself; he is A Real Farmer, with turkeys and cattle and pigs (oh my), and I looked forward to hanging on his every word, sucking the wisdom from them, like the lime after the tequila. I tell him my whole stupid story, and how it’s really his fault, if you think about it, that I’m doing this colossally reckless thing, and I sit back and wait for the juicy, golden wisdom to descend upon mine countenance.

And the first words out of his mouth are “You know your turkeys are all going to fly away, right?”

While I’m stammering and choking on this, he tells me that, while he has a proper farm with proper meat animals and broad-breasted white turkeys, his girlfriend has a “zoo” (his word, not mine) across the street, where the animals are pampered and (insert grimace) named. When his girlfriend (who is sitting next to him at the party) got Blue Slate heritage turkeys, they ALL flew away and joined the local wild turkey population, never to be seen again.

She chimed in with a (pretty funny, I thought) story of someone who had brought their heritage turkeys to slaughter only to have them take flight and get out of Dodge while they were in line.

See, these turkeys, unlike the genetically-modified broad-breasted breeds, can fly. And not little take-offs like chickens, but serious flying. They sleep in tree tops, given their druthers. He warned me that I would need to keep my turkeys completely, utterly confined, with sturdy tops to the enclosures.

Now, that’s not how we roll here at Heedley’s Hens, and if I can’t have free, pastured turkeys, I’m not sure I want them at all. There’s always wing clipping, of course, and it may come to that, but I have this little fantasy of the turkeys sleeping in the trees, saving me the struggle of getting them in the barn at night (and where, exactly they would sleep in the barn, I have no idea, as at printing), and the hassle of cleaning up after them. Turkeys have massive, epic poops, by all accounts.

So, I turned to the best resource on the internet, the wise, experienced, friendly heritage turkey peeps at the RareHeritageTurkey chat group, on Yahoo. These people have heritage turkeys all over the country, from Oregon to Alabama to New York; I already owe them debts of gratitude and I haven’t even got the damned birds yet.

I didn’t want to shrug off the advice of an experienced, local farmer, but I wanted second, third and fourth opinions. The stories they had to tell were reassuring, hilarious and very informative:

I have NEVER had one of my turkeys leave, and I’ve had heritage turkeys for over 10 years. I also don’t have any wild turkeys roaming about, or neighbor’s with turkeys (I think that is the second main reason turkeys leave… to visit other turkeys). OR… if you have a very friendly neighbor, that encourages the turkeys to visit… but they usually go back home to roost.

Yes, they will fly over fences. Yes, they will fly out of some enclosures. Yes, they will fly up to your rooftop and do a little dance. They will fly, but they don’t fly away.

And this one:

I’ve free ranged my birds for the past ten years and I’ve never lost one bird to the wild flocks, which occasionally will go right through my yard. They are, however, quite oriented on me, so if I go out the back door the call usually goes up “There she is! She’s coming! Does she have food?! Yes, OMG! She has a fifty pound bag of Blue Seal feed on her  shoulder!” Etc, etc. And even if there is only a few turkeys in the yard that observed me, the others that might be 500 feet away in the pasture across the road will be at the barn before I get there, or coming at a hard run when I reach it.

So, no, I wouldn’t worry too much about losing them to the wilds.

I think it really depends on how much fuss you make over them while they are little. If you throw feed in the brooder twice a day and pay no other attention to them, I could see them thinking the grass on the other side of the fence looking pretty good when they grow up, but if you have only a few and make a fool of yourself over them when they are little, you probably will never have any trouble.

I have had turkeys wander away in the fall following the apple trees, and being away for a few days, but never because they joined wild birds. I had four that did that this year, and when they came back a week later (apples were gone) they were happy at home again. They were never over 1000′ from home, either, but stayed out all night on their own roosting in trees.

And my personal favourite:

Mine will take off and come back home bringing the local wilds with them…..sigh.

So, will I lose birds or gain them?

It seems the best approach is to emphasise socialisation when they are babies. As they will be in the house for the first two weeks, this should be easy to do. Also…fun.

Am I blue? T minus 30-ish. Again.

I have turkey news!

Tricia has just let me know that the hatch did not go well, and only four poults made it. These are spoken for (grumblegrumblegrumble…), but I have first dibs on the next hatch, going into the ‘bator today, with a hatch in 28 days.

Needless to say, my turkeys’ arrival is being pushed further and further forward (we started at April 6), but I am undaunted! I have been letting the universe have its way with me of late, but I am tired of being its bitch! I’m digging in my heels on this one. Gimme ma damn turkeys!

With poults landing in about a month, my dreams of integrating them with the new chicks are slipping away, and it’s unlikely the pink gazebo will reach its true potential. Perhaps the new found cage will be their brooder? By then, the weather will be very warm, indeed.

So, the chicks get to live in absolute spacious luxury for the next four weeks, and I keep waiting. To help with the wait, Tricia sent along pics of the babies. Enjoy.

Am I blue? T minus 9.

The turkeys are coming! The turkeys are coming!

One week Friday, the poults arrive. I’ve been on a bit of a ride with regard to the turkeys these past two weeks. If it were my sole intention to raise Blue Slate heritage turkeys to slaughter, I wouldn’t have bothered. But we have a vision to help preserve this endangered species, to help broaden its very limited gene pool, and to breed with an eye to increased vigor, fertility, size and conformation.

Now, I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed. Having spent as many years around Great Dane breeders as I have, I should have realised from the get-go that I should have started out with poults from a reputable breeder, not from a hatchery. Hatcheries breed many, many breeds and even species of birds with an eye to volume and health, but not to conformation. Starting with birds from a good breeder could have shaved years off our own breeding program.

I looked around for breeders of Blue Slates, but was initially unsuccessful. This is an endangered species. I committed myself to my purchase of six poults from a hatchery, and modified The Plan. I would use these six turkeys as my training ground, learning how to raise a different species. In the fall, I will keep the best tom and the best hen, and the rest will go to someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. (Oh, yes, they will, Gail.) I will make my choices based on vigor, size, colour, conformation and temperament. The poults I’m getting are straight run, so I have no idea how many of each gender I’ll get.

The tom and hen I keep will come to maturity through the winter. Come spring, the hen will likely wish to brood, as turkeys are famously good mamas. I will then buy hatching eggs from the two breeders I have been able to find, and let her brood them, with her own if I think it’s she and her tom have genetic potential. This would, with some luck, give me poults next year from three gene pools, which I, in my complete innocence, believe is a good place to start.

I have a tremendously steep learning curve ahead of me. Blue Slate poults come in three colours: slate, blue and black, and the genetics are tricky. From this website:

– a Slate bred to a Slate will produce all Slates, breeding true
– a Blue bred to a Blue will produce all three colours
– a Blue bred to a Black will produce Blues and Blacks
– a Black bred to a Black will produce all Blacks, breeding true

That is, unless you go by this site:

– a Slate bred to a Slate will produce all three colours
– a Self Blue bred to a Self  will produce only Self Blues
– a Self Blue bred to a Black will produce only Slates
– a Slate bred to a Black will produce Slates and Blacks
– a Self Blue bred to a Slate will produce only Self Blues and Slates
– a Black bred to a Black will produce only Blacks

Adding to the confusion is that I think different people may call different colours by different names. It seems there’s a difference between “Blue” and “Self Blue”, which can also be called “Lavender”. Argh! I need help.

There are much more complicated discussions online about recessive and dominant genes around which I cannot yet begin to wrap my tiny pea brain. Baby steps.

Just to make it more interesting, I’ve read that if you don’t breed to a Black every now and then, your Slate colour will fade. I’ve also read that it is the tom that gives the colour, and the hen that gives size and conformation.

You can see a short video about the three colours of poults here. Warning: cuteness!!

So, not only do I not know how many of each gender I’m getting, I don’t know what colours they will be. I placed a request for all Slates, but they didn’t know what I was talking about. Which is why one goes to a breeder.

It’s gonna be a big adventure, folks. I’ll know which colours I got as soon as I lay eyes on them, of course, and it turns out I’ll know gender pretty quickly, too. This video shows a couple of jakes strutting their stuff at only 11 days of age.

Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy summer.