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…

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!!

All hope is lost.

Oh, gentle reader, pray for me please, for, verily, I have lost what’s left of my mind.

The hatch of 3.0, my first, and shipped eggs of a difficult breed to hatch, to boot, went pretty much as expected, but not as hoped. As soon as I saw that I would have ten chicks, the laws of Nature and mathematics dictated that five of those will be roos; I will only be keeping one of each breed. This brings Heedley’s Hens up to fifteen, presuming no further losses, and, well…I have an itch.

While Ameraucanas and Marans lay lovely, unusually-coloured eggs, neither breed is known for high production. It’s great that we’ll have purebred hatching eggs come spring and lovely colour in our egg cartons, but pretty don’t feed the bulldog.

And, yes, I have 15-18 Kevin Porter heritage turkey poults coming in the final days of May, but that’s not quite scratching the aforementioned itch.

By now, you’re sitting back in your chair, gasping, the back of your hand to your parted lips…yes, gentle reader, yes. I just bought more hatching eggs.

But, wait! There’s more!! I ordered the eggs to coincide exactly with the arrival of the poults, hereafter known as T1.0.

This weekend, The Man will make the finishing touches on the crate in the coop, and C3.0 will move out of the house and in with their older sisters. Hilarity will ensue. This will leave the baby brooder in the house free for a thorough cleaning and new sand before the poults arrive. If the new hatching eggs are set at about the time the poults arrive, we can build the turkey house and stabilise the poults in two weeks, and get them into their new home in time for the newly-hatched chicks to move into the baby brooder.

By the time C3.1 is too big for the baby brooder, C3.0 will be integrated and roosting with the older girls, and C3.1 can move into the crate in the coop. Think I’m kidding? I have it all sketched out on the school calendar on the side of the fridge. I swear, it’s true, and those of you who know me know it’s true.

So…may I introduce you to C3.1?

I felt a need to pay homage to the girls I lost, my magnificent 1.0 girls. My first decision was to get more Plymouth Barred Rocks, in honour of the fantastic production I had from Coraline, Maisie, and especially Abby. These won’t be hatchery PBRs, though. Plymouth Barred Rocks are one of the oldest breeds in America, and there are breeders who have developed the finest heritage stock, going back many generations.

There are two important lines of heritage PBRs in America, and my eggs are coming from one of those lines, Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. I just heard from Fred of Fred’s Hens, from whom I will be getting the eggs. Here’s a pic of some of my babies’ daddy (the eggs will be fertilised by two different cocks, for genetic diversity):

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Is he not studly?!

I still find the occasional black and white striped feather around here, and they make me so sad. I look forward to having more Plymouth Barred Rocks here. Some really snooty ones.

And what about the second breed? I miss me some Buffy and Trixie. You know that. I know that you know that. You know that I know that you know that. How to have Orpingtons again, and still be du a gwyn?

Blue, Black, Splash Orpingtons, my dear, breeder quality, not from a hatchery.

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SplashOrpingtonHen

Quite.

The same lovely, affectionate personalities of my Buffy and Trixie, and broodiness, too, but much larger than hatchery birds. It will be like having feathered basketballs strewn about the yard.

So, now you are up-to-date with my insanity. The Man is in support of this insanity, by the way, but I don’t think he’s quite put together that two more breeds, if we’re , you know…breed them, means…two more roosters

Genetics, schmenetics. Someone much smarter than me speaks.

As you cannot help but know, gentle reader, I am getting 15ish turkey poults from Porter’s Heritage Turkeys this coming May, and I am psyched. Yesterday’s post addressed my concerns that I might get into trouble breeding brother to sister, and put forth the possibility of breeding males of one batch of turks to hens of another. This would mean doubling my numbers, of course, and my efforts, as well. (And my feed costs, and my housing…)

This would have been fine had it not been for a niggling concern I could not quell: with the issues I had last year not getting expected poults due to bad hatches, what if I order hatching eggs and, you know…have a bad hatch?! D’oh!! The irony!!

So, I put on my big girl pants and wrote an email to the man himself, Kevin Porter. I told him of the concerns I had breeding brother to sister from the shipment I was expecting, and did he feel I should look to another line to add genetic diversity? It’s a tough question to ask a breeder, but I felt certain I’d get an honest, thoughtful answer. And I did.

As far as inbreeding, you shouldn’t be worried about that; after all, that is how our heritage turkey varieties were developed. Inbreeding is the fastest method in animal breeding to bring to light defects or unwanted characteristics so they may be culled (eliminated).

The key to success and avoiding the many problems alluded to in the typical animal breeding texts is simply to not tolerate the use of any breeding stock displaying questionable problems.  Most of the strains that we have today were developed by those old-time master breeders with inbreeding. That’s why they bred so true for them.

We do occasionally add new blood into lines by outcrossing, but we only do this if we feel we need to improve on a trait. As the old saying goes, don’t fix it if it isn’t broken. If you feel you need to outcross you can, but you could really mess up a line that way, especially if you don’t know the source all too well.

I myself would be much more comfortable breeding a closely-related line that has been selectively bred over years for certain traits so you know what you are going to get when you breed them.  About the only way you are going to have problems with inbreeding like I mentioned  is if you breed birds that show undesired traits, breed only the best together and that is what you can expect from the offspring.

If you ever feel you need to outcross at some point down the road, let me know as we may have a slightly less related group at that time.

Now, you’d think I’d taken up enough of the man’s time at this point, wouldn’t you? But, I wasn’t done with him just yet. I have ever been known to push my luck, when the stakes are high and I have the ear of an expert. I replied, asking how Kevin chooses which birds to breed and which to cull. What are the things he looks for? Colour? Size? What else?

His answer came very quickly, bless his heart:

The horror stories of breeding closely-related  birds you hear about were probably just willy nilly bred without selective breeding, would be my guess. I, personally, have seen that not to be true if you selectively breed for the traits you are after and cull out those you don’t want. I have strains here that I haven’t put any new blood into for at least 15 years, and they are still reproducing extremely well without any undesired results cropping up and fertility is still top rate.

But, when I first got into the regal reds quite a few years back I did have a very different experience with closely-related birds. (The regal reds being sold out there right now are very much closely related, originating from a single source). I ran into some leg problems in quite a few of the offspring I produced from the original birds I got. What I did was cull out anything that came out with bad legs and only bred from stock that didn’t produce it, now I no longer get regal reds coming out with leg issues.

But you can still get undesired traits popping out of unrelated breedings, especially if you just happen to double up on something.

As far as the selection of quality breeding stock, I select my breeders for the desired weights/confirmation, straight legs and toes and the correct feather color/pattern for the variety.

To increase size it is better to use a larger hen to do that (than a larger tom). The other way around could result in injury to smaller hens.  As far as color, you need to select that on both sexes, not just one. This can get very confusing especially for someone not understanding color genetics. You can join my turkey color genetics group to learn more.

And, so…I did. I’d be a fool not to. Thank you Kevin, for taking the time to hold my hand a bit, and I absolutely cannot wait to get your poults!