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)


Slate (AKA Blue Slate)


White Holland


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…


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!



We are getting turkeys in the 3rd or 4th week of May. We ordered 15 turkeys, I think that is a lot of turkeys for us to have at once. When someone orders turkeys they have to be sent to you in the mail but not all of them live when they are being sent to you, they might die, so they send a little extra, like 2 or 3 extra so you might get a little more than you ordered.

Of course, when we get turkeys we are going to send some to the butcher and the rest we are going to let have babies so that we can have more turkeys to sell to people but we are going to keep some of the babies. If we are going to name our turkeys we should only name the ones that we are going to keep.

The three kinds that we are getting are the White Holland, that look like this:

Another kind we are getting is called the Self Blue , that looks like this:

And the last one we are getting is called the Slate, that looks like this:

The best thing of all is that they can protect the chickens from hawks because they are so big. I am Stepdaughter the Elder and I am so excited about getting the turkeys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sharing the crazy.

Asking for your input again, chickeneers…



The trigger, she is pulled.

Okay. Turkeys. Really. I mean it this time. She said.

For those who are a bit late to my turkey party, heritage turkeys are, for the most part, endangered. These turkeys, which, seventy years ago, were all Americans knew of turkey, are now rare. The development of the Broad-Breasted Turkey in the 1950s appealed (and continues to appeal) to the desire for a bird which matures more quickly (read: more cheaply), with an unnaturally-high percentage of breast meat. This bird can’t fly or mate, can have difficulty even walking, and its popularity pushed the Heritage breeds to the brink of extinction.

You can read more about the differences between Heritage Turkeys and what you buy in the store here.

Let’s look at the math. An endangered breed has, by definition, a small breeding pool, and a small breeding pool lacks genetic diversity. Getting a good hatch, ergo, can be challenging. After my hopes were dashed by two poor hatches from two different sources this past spring, I decided to place my fragile turkey dreams in the hands of the specialists: Porter’s Heritage Turkeys.

Turkey poults are shipped April through August from Porter’s, but these poults are limited in number, and must be ordered (and paid for) well before they are born. Order-taking for 2013 poults began in August, and I wanted to have mine next May, when the nights warm up a bit, and in time for my birthday on the 9th. If I waited too long to place my order (and pay for it), I wasn’t going to get my poults until June, or even later.

But the money just hasn’t been there. I’ve thought it would be there, a number of times, and then it would evaporate, as money does. When I turned to the Porter’s Turkeys ordering page today, and saw they are now taking orders for poults to be delivered in mid- to late-May, something in me snapped. Hard.

Some gut-wrenching financial finagling later, I have now ordered (and paid for) fifteen poults from Porter’s Turkeys, to be delivered mid- to late-May. I may be sorry for the next week or two, but it is done. Selah. The trigger, she is pulled.

One must order a minumum of fifteen poults from Porter’s, because that is the minimum number that can keep each other warm in transit, to maximise survival at the other end of shipping. I have had my heart set on Slate/Self-Blue Turkeys (the latter also known as Lavender), and was fully prepared to commit myself to this line as a breeder, until I saw these:

Above is a White Holland tom and hen, respectively. Are they not sublime, gentle reader?! I must have.

The White Holland was instrumental in the development of the White Broad-Breasted turkey, the one that 99.99% of Americans now find in grocery stores. Sadly, it, too, is now endangered.

Some people fear raising white birds because they are highly visible, and, it is said, more vulnerable to predation. We have hawks here, but they have not yet taken any of our girls, even when they’ve been free-ranging dawn to dusk from the age of eight weeks. We do have some white birds, and I’ve always said that the hawk who can pick up Tallulah and fly away with her has earned his dinner. She’s big girl.

So, this change of plan is not without risk. The Man wanted me to choose a breed right off and settle on it, but we’re married now, so I can do what ever the damn hell I want, right, honey? That’s what I thought.

Und, so. I ordered ten poults from the Slate/Self-Blue combo, and five of the White Holland. I’ll see how it goes, and call an audible some time before Thanksgiving 2013. Because that’s how I roll.

Those of you who are paying attention might have noticed that Porter’s asks you to include a breed you might accept as a substitution, if the hatch rates do not allow them to complete your entire shipment as ordered. I selected Lilac, which is an related breed to the Slate:

So, stay tuned, chickeneers and turkeynauts. The turkeys are coming…

Am I blue? Yes. Yes, I am. Again.

We have the results: 29 eggs yielded only three poults.; the tom’s fertility may be to blame. So, there you have it, chickeneers. No poults for me. Not this year. Next spring, I’ll be ordering early from Porter’s. My apologies for all the unfulfilled expectation.

Many, many thanks to Tricia of Tricott Dairy for all her patience with this not-quite-newbie. I have to take the universe’s hint and put this particular dream away for a while.


Update 06.02.12: Here they are…gorgeous things.

The waiting room.

I do believe I know how expectant fathers must have felt in that era where they paced the outer room as a birth was in progress.

This is agony.

I had an update from Tricia this morning, and it’s a good news/less good news scenario. Good news: the one that hatched yesterday is very strong. Less good news: there haven’t been any others.

Two more have pipped, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that today. To quote Tricia: “…sometimes raising heritage sucks”. They are just not very hardy, due, in part, to how small the gene pool is.

I’m beginning to consider the unthinkable: what I will do if there aren’t six strong poults to bring home? It seems preposterous, given the 29 eggs in the ‘bator, but…what if?

The Man and I had a meeting of the Senior Council this morning and came to the following conclusions:

  1. We won’t do six hours of driving for fewer than six. We just can’t justify it.
  2. If this hatch doesn’t come through for us, we’re going to postpone our/my turkey dreams to next spring. It’s been two months of waiting, and we/I just can’t do it any more this year.

I will keep you posted…