new issue on salenow!
Turkey poults

A Turkey Tale

Story by

Jessamy Miller tells of the pleasures and pitfalls of raising baby turkeys.

It seemed so easy. When my mother lent me her new high-tech incubator for hatching season, she suggested a small favour in return. If I could just hatch some turkey eggs it would save her a lot of trouble. Why not? I thought. I love poults. In fact, why not raise them for her as well? How hard could it be?

These turkeys were not intended as roast dinners, but valuable breeding stock for a line of Bronze show champions. Poults require brooding for longer than chicks, so if I kept them for six weeks and gave them to Mum for Christmas, they would be off heat and the hard work would be done. The perfect Christmas present for the poultry breeder with everything.

Domestic turkeys make some of the most incompetent mothers in the poultry world, and are prone to crushing eggs, squashing chicks, or taking them for long, exhausting tramps. I suspect the children’s song Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day was written with a turkey hen in mind. In short, you need to step in and hand-rear poults.

Exhibition turkeys tend towards low fertility and are tricky to incubate, so I kept a careful eye on humidity. By the requisite 28 days, three poults had hatched and were cheeping loudly and treading on a struggling late-comer.

I moved them into the brooder to give the last turkey a chance to hatch in peace. This little one required extra help, but once unzipped did not appreciate being on its own, cheeping incessantly to its siblings and forcing me to rejoin them.

Needing mum

Baby turkeys are much less precocious than chicks. In order to survive in the wild, they imprint onto their mother and wait for her instruction. Mine decided that I must be Mum and yelled loudly if they couldn’t see me. They could see no reason to eat or drink if I wasn’t there with them. I dipped their beaks in water, and tapped my finger in their turkey crumbles. Inquisitive fellows, they enjoyed pecking – at my rings, at their toes, and at each other’s little snoods. Everything but the food. They walked through their crumbles bowl or sat in it and pooped. Turkeys love shiny objects, so I tried putting silver marbles in their water to attract them, and laid the food out on foil. After a few tapping sessions they condescended to eat, but only from the end of my finger, not from the bowl. It took three days of hand feeding before the spirit of competition took hold. If one pecked at something, they all rushed up to have their share, squealing madly. They were on their way to independence.

It’s easy to imagine baby turkeys are stupid. They seem vague and dopey compared to chicks. But mine were diabolically smart. They knew how to get my attention and keep it. They used their voices!

For more gardening tips and ideas get the latest issue of ABC Organic Gardener Magazine here.