The Call Again Farm Journal

  (East Aurora, New York)
Find out what it's like to keep free range poultry for a hobby!
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Watching Babies

It's so fun to watch the chicks!  Whenever I go outside, some are resting, some are eating, and a few are running around.  When they see me though, towering over them like a big predator or a hawk, they all run and hop-fly into a huddle.  They're full of life.

The turkey poults are doing pretty well, too.  There's one that seems a little sleepier, thus weaker, than the others, but none of them see sick.

The chicken eggs that we're incubating to sell to a customer are due to hatch today.  Yesterday, I saw several eggs rocking (preparing to hatch) and heard little cheeps from a couple others.  Half an hour ago, when I checked on the incubator, one egg was chipped a little bit!  Tomorrow, there should be newly hatched chicks.


Two Deaths

Yesterday, after we opened the incubator, two more eggs hatched.  We transferred both of these poults into the brooder today with the others, but one of them died this afternoon.  It was quite weak and its death was not unexpected.  Also, I found the unthrifty chick from yesterday dead when I went out this morning.  Again, sad but not surprising.

Yesterday, we also candled the turkey eggs due to hatch next Sunday.  They all looked terrific except for one that apparently didn't have an air cell!  I'd never seen an egg like this before, and didn't know such a thing was even possible.  Obviously, I had to get rid of it because there's no way a poult can survive without oxygen.  It was from the raspberry nest (Rosy's or a young hen's), laid on April 2nd. 


Brooding in Various Ways

What a hectic day!  I awoke at 7 a.m., with the full intent of transferring the turkeys from the incubator to the brooder.  Only thing was I still hadn't built the brooder yet!

Before I started, I peeked in the incubator to check on the poults (baby turkeys), only to find that a new baby had hatched overnight.  It still looked pretty wet, and there was an egg that looked like it still might hatch, so I worriedly  postponed taking the poults out of the incubator until after church.  I was worried because poults really should come out of the incubator to get food and water within 48 hours, and 7 a.m. would have been 48 hours after the first two poults had hatched.

I then went to do the morning chores.  When I checked on the chicks, I saw that two were dead.  One of them had looked so bad on Friday that I was sure I was going to find it dead yesterday morning, so it's death was no surprise.  I wasn't too upset about the other chick, either, as it's not that uncommon for poults and chicks to die in the first two weeks of their life.  I noticed that another chick was sleeping standing up with its wings dropped to the ground, looking generally unthrifty (droopy).

After a disagreement about the new hanging feeders and waterers in the (adult) chicken coop, Bob and I made the brooder for the turkey poults.  We duct-taped together large piece of cardboard to make an enclosure that's a little over eight square feet.  Bob then hung the heat lamp over part of it.

I checked on the chicks again, and the unthrifty chick was now asleep.  I picked it up, and it didn't even open its eyes.  The other chicks, even sleeping ones, run away before I can pick them up, so clearly something was up with this chick.  I showed the chick to Bob and Dianna, and we all agreed it was close to death.  I held the chick, hoping that it would die in my hand instead of being picked on by other chicks in the chicken brooder.  

It held onto life, and it was time to get ready for church, so I decided to mix some sugar water for it.  Sugar water is sometimes fed to mail-ordered chicks when received to give them a quick energy boost.  Last year, I had a poult that hatched four days late, was blind in one eye, couldn't stand, and was having uncontrollable spasms of its body.  I gave it sugar water, and the next day it was just like a normal poult, except it was still blind in that one eye.  This little chick loved the sugar water, too, and started to perk up.

After church, Bob hung a heat lamp in the opposite side of the workshop as the chicken brooder, and I put the dying (?) chick in a box under it.  It sleeps nearly constantly, though I wake it up every couple of hours to give it more sugar water.  I'm still really afraid it's going to die.

Around 1:30, a guy who'd scheduled an appointment to visit my little farm showed up.  I showed him the chicks, adult chickens, and adult turkeys, and he asked tons of questions.  He bought eggs and honey, and ordered chicken and turkey.

After he left, Dianna and I transferred the poults from incubator to the brooder.  They were eating wood chips, so we put burlap over the wood chips.  When we opened the incubator, we also sprayed the four eggs that had cracks with water to replace the humidity lost by opening the incubator so the membranes wouldn't dry and harden.  Two of the eggs already had been cracked so long that their membranes had hardened, so we held little hope for them.  About half an hour later, at 4:10 p.m., a poult hatched from one of the two more promising eggs.  It looks very weak, and I'm worried about it.

Dianna and I then candled the chicken eggs.  Of the thirteen, we eliminated one from 3/31 and 4/6.  These two were ones that had looked bad last candling and I'd accidentally forgotten to take them out then.  After candling, we took the chicken eggs out of the turner and onto the wire floor for hatching. 

I now feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  It's been a busy, poultry-filled day, and I just want to go to bed.  I feel dread the fact that I still have to candle the turkey eggs in the left incubator (this is the batch that isn't hatching yet) and do the evening chores.


New Arrivals

This morning, I was awoken at 5:39 in the morning.  The post office had called, and my chicks had arrived to get them.  Dianna and I got dressed, and drove down to the post office.  We range the bell at the back entrance, and, after waiting impatiently for at least three minutes, a postal worker with the box of chicks in hand opened the door.  We chatted for a couple of minutes about the behavior of other chicks they've had at the post office over the years before leaving.  The whole ride home, I held the chicks on my lap and talked to them.  They liked the sound of "Momma's" voice, and quieted down a lot.  They'd just start to fall asleep, and then we'd have to stop at another stop sign, and the chicks would start crying again.

We brought them out to the work shop, the building we brood chicks in.  (In this case, "brood" refers to humans using technology to keep young chicks warm, not a broody hen keeping her eggs or chicks warm.)  Before setting each chick in the brooder Bob and I had made out of two cardboard boxes, I dipped each chicks beak in food and water.  

I'm not sure this is necessary in chickens, but the first baby bird I ever had were turkeys, for which it is recommended.  If you don't dip a baby turkey's beak in food and water it may not know how to eat and drink and end up dying from dehydration or starvation.  I think I've read somewhere that this is more of a problem for turkeys than chickens, but I forget where I read that, so I'm not taking chances.

Dianna and I have been going to check on the chicks every fifteen minutes to make sure the temperature in the brooder is okay.  The chicks need a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit during their first week.  We provide this heat through the use of a heat lamp, which is raised or lowered to control the temperature.

The chicks are so cute!  (Yes, everyone says this about chicks, but it's true!)  They're tiny balls of fluff.  Really, they look like golf balls with legs and a head.  Intellectually, I know that they must have bodies, but sometimes I wonder.  I can't feel a body beneath all those downy feathers!  

I picked up a chick a little while ago when I was checking on the temperature and called the dog over.  He gave me a look that clearly said,  "Why are you torturing me like this?"  Six years ago, we'd just gotten a guinea pig, which Bob was holding.  The dog came up and tried to eat it.  We were furious, and told the dog off vehemently.  Ever since, he's been quite afraid of animals guinea pig size or less.  His feelings for my birds aren't helped by the fact that two years ago, Blue and French Hen invented a game called "Chase the Dog".  However, the dog started to overcome his fears today.  He sniffed the chick when I held it up to him and, after I praised him, he licked the chick!  It wasn't that he wanted to eat it, I don't think, but rather that he was treating it like a puppy.

The only disappointing thing is I don't know what kind of chicks I have.  They're an assortment of four kinds of Colored Range Broilers, ColorYield, Tricolor, Redbro, and Yellow.  I was hoping I would know how many of each I have, but all I can say with certainty is that I have at least three Tricolors.  Oh, well.  I'll know soon enough, when they get their adult feathers in a few weeks.

The other new arrivals today are poults (baby turkeys).  Two hatched in the incubator around 7 a.m., one around 8:30 a.m., and one just before 1 p.m.  This is a very disappointing yield, but I have had a lot of trouble with temperature control, so I'm not too surprised.  On the bright side, I know that there's at least two more eggs still may hatch, and I hoping some more will surprise me.


Not Cut Out For CSI

It's sort of ironic.  Big Guy died last night probably right around the same time the first of his babies this year made its first peck at its egg shell and began the process of hatching.  The circle of life in one hour.

No poults (baby turkeys) have hatched yet.  There's the one early one, who began the hatching process last night, has a little "peephole" pecked in its shell.  No other egg has begun hatching yet.  This is okay, because they're not supposed to be hatched until tomorrow.  I'm worried about that one egg, though, because I've been through enough hatches to know that the poult that begins hatching first, way before all the others, rarely actually makes it out of the shell.  It ends up getting too tired and dying in there.

We found Big Guy's body this morning.  Last night, we sort of could tell the feather trail led towards the foxes' den, but it was too dark to find a body.  This morning Dianna and I followed the feather trail.  At times it we'd lose it, but then we'd find it again.  At one point, there was corn from the turkey feed on the ground, suggesting that Big Guy's crop got ripped open.  At another point, the trail along which he had been dragged was quite obvious, because you could see where dirt had been worn away by his thrashing.  He didn't go down without a fight.  We finally find his body, intact except for a missing head.  We didn't get it moved and buried until this evening, by which time someone had snacked on the body some more.  It's nice to find the body of a turkey lost to predators and bury it, but still, I know from these experiences that I could not be a crime scene investigator.

We kept a close eye on the hens today, checking on them any time they made a noise or one got out of our view.  Two-Tone, Big Guy's favorite, seems very lost.  They know what happened, and they've been acting pretty scared today.

It's rather interesting that this year we've lost the first chicken we lost to predators this year was the rooster, and the first turkey we lost to predators this year was the tom.  It suggests that all the displaying they do to "protect" their hens from me isn't just show.  They're actually willing die to save their hens, and do.

I've lost turkeys to predators before.  Every year I do, but never like this.  Several times, a hen has a nest we don't know about, she goes broody on it, and stays out all night...until the fox/raccoon/owl finds her.  The other times I've lost turkeys in the past to predators, a young turkey will get freaked out when being herded and run off into the woods, never to be seen or head from again.  (Although one time, I found one such escapee's bones and feathers a couple of months after it's grand escape.)  Never before has it been before dark that we've lost a turkey, and such a big tom at that.  That's what the big deal is.

I suppose many farmers would not allow the turkeys to continue to roam, or would try to kill the foxes.  I won't do either.  I won't do the latter because I realize hunting is just what foxes are meant to do.  I was an environmentalist and animal lover long before I was a farmer, and still am an environmentalist and animal lover.  I won't do the former because without being able to roam and fly, my turkeys are so unhappy the might as well be dead.  We're just going to have to do a better job keeping them safe. 



Tonight, I went outside to do the evening chores.  I took care of the chickens, and then headed to the turkeys.  I headed through the barn as usual, turning on the lights in the stall to encourage the turkeys to come in.  I went out the back barn door, and was surprised that nobody was perched on it.  Usually, there's one, two, or even three on the top of the door.  Even more surprisingly, there were no turkeys on the fence.  Instead, standing next to the fence, were only the two young hens, looking rather freaked out.

I was feeling rather freaked out.  It was 8:20, dusk.  The turkeys should have been perched on the fence for fifteen to thirty minutes already, waiting for me to bring them into the safety of the barn for the night.   Plus, the other turkeys were missing.  Two missing turkeys could be accounted for, the two broodies in the barn, but still that left three turkeys gone.

I started looking around the pasture for the missing turkeys.  I didn't see any by the northwest corner.  When I glanced back toward the barn, I saw a third turkey!  It was Two-Tone.  She was on the wrong (east) side of the fence, so I let her back into the pasture.  I brought the three hens into their stall in the barn, and checked and made sure Gray and Rosy, the two broodies were there.  They were.

I glanced around the yard.  No more turkeys.  I went and got Bob, who was in the house, to come out and help out.  I also grabbed the flashlights.  Bob took one flashlight and looked along the road to make sure the turkeys didn't get hit by a car.  Meanwhile, I walked through the wild raspberry patch see if the missing hen, Blue, had a nest there and had gone broody.  I didn't really expect her to have, as she's gone broody in July previously, but I had to make sure.  No Blue.

We both figured the woods was the place to look.  The turkeys have a tendency to get out of the fenced-in pasture to go forage in the woods behind the barn.  Dianna came out, and went to make sure the missing turkeys somehow weren't somehow hiding in some shadowy corner of the barn.  A minute later, I found the turkey feathers in the woods.  They were a suspicious pile of feathers, lots of them, tail feathers and down.  That many feathers wouldn't naturally come out at once.  We'd stumbled across the crime scene.  I knew at once the missing turkeys were dead.  I was sobbing, wailing, and blubbering.  My favorite hen, Blue, practically a pet, was gone, and so was my only tom, my astoundingly handsome tom, Big Guy.  Meanwhile, Bob followed the feather trail, which led right to the fox's den.

We started to head back in, our hearts heavy, when I realized I'd never finished the evening chores.  Bob went to close up the barn.  Suddenly, he called out,  "How many hens do you have?"

"Five, now," I yelled back.

"Well, I count six," he replied.

I ran to the barn.  I looked in the stall where the turkeys were.  Had Blue somehow managed to be in there without me seeing?  No, only three hens: Two-Tone and the two young ones.  I gave a reproachful look to Bob, and made some angry remark.

"No," he said.  "There's two turkeys in there."  He pointed to the empty Northwest Stall, where Gray had made her nest and is now broody.  Sure enough, on that nest, you could see two heads, and one of them was Blue's!  Either she's been laying her eggs there and  is flirting with broodiness, or, more likely, she got freaked out by Big Guy's death and went to hide in there.

I'm going to miss Big Guy, and not just because his death puts an end to this year's breeding.  As Dianna pointed out, he was cut down in his prime.  As I mentioned before, he was really good-looking, oh-so-handsome.  He also had learned how to manage his hens better.  I loved them, always followed them around and tried to protect them from everything, even me.  He still could throw his weight around a bit, generally hogging the feeder, but gradually was getting nicer and more generous in his dealings with the hens.

His death calls for bringing the turkeys in earlier at night, perhaps 7:30, keeping better track of their whereabouts,  and fixing the places in the fence that the turkeys usually get out.  We're not going to feed the foxes anymore.

These Eggs Rock

Exciting news!  I saw the first of the turkey eggs rocking this morning!  Inside the egg, a few days before hatching, the chick (in this case, the baby turkey, or poult) breaks into the air cell at the big end of the egg and starts breathing the oxygen in there.  When the air in there gets very fowl, the poult tries to start hatching so it can breath.  The poult was trying to start hatching, but hasn't chipped the shell yet.  

The turkey eggs should hatch on Thursday.  Therefore, I was not exactly surprised to see the eggs rocking, as this usually happens two to three days before the eggs are due to hatch, but the first rocking egg of each hatch is always a thrill.  It's good news in the very stressful business of hatching, the worst part of incubation.  When hatching goes well, it's magical and happy.  When it doesn't, it's heartbreaking.  

I'm really nervous about this hatch because of the trouble I've had with incubator temperature through this incubation.  The wrong temperature leads to weak poults which leads to a poor hatch.  There's nothing sadder than a poult trapped in an egg.

The rocking egg was something normal, but it meant that at least one poult was progressing just fine.  It one reassuring sight in this nerve-racking hatch. 


An Unreliable Incubator

Grrrrrrr!  The incubator that I'm using for the chicken eggs makes me mad!  I cannot get the temperature to stabilize, and now I'm seeing the consequences.  Dianna and I did twelfth day candling today, and we had to get rid of twenty-one of the thirty-four chicken eggs.  Almost all of them had started to develop, but could not given extreme high and low temperatures in the incubator.  A whole range of ages, from very old to very new, were taken out, which backs up my idea that it was the unreliable incubator that's at fault.  I borrowed it from a friend, who'd had little success with it as well.  I think part of the problem is that it's a still air incubator, so the heating is uneven.  I'm so glad that it did it right when I bought incubators - the ones I own (which I'm using for turkey eggs) are circulated air models.

I took the turkey eggs in the incubator on the right out of the turner for hatching.  I can't believe that I should have baby turkeys hatching in only three days!  It's mind-boggling, unbelievable, and very exciting.  Also in three or four days my Colored Range Broiler chicks should come in the mail.  By Saturday, I may have as many as sixty birds on my farm, between the laying flock of chickens, the breeding flock of turkeys, the baby turkeys, and the baby chickens. 


My Quaint Life

When I was a little kid, I remember reading books (or having books read to me) set on farms well in the past.  The farmers would have visitors, and for a nice meal for their guests, they'd grab a chicken from the barnyard and butcher it.  It seemed rather weird to me, rather... quaint.

Well, I guess I now have a quaint life.  My uncle Tim and his family are supposed to visit in a couple weeks, and we're talking about butchering one of the young turkey hens for the occasion.  This seems rather normal to me, very logical.  I was thinking about it today, though, and realized how weird it would have seemed to me when I was younger.



No, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth!  The computer (and my time) has been used lately for taxes and other things more import than blogging.  Not too much has happened since the 14th.  

I've been engaged with a battle with the chicken incubator and one of the older incubator with turkey eggs in it to try and get the temperature right.  Neither of these incubators was quite warm enough.  The temperature is adjusted by something you turn clockwise to decrease the temperature, counterclockwise to increase it.  I turned up the temperature just a tiny bit in each incubator, and now the temperature jumped to a degree or two above 100 in each of them and refuses to come down.  What's the big deal with one or two tiny degrees above ideal, you ask?  Well, one degree too warm or too hot gives you a very low hatch rate, and two degrees kills all the embryos.  See why I'm stressed?

I had my friend Kendal over today to watch while I candled turkey eggs fromthe incubator today.  First, I showed her the candling of the twenty-three day incubated eggs.  Basically, what you're looking for is the egg to be all black with the exception of the clear air cell at the big end of the egg.  It should look the same as it around the sixteenth day or so.  If the egg doesn't look right anymore, toss it.  Kendal quickly got a hang of candling this bunch, and could usually tell if an egg was good or bad.  We decided to toss five of these ones, three older ones with no date, one from the nest in the raspberries (either Rosy or a young one) on 3/22 which I though looked questionable at eighteenth day candling, and one from 3/25 which I though looked questionable at eighteenth day candling as well.

Then we did the twelfth day ones.  These are harder eggs to candle, but they're at the right stage to see the embryos move.  (See my previous blog entry on this subject, "The Miracle of Life".)  The first few eggs did not have embryos moving, but then we saw a couple with a heartbeat or something.  It was okay, but I'd led her to expect more.  Then finally we saw an embryo moving something I assume was a leg or a wing, probably the former.  Kendal was in love!  "It's waving to us!" she said.  We saw a few more embryos "wave" at us, which was a real treat for her.  We thought a couple embryos looked questionable, marked them as such, and left them in, and got rid of an egg from the raspberry nest from 3/28.

With regards to the broodies, Rosy decided to move her nest today.  I turn the nest box so she come get out.  She wouldn't get out.  She's refused to do so for days, so I pulled her off.  I went to go finish my chores, with every intention of putting her back when I was done.  I forgot.  When I went out to do the evening chores, she was back to incubating her eggs, but she'd pulled them all out of the nest box and was now sitting next to it.  Strange.

Despite Rosy's odd move, I came in from doing the evening chores tonight feeling very happy.  I'm in love with my turkeys right now, just for them being themselves. 


My Woes With Rose

This morning, when I went out to do my morning chores, I was going to let Rosy out of the nest box to eat, drink, and do her business.  She was nicely settled on the eggs, though, and refused to get off.  Maybe she was going to be a good broody after all!

After lunch, I again went out to the barn to let Rosy off the nest box, because broodies need to get off the nest once a day.  At first, she wouldn't get out, but she "sneakily" got off once I was two-third the way across the field.  She at some grain, drank some water, and began foraging.  I gave her a good ten to fifteen minutes to do as she pleased, and then tried to herd her back to the nest box.  She wouldn't go in.  I gave her a little more time, and she still wouldn't go.  I suppose she may be feeling like a human mother with a young baby, who longs to get out of the house.  Generally, turkeys have good instincts, and I might trust some of my turkey hens to know how long they could be off the nest without hurting their eggs.  Rosy isn't one of them, and seems to feel that she can just sometimes be broody.  It doesn't work that way.  A hen has to be completely committed to broodiness, as the eggs need almost 24/7 incubation.

After my second unsuccessful attempt at getting Rosy to go back on the nest, I went to look at her eggs.  While I'd been trying to get her back, they'd caught my eye.  Something about their color wasn't right.  As I got closer, I realized they were kind of yellow.  Somehow, one egg had gotten crushed.  Things happen.  I know that.  Two years ago, when Rosy's  mother, Pink, was broody, she would have never have gotten off the nest if I literally hadn't pulled her off.  She struggle some, and one time an egg got cracked in the proccess.  Cracked, not crushed.  I have no idea how a broody hen could have flattened an egg.

Well, when I saw the crushed egg and the yolk from it all over most of the other eggs, I ran inside to get the paper towels.  I wiped the yolk off the other eggs best as I could, but egg yolk is pretty sticky stuff.  Usually, when I'm collecting eggs to store for incubation (which, in the right conditions, can be stored for one to two weeks before incubation), I wash then if they're soiled.  However, I was afraid that the water would be too cold and reduce the temperature within these eggs, which had already been incubated for two days so needed to keep a constant temperature around 99 degrees Fahrenheit if their growth is to continue.  I then threw out the crushed egg and cleaned out most of the yolk-y hay from the nest box and replaced it with clean hay.

After I did all that, I made a third attempt to get Rosy to go back to her nest.  She entered the nest box... and stood there... and stood there... Finally, she sat down - as far away from her eggs as she could.  I gave her a little privacy, and when I looked again, she was starting to move some of her eggs under her body.  It occurs to me now that it is possible that there could have been some wet hay that I missed, and she didn't want to sit on that.

Still, my hopes for Rosy are pretty low.  I told Dianna that I'd be surprised if she goes all the way with those eggs.  Even if she does surprise me and stick with those eggs, I'd be more surprised if any of them hatch.  I suspect there will be more fiascoes like the crushed egg episode of today.  Also, I'm still afraid that the yolk on the remaining twelve eggs is going to attract bacteria, some of which may penetrate the shells and potentially kill the embryos.

I guess I've been spoiled by my previous broodies.  Rosy's mother, Pink, was a good one, very protective.  She went broody at a young age and hatched 8 out of 12 eggs, despite the frigid cold March and early April weather.  One of her poults (a poult is a baby turkey) died, but that was my fault.  There was a crack in the cardboard enclosure Bob and I made for Pink and her babies, which two poults got through.  Once out, they couldn't find its way back into the warmth of their mother, and one of them got too cold and died before we discovered the problem.  We returned the other poult safely to Pink, and she never lost any more babies.  Unfortunately, I was out one evening later that year, so Bob and Dianna brought the turkeys in for the night.  They didn't realize that Pink had wandered away into the raspberries.  An owl got her.

The year Pink went broody, Blue did, too.  It was in the late summer, and we'd butchered both of the toms because I'd read in Raising Your Own Turkeys that toms were only good for one year of breeding.  (Later, I learned that this only applies to Broad-Breasted toms, not the heritage turkeys like I have.  Heritage toms are good breeders for three to five years and heritage hens are good breeders for five to seven years.  Unfortunately, I didn't know that at the time.)  Since we had no males, the eggs Blue was trying to brood were not fertilized, so they'd never hatch.  Her nest site was outside, in an overgrown part of our yard.  We brought Blue into the barn every night because it isn't safe outdoors after dark for a turkey.  Still, every morning she'd return to her nest.  We took away her eggs.  She adopted egg-sized rocks to brood.  We took away her rocks.  She still sat on that nest.  Occasionally, a another turkey would lay an egg in the barn at night.  She'd hop down from her perch and brood that egg.  Finally, after almost two months, we decided enough was enough.  Blue was so busy being  a broody she wasn't doing anything to take care of herself, including eating.  We locked her in the barn.  After a few days away from her nest, she was no longer broody.

Last year, I was thinking of keeping the tom (Big Guy) after spring breeding in case a hen went broody in the summer like Blue had the year before.  Then, I learned about heritage turkeys being productive breeders much longer than Broad-Breasteds, so I was definite in my decision to keep Big Guy.  Low and behold, Blue went broody in the summer.  Since there still was a tom around, the eggs were viable.  Unfortunately, we'd been putting all the eggs we'd gotten in the refrigerator for eating eggs, because we were done with putting eggs in the incubator for the year.  Just around that time, one of our hens had stopped laying for the year, another one our hens, Rosy, actually had also gone broody and wasn't laying, Blue was broody so she'd stopped laying eggs, so we only had one turkey laying eggs so we could only give Blue five eggs.  (I decided to let Blue incubate eggs instead of Rosy because Blue was easier to get into the nest box.  Plus, she'd proven the year before with the rocks that she was capable of being a good broody, and I'd felt bad for her, desperately trying to be a mother.)  Blue was another turkey I literally had to yank off the nest.  I also had to prevent her from going back on, because she'd always try the second I'd get her out.  She was so devoted, and she hatched all five eggs!  I've never had a 100% hatch rate before!  One poult again managed to get away from Blue when it was young, got too cold, and died.  The other four thrived under her care.  She was less paranoid about her babies safety than Pink was.  She generally knew when things were okay and when the babies were in real danger.  Two of the babies she hatched that haven't been butchered yet, both hens, are still running around with their mother, laying eggs and making trouble.  I hope Blue will go broody again this year, because I know she'll again do a wonderful job incubating and raising some more turkeys.

Gray is one of Blue's babies.  Genetically, I mean, from an egg Blue laid and I put in the incubator.  She is now also broody in the corner of the unused Northwest Stall.  We didn't realize that eggs were being laid there until she went broody, so those eggs did not have ideal storage conditions by any means and many are very, very old.  Therefore, I don't expect any of them to hatch, but I'm letting Gray try anyways.  Unlike Rosy, she's a broody I trust.  I let her come and go at her own will.  I only see her come outside to eat and drink every two to four days, and she's only out for a couple minutes.  I trust her instincts.  I'm really starting to hope she hatches some eggs, because she's been working so hard and seems like she'll do as good of a job as mother as Blue did, if not better.

Changing the topic, I received my first two chicken orders of the year this morning!  A few days ago, I sent out a letter to everyone who'd expressed interest in purchasing chicken or who had purchased chicken from me last year, asking for their orders for this year.  It was so great to here from these two returning customers.  My favorite two parts of keeping poultry are taking care of babies and dealing with customers. 


Rosy, the Rebellious Broody

This morning, Rosy was desperate to get of the nest box.  When I let the other turkeys outside, she started making a ruckus.  I then commence to let her out of the nest box into a small, enclosed area of the barn.  She briefly stopped at the waterer, as thought to take a drink, but changed her mind.  She started running around and calling out to the rest of the turkeys.  After she'd gone to the bathroom and run around for a few minutes, I determined that it was time for her to go back into the nest box so her eggs wouldn't get cold.  I tried to catch her, but she made it plenty clear that she wasn't going to go back in until she spent some time with her flock, so I let her outside.  After I did all my morning chores for the turkeys and chickens, Rosy really did have to go back in, because there was no way I was going to get back into my barn clothes and take care of her after I took a shower.  I must have spent more than five minutes chasing that silly turkey around the yard before I caught her and put her back.  She stood in the nest box for a little while before finally sitting down to incubate her eggs.  (I image if she could, she would have sat down with a sigh.)  She didn't seem quite sold on this whole broody business.  When I put the turkeys away a few minutes ago and did the evening chores, she seemed happily settled down, though.  I'll see what she'd like tomorrow.

I candled the older clutch of turkey eggs in the incubator today.  It is the eighteenth day of their incubation, which corresponds with the final picture for candling in The New Incubation Book, labeled "Sixteenth day and beyond".  I didn't egg rid of any eggs because there were that definitely were bad.  There were a couple eggs that looked somewhat questionable, so I'll probably candle a few days before the eggs are do to hatch.

I also tried to do seventh day candling on the younger clutch of eggs, but it was too hard to tell which eggs are good and which aren't at such an early stage of embryonic development.  I was getting too stressed out and worried, so I gave up.  I'll definitely do twelfth day candling on them, which is easy and fun.

A woman and her grandson stopped by today on their walk.  I'd seen them before, pausing along the side of the road for the little boy in the stroller to watch the turkeys.  They saw Bob in the yard, and came and asked where the turkeys were.  It turns out that they were out of the fence, in the woods, so I had to herd them back.  I caught my hen Blue, and was carrying her over to show them when their dog started barking.  They had to leave in a hurry, but they said they'd stop by again without the dog.  I hope they do.  The woman seemed really interested to here all about my turkeys and the little boy loved them and was trying to imitate Big Guy's gobble-gobble-gobble.

Easter Dinner

Yesterday was Sonny's big day.  He made a wonderful centerpiece for our Easter dinner, and all of our guests couldn't get over how tender and delicious the turkey was.

We didn't have enough stuffing, though.  After being plucked, etc., Sonny weighed 14 pounds, and Bob and I bought enough stuffing for a 16 to 20 pound turkey.  We could have used an extra half of a bag.  Bob suspects that this is because the label was designed with the typical grocery store turkey in mind, the Broad Breasted.  They have big thick double breasts that leave little room for a chest cavity.  Our heritage turkeys, meanwhile, only have a single breast that isn't so dense, allowing more space for stuffing.

The worst part of the meal was just before we ate.  As we were about to say grace, a mother and daughter knocked at the door.  They said they lived down the street, and had been going for a walk when they saw a car hit a turkey.  The came to let us know because they knew we kept turkeys.  I walked down the street to where the dead turkey was, a feeling of dread in my stomach.  As soon as I saw the dead turkey, I felt a sense of relief.  It was a wild turkey, not a beloved member of my breeding flock!


Homage to Blue

Yesterday evening, the turkey hens flew over the pasture fence into the woods.  I felt bad for Big Guy, my tom, who weighs so much that flying seems painful for him, was staring through the fence, worrying about his hens’ safety.  I went to herd the girls back into the pasture, and they went willing to the section of the fence through which they generally get back into the pasture.  Some of them flew over fence, but two of them tried to squeeze under it.  Since they have a habit of doing this, earlier that day I had put along bricks along the bottom of the fence where they usually squeeze through.  Were those hens ever bewildered!  One of the hens finally remembered that she could fly over, but my oldest hen, Blue, continued pacing back and forth along that section of the fence, trying to force herself through.  Kindly, I picked her up with the intention of helping her over.  Then I thought about how little time I’ve spent with her in the few months, so I instead brought her over to a bench in the yard and held her.  She was such a good turkey!  Right after I sat down, she settled right down in my lap.  Occasionally, she’d let out a small sound to the rest of her flock, but it was more of a “Come over here and be with me!” call than a “I’m in danger!” call.  I petted her for five minutes or so.  The most magical part was when she turned and looked me right in the eye, and held my gaze for a few minutes.  Recently, I finished reading Jane Goodall’s book, Through A Window, and I thought of something she said close to the beginning of the book.  “Often I have gazed into a chimpanzee’s eyes and wondered what was going on behind them.”  I often wonder that about the turkeys, and I did especially in that moment, looking into Blue’s.

Blue is a wonderful turkey, my favorite among the whole flock, my pet.  She is the only surviving member of my original flock of heritage turkeys, with all the others having become meals for people and predators.  She, more than any other turkey, has unlocked the world of turkeys to me and given me a love of them.  She was the first one to allow me to pet her.  She is the tamest, and does not mind being held.  She is the alarm bird, who cries out to her flock when there is danger or when there is anyone approaching.  She’s also a troublemaker.  When the turkeys are outside of the pasture fence, they were most likely led astray by Blue.  Back when we had our first heritage turkeys back in 2006, there were three hens that hung out together caused mischief.  We called them “The Gang of Three” because it was around the time of “The Gang of Fourteen” on Capital Hill.  Their names were Blue (of course), the Bourbon Red hen named French Hen, and a Black Spanish hen that we called Spanish Dancer or Miss Chief (depending on how annoyed we were at the trouble she caused).

After a little longer, Blue started to get restless with sitting on my lap, so I carried her back to the pasture.  She perched on my arm for a little bit before flying down to join the rest of her flock. 

In other news, Rosie is broody!  She’s been acting like she wants to incubate eggs, sitting on her nest every night in the raspberry bushes when it’s time to come in.  Last night, I caught her and brought her into a nesting box in the barn*, and Bob gave her some fake eggs.  She ignored the eggs, though, and crouched in the nesting box, looking very scared.  I left her confined in it overnight.  This morning when I went out to do the morning chores, I checked on her with little hope.  I was in for a happy surprise.  She was sitting down with the fake eggs nestled below her.  I brought out the real eggs, and she gently pushed them under her body with her beak in a way only broodies do.  I was thrilled!  If all goes well, her eggs will hatch on May 10th.  In the mean time, we’re going to have to avoid the barn as much as possible, because she gets freaked out every time she hears footsteps and hisses at the intruder.  She needs to feel like her nest site is safe, otherwise she’ll abandon the nesting box and the eggs.



*I was so busy with her I didn't have time to blog last night.  Sorry!  This entry was supposed to go up yesterday, so check back here later today to hear about Easter at Call Again Farm. 


Strawberry Pie? It's Not June or July!

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the food columnist in the author's local paper who always featured out-of-season ingredients or canned ingredients that were in season and could have been bought fresh locally.  My local paper, Buffalo News, isn't usually quite as bad as to instruct the use of canned pumpkin in dishes during late fall, and in the last couple of years has even started to run occasional articles about eating locally.  However, I was quite annoyed with an article in the food section on Wednesday was about using organic strawberries for strawberry pie.  Strawberry pie!  It's early April here, not late June!  It's time for a little Q&A session here.  

Q: What fresh food is harvested in Buffalo before Easter.  

A: Nothing.  

Let's see, "nothing" includes (gasp!) strawberries.  The article was advocating eating organic strawberries, but the only organic strawberries, or strawberries of any kind, for that matter, to be found in Buffalo in April are ones from faraway places like California.  One idea originally associated with organic is sustainable farming.  It is not sustainable to bring strawberries all the way across a continent just for people for the northeast who are too impatient to wait until the much better local strawberries available in June.  One more way big/industrial organic betrays the true intent of the organic movement.

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