A few days ago, we moved our heritage turkey poults to an outdoor pen. This has an open bottom for access to fresh grass and a small ramp leading to an enclosed, raised floor where it is always sheltered and dry. We’d been carefully watching our little birds for the first few days, making sure that they came inside towards dusk and if it looked like rain.
Baby turkeys, at least the commercial broad breasted whites, are noted for their stupidity; it is not uncommon for them to drown in less than an inch of water or starve to death even when the feeders are full! The solution is to put a few healthy chicken chicks in with them until they get the hang of the basics. Although they did start out with chicks for companions, our heritage poults seemed pretty bright, and not only figured out food and water quickly, but were using the ramp in no time once moved out by themselves. After checking on them often the first two days, they seemed perfectly capable and we let our guard down a bit. We had fairly severe thunderstorms yesterday, and when the rain finally quit and I began evening chores, I saw what looked like multiple wet, dead turkeys piled in the lowest corner of the outdoor run. Devastated, I called across the field to Dan that half our poults were dead before rushing off to turn on the heat lamp in the brooder to dry the survivors. I was thankful that I had cleaned out the brooder and only needed to plug in the heat lamp and add some shavings to create a warm, dry environment. Grabbing a shoebox, I rushed back outside. Some of the poor little things were drenched but standing upright, obviously chilled. I scooped them up and put them in the box. One was laying on its back, legs twitching as if in the final stages of death. It wasn’t dead yet, so I figured there was no harm in picking him up, too. (I’m a softie, and have a hard time admitting when a baby is a lost cause!) The ones in the soggy pile of dead-looking birds were in terrible shape, but none had actually expired, so they went in the box too. The rest ran from me back upstairs, so I let them go as they seemed ok. (My guess is that they were smart enough to get in out of the rain in the first place.)
Under the heat lamp, it looked like life was quickly returning to about half of the eight birds I rescued. The other four were at least laying on their bellies instead of their backs, heads upright, so it was an improvement, but they were wet and cold to the touch. Like any reasonable person, I decided I needed to do more to get them warm and dry ASAP. I decided to grab the soggiest, sickest looking one and take it inside the house to try and blow-dry it. When Dan came in the house, I was in the bathroom, hair dryer running on warm, turkey poult on the bathroom counter. Actually, it worked so well, I was drying the second turkey by the time Dan was done feeding the pigs. I love that he doesn’t question my slightly eccentric ideas; he just poked his head into the bathroom to ask how the “turkey makeover” was going. The little things would stretch out their wings in the warm breeze, and were dry and nearly fluffy in just a few minutes. I blow-dried three in all, by then the rest were upright in the 100-degree brooder. They were quickly dry and active, so I unplugged the heat lamp and placed fresh food and water in the pen. It seemed to be a miraculous comeback, but I hesitated to get my hopes up too high. The common wisdom with raising turkeys is that a “chilled poult is a dead poult” so I was still expecting losses. We also locked the rest of the turkeys in the dry upstairs portion of the outdoor pen, hoping they’ll remember that as their home and run to it the next time it pours!
This morning came and, despite my dire initial assessment, we did not lose a single baby. Not one. I am just amazed that you would never know the birds were on death’s door 12 hours before. Had I been 5 minutes later in finding them, I don’t think I’d be able to say the same, so I think I’ll be extra watchful when we let them back outside!