Rise&Shine Urban Farm

  (White Pigeon, Michigan)
Pixie White, a Turkey for the Small Acreage Farmer

Viva la turkey egg!

The hens are laying in full force now, with an average of a dozen a day being collected.  I am a big fan of egg salad in the summer, which takes alot of eggs.  Into your mayo base, next time,  mix a little wasabi.  The "extra heat kick" is very refreshing and addictive. 

I am still amazed at folks that are initially put off about eating a turkey egg.  When I have friends over for the weekend who have never experienced a turkey egg omelet, I will make two omelets one with chicken eggs and the other with turkey eggs.  In appearance there is no question that the turkey egg omelet wins.  Higher and fluffier, the turkey egg omelet is able to hold the cheese and assorted fillings without breaking and becoming a mess.  By feel alone, I can tell which is the turkey egg versus the chicken egg when whisking.  (This statement has been challenged and I have prevailed)  Whisking a store bought chicken egg feels like whisking water while the turkey eggs "drag" on the folk.   As for color, the deeper orange yolk of the turkey egg makes for a richer appearance in presentation.  Mouth feel with the turkey egg is more appealing, less mushy, when eaten in comparision. 

Taste, well I simply do not know if the taste is better because the hens are fed better than the caged chickens or because the mixture you place on top of the turkey omelet does not slide around-giving you all the flavors of your toppings in each bite.  Regardless, it is the turkey egg omelet that always wins out not only in flavor but in appearance.   

Naturally, in all of my baking I use turkey eggs, along with 
pure cane sugar, real butter, mexican vanilla, ect., all of which definitely makes a difference in taste, height, crumb, flakiness, and texture of my cakes, pies, cookies, and breads. 

But that is not to say that I do not suffer from my own food prejudices, which I, myself, am trying to overcome.  For example, raw milk.  This summer,  I will have access to raw cow's milk that I intend to make european butter, ice cream, and soft cheese from.  I want to taste "real buttermilk," see for myself how it differs from the chemicallyproduced store bought buttermilk and what difference it makes as a baking ingredient.      

So, next time you have the opportunity to try a turkey egg, or another  unfamiliar ingredient, be brave and go for it!  it is all about the experience. 


Poults Comings and Goings

It has been a very busy here as poults are hatching and predators have been coming in at nite to "snack."  Raccoons are very clever and it has been a fight to keep them from breaking into the poult nursery.   If you let them, they will stay up all night with their sharp claws digging a hole into the side of the hutch before making away with poults or eggs stolen from under the hens.   To date, about sixty poults have made their way to new homes.  And, I must say, they have left with a sigh of relief knowing that I have met all my orders despite the attempts of predators to the contrary.

One hen who refused to leave her nest suffered severe side wounds down to the bone.  The wounds were horrific, exposing her spine, wing bone and down to her body carcass, with some exposure of her body cavity.    It was a difficult decision to attempt to save her but I am so glad I did.  Removed to a seperate pen with daily clean bedding, antibotics and love,  I can finally state (after six weeks)  I have hopes of a full recovery.    Named, Gilda, she is now in the process of learning how to use her leg again as most of  nerves and muscle were destroyed.  From a 10 by 12 inch wound, there remains only the covering of the wing bone from the elements.   Nature is amazing when given the opportunity.  Because of Gilda's determination and will to live...she will have a home here until nature ditcates otherwise. 

As a final note, this year, I over wintered several hens and their maturity has resulted in jumbo sized eggs, much appreciated by all. 

Soon, it will be time to thin the flock down before meeting holiday orders, as my own freezer is empty of turkey and summer is my "turkey time."    I look foward towards turkey salad, sandwiches, soup, and casseroles. 


Hens are on their nests

Looking over the flock it was great to see my hens maintaining their size, with Toms continuing to downsize. I have one tom that is the size of my biggest hen; who will be used later this year and next in hopes of fixing this size trait in my toms. Looking towards the 2012 holidays and filling turkey orders, I have created four nests of twenty eggs, each. Two of which, have already been taken over by two very determined mommas. Last year I raised 15 Guelph Beltsville Whites to see if they possessed any genetics l wanted to cross into my pixies. Appearance and temperament wise, one can see striking contrasts. The belts are flighty, rounded over the back, small headpieces with small eyes-the Toms are devoid of the blue to purplish coloration tending more towards red. However, they do have wider backs and more breast fleshing. They reach processing weight about two weeks earlier. Keeping two hens, I have crossed them with a fourth generation pixie tom. Can't wait to see what this cross produces and what pixie traits show through. One can always eat ones mistakes! UPDATE: All broody hens with eggs have been moved to the nursery, safe from the coons and other predators that like to snatch a baby poult from under their momma's wings. It won't be long now before babies are pushing their heads up between their momma's feathers.

Holiday Turkey Recipe


Hi Susan,

I am finally getting around to telling you how much we LOVED our turkey this year.  Yesterday was the last of our left-overs and the turkey was still delicious.  I'm not a fan of the dark meat, but my husband is, and he really enjoyed it.  The breast meat was so tender.  And after over 7 days in the fridge, the sandwiches I made were so good - no funky taste that sometimes poultry gets for sitting a while in the fridge.  I also want to thank you for the eggs.  Not only beautiful to look at, but they made great egg sandwiches.  I thought the white were much more tender than chicken eggs.  We really liked them.
 I wanted to let you know how we cooked our bird.  I brined in the Alton Brown recipe, but added a few things of my own - some orange peel (I had a lot of oranges) and a shredded apple.  I brined overnight and cooked at 275 covered tightly for 10 min. per pound, then uncovered and kicked the oven up to 375 and slathered with 1 stick softened butter mixed with some grated orange peel and some rosemary.  I rubbed it with the butter ever 15 min.  It only took about an add'l hr to cook.  (I let it rest a couple of hours because we weren't ready) For the gravy, I poured all the juices out of the pan and added the remaining orange/rosemary butter.  Then a little flour, let it brown, and added the skimmed pan juices and some chicken broth.  It was our best gravy ever.   And the soup - OMG.  So good!  
I hope it's not too early to reserve our bird for next year.  (Although, hopefully Matt will have a job by then, so I'll have to figure out an alternate pick-up)  Also, I save egg cartons - would you like me to leave some on you porch next time we're up there? 

Thanks again for everything - I think we are all in agreement that this was our best Thanksgiving ever!!

Gigi Toton



Summertime is Turkey Time--Get that Roaster Out!!


Summertime is the perfect time for turkey.  Pictured is a Tom hatched in July 2010 and overwintered.  The cut on the top of the breast was deliberate to show the "layer" of basting fat a tom of this age should have.    Because hens and toms between 6 to 9 months of age do not have this fat layer , I will brine the bird but no need to brine or hover over an older Tom.  This layer of fat also makes for a wonderful smoked turkey.  (Note: hens should be processed either prior to sexual maturity or when egg laying has stopped  for the season with enough time to get weight back on the breast)

To keep the kitchen cool, I use the table top turkey roaster, set at 375 degrees.  I rub the turkey with a little oil to hold my selection of herbs, salt, and pepper the walk away until the temp. probe tells me the dark thigh meat is 165 degrees. 

Take turkey out of roaster and cover with tin foil and a towel and let set for at least fifteen minutes before carving.  I totally carve the bird because the next step is to take the carcuss and boil in the roaster to release the remaining meat and broth for soup, casseroles, and so on. 




Cleo, Cher, and their babies

Just thought I would let everyone see the newest arrivals at the farm.  Both Cleo and Cher have at least twelve babies each.  I say at least twelve because I have not been able to count the fast moving darlings yet.

This is what a heritage turkey is all about, the ability to naturally mate, brood and raise their own poults. 


HENS, 4-Her’s and POULTS

  4-Her’s, HENS, and POULTS 



4-Her’s:  Last year, I sold poults to a local Cass county 4-Her, Jacob Lee Temple, to show in the “breeding pair” class.  Jacob Lee’s hard work garnered the championship.  Unfortunately, due to the economy, the State of Michigan decided not to hold the State Fair. But that doesn’t really matter to Jacob Lee who simply loves his birds.  While Jacob Lee will never take the “market classes” dominated by the commercial broad breasted turkey, Jacob Lee can breed his own poults for the following year’s exhibition.  Jacob Lee’s poults were hatched in January.  Many adults who purchased my poults in the winter were not as dedicated as Jacob Lee in seeing that the babies were kept warm and provided clean bedding, water, and food. They experienced a high death rate.  Pictures sent to me by Jacob Lee showed me that he was able to keep his little flock healthy and thriving by giving them the intense attention they need until they were completely feathered out. 

This year, some of my poults went to home of 4-H’er Emma, located in Minn.   Emma’s brother is a dedicated turkey exhibitor in the commercial pen classes.  Emma, on the other hand, desires to exhibit in the breeding pair class.  She requires a heritage turkey.  Emma and her family arrived yesterday to pick out her poults that were hatched the first week of April, 2011.  It is clear that this family loves their turkeys and a pleasure to see some of my hard work get into such committed hands. 

Before selecting her poults, the family took the time to look over and put their hands on my small flock.   Emma immediately began cuddling “Diehard” a tom I selected last year to cross with next years breeding hens out of “King” and “Tut.”   Diehard is named because of his ability to survive events that would kill a lesser turkey.  He loves attention and “soaked up” Emma’s by using his head to “hug” her. 

 Unlike her brother, who can comfortably handle the bigger commercial white broad breasted turkeys in the showmanship classes, Emma wanted a small, calm, showy turkey that she can hold in order to demonstrate her showmanship abilities to a judge.    Emma used her own money to purchase her poults and will be the one responsible to feed, care as well as sing to them.  I suspect Emma’s effort, time, and commitment to her little flock will be acknowledged within the show-ring.  Unlike a commercial broad breasted white, Emma can build her own little “niche” market for other 4-Her’s or process and sell the intensely flavored meat that a heritage turkey’s slow growth rate can develop over a six-nine month period. 

HENS:  Currently,  I have five (of last year’s) hens, sitting between 12-15 eggs.  Yesterday, the first of the batch began hatching.  Those of you experienced with turkeys,  know they are communal in nature. Meaning, the hens will lay their eggs on top of a brooding hen.   If you watch closely, the last laid eggs will be kept tightly between her legs and the older, darker eggs, will be kept outside her body heat.  Whether it’s the difference in smell or weight of the developing poults, it is unclear but the hen knows.  And will take steps, to ensure her babies will hatch together.   When candling these eggs, amazingly; by “slight of beak” the majority of the eggs will be close to the same stage of development.   

When I first started, an “old-timer” told me that he would sell as well as mail turkey eggs that had been brooded for up to twenty days.  I had no reason to doubt him but I was doubtful.  Living with turkeys and incubating eggs when electricity is lost, while observing their behavior, you start to learn that more is possible then before.  Turkeys are challenging to incubate for the first time and often disheartening.  But once you master the skill and mimic a hen’s behavior, your hatching rate will increase.   

For example:  close to hatching my hens flatten themselves on their eggs, this clamping down keeps their body heat and sweat on the eggs.  When I incubate, I have observed that during pipping, the humidity within the incubator will drastically increase, as the body heat from the poult(s) are released into the incubator.  If you need to top off your water pans, do it now then “keep that door shut” and let nature take it’s course.  This is the time when I am glad that I paid extra money for the plexiglass door on my cabinet incubator. 

 POULTS:  In my garage right now, I have eight Beltsville White poults  sired from the Canada Guelph flock.  These poults are very slight of bone, flighty in temperment  and by feel one immediately recognizes they need improvement not only in frame structure but breast quality.  I am hopeful that their egg production/fertility will be superior to my flock as I personally observed these poults hatching and they were very vigorous.     

As soon as I can, I will be wing banding these birds for future identification.  I hope to obtain eggs from an identified Ames line in order to maintain a line of purebred Beltsville White.  I suspect that the Ames line of poults will be superior to the Guelph line I currently have, as my conversations with this breeder shows a dedicated to quality versus quantity.

My Pixie Whites carry the bloodlines of Midget White, and White Holland turkeys.  Should they starting getting too big, I will add in some of these Beltsville white genes.  But my main goal is to see how far I can go in creating a flock of purebred Beltsville White turkeys, next year. 


Time For the Hens to Begin Raising Their Own Babies!

With my last tray hatching next week, I am looking forward towards the hens doing all the work, while I just record their broodiness.  Besides, I have enough to do raising the poults I hatched.  I recently saw a hen I sold last year, and opps, I would love to have her back in my breeding program.  She is being bred to one of my Toms so perhaps I can get some eggs back for my incubator.   I hate it that I can't keep them all until they mature before making my next generation breeding selections. 

In my brooder, I have twenty poults I am keeping out of my main tom, Tut and King's daughters.  From these poults, I will select next year's hens to breed to Die Hard, Tut's son. 

I also have bred Tut's daughter's  to King.  These hens will be permitted to raise their own clutches so I can evaluate their broodiness.  From these poults, I will also select hens to breed to Die Hard.  From those not selected, some will go to market and others purchased as seed producers for other small acreage farmers. 

If that is not enough to keep me occupied, I am in the process of building a new turkey pen so that I can keep the market birds seperate from my breeding birds.   To lessen my work load, I have decided it is time to learn how to wing band.  Food dye on poults and leg bands work fine on a small flock but as the brood expands wing bands are a must.

If anyone has any internet articles on how to wing band, please email me.





The Poults are Coming, the Poults are Coming!

Due to an aggressive culling of my breeding hens,  I am down to seven hens originating from last year poults  This means,  I am later than usual with my first hatch.  But it is worth the wait.  Last year,  I thought the poults were slow to seperate from the egg after making the first shell crack.    The aggressive culling was my attempt to work towards solving this problem. 

 I want the use of the poult's  yolk sac energy to be for the twenty four hours after leaving the shell, and not for getting out of it.  This year, once poults have cracked the shell,  they take shorter rests and appear to be more determined to exit the egg.  I left this morning to go shopping, after having identified three eggs, and came back three hours later with five poults, out and dry.

Nor am I having to babysit these poults to ensure that they stay near the water, food, and heat.  So far, no  "roller" poults that flip up on their backs and often die as they  are able to right themselves due to lack of energy, food, water, or chilled. 

These poults are also showing more bone frame than last year poults, with a wider leg stance.  Neat!

I can't wait until I let my Pixie White hens begin raising their own poults to see if my incubating experience carries over to them.  The goal is for the Pixie White to be a self sustaining turkey and not a "needy bird." 

Just a reminder for those of you raising poults for the first time,  poults must be fed a game feed that is a  least  24  percent  protein.  (28 percent   is better for the first month-I feed Kent game feed)  if you feed chicken feed, the poults will fail to thrive and start developing leg problems. 



How a Pixie White Is Created

The first operational phase of the Pixie White breeding program is based upon the following Mendel principles that:  1) each parent contributes one half of the genetic material to the progeny; 2) this genetic material affects the appearance of the progeny; 3) some undesirable genes are dominate over desirable, and when the dominate and recessive genes are in the same parent, only the dominant will show; 4) if each parent contributes a recessive desirable gene trait to a given offspring, then these turkeys  are purebred  for the recessive trait; and,  5) each parent can only contribute that recessive gene to the next generation.  But if the next generation receives an undesirable dominate trait from the other parent, the recessive gene is “hidden” but can skip a generation and be recovered. 

The Pixie White has two foundation toms.  One tom (King) is as close as I could get to the purebred genetics of the Midget Whites dispersed to avian fanciers in 2005; while the other, (Tut) is a small white tom of excellent breast fleshing but unknown origin. (As it turns out, Tut has become the backbone of my flock, producing hens/toms exhibiting exceptional breast quality at 35 weeks, while King is relied upon to keep sufficient bone structure, vigor, and hen broodiness)  However, he also is the "wildcard" in my breeding program, not knowing his origins.  The seven small white hens were likewise of unknown origin. Thru the use of lights, separation pens, incubation, trap nesting, and heated facilities, I began aggressively raising two separate lines of breeding stock a year.   These crossbreds were then subjected to a selection pressure that bases the next generation breeding bird on genetic traits of:  small size, good breast fleshing, vigor, structural bone balance, and calm-friendly temperament; while,  retaining the attributes and cultural significance of a heritage turkey suitable to a range-based small acreage production system.  In June of each year, I permit each breeding hen to raise her own clutch so as to assess not only broodiness but maternal skills. 

My focus is to identify PURE dominant genes of a tom and hen by working within the frame work of Mendel’s formulas to determine which turkeys are homozygous for the most number of identified traits.  By November of each year, toms and hens are sold either as seed breeders to like minded individuals, or butchered.  I cull my flock down to the next years breeding turkeys with the hope that I retain stock that cannot give their offspring anything but the desired gene for that trait, because that is all they have. Working on the premise that most of the desired traits are associated with the X sex chromosome, my yearly selection pressure focus is on the next generation’s breeding hens and is based upon the number of desirable traits exhibited by the hen so as to fix similar genes within my flock.  Finally, I am able to pair these hens to toms from outstanding mother hens; the result of which in 2010, was an increase in egg production and yield of edible hen breast meat.  

My hope is that as I continue to identify desirable traits that I believe to be beneficial but recessive in nature and work towards fixing this recessive trait by planning mating where both parents possess the recessive gene through the X sex chromosome, via record keeping, I will be able to select breeding pairs that demonstrate an ability to produce progeny that throw the highest number of the desired traits.  



The Start of a Turkey Blog

March 30, 2011    Based upon the Midget White breeding program, my Pixie Whites are compact turkeys that I have been breeding for the past three years specifically for the small acreage farmer; who requires a naturally breeding, compact, white friendly turkey who can be relied on to breed true. The foundation TOM is a Midget White turkey from as close as I could get to the 2007 Wisconsin dispersed flock. My initial foundation hens were advertised as Midget Whites but I put no stock in that.
Over the past three years, I have aggressively culled my flock down to the best seven hens every year and the top two Toms for the sole purpose of recreating as best I could a "dinner table" turkey possessing quality breast fleshing and high egg production; while retaining the qualities of a heritage fowl.
I am doing this because the advertised Midget Whites  I purchased, had lost their "midget" size.  Via lights, isolated breeding pens and heated barn, I am currently on my fourth generation of line-breeding for consistent traits.  Plus, I love the science behind structured pedigrees based upon genetics!
My "lofty" goal is to produce seed breeders that past on the above stated desired traits. Last year was the first time I sold my poults to a local 4-her who won the championship breeding pair at the 2010 Cass Co County Fair. It is no small feat for a heritage bird to gain enough quality breast fleshing in six months to beat out a commercial white.

In 2010, my Toms processed out between 15-18 lbs, with hens around 6-8 lbs. around sexual maturity, six - seven months.  When I get time, I am going to start blogging details about my trapped nest breeding program. 

Rise&Shine Urban Farm



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