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.