A Day In the Life of a First Time Turkey Mom

Posted by Lynn Witter on

Things I learned in the first 2 hours of being a turkey mom:

  1. Baby turkeys are called "poults" not chicks as one might presume.
  2. Poults can't eat the same starter feed as chicks. 
  3. Their drinking water can't be too cold - lukewarm is best.  (Not sure why yet, but they did seem to drink better once I changed it out & added marbles to the dish)
  4. Even 1 - 2 day old poults will try to jump out of their temporary brooder if it's too short.
  5. Poults are very needy. 
  6. Poults are very needy.
  7. Did I mention that poults are very needy? 

Allow me to elaborate.  I'll start at the beginning...last spring.  It occurred to me that turkeys would be a neat thing to have.  So, a few days after purchasing my six baby chicks, I headed back to Arnold's, the local feed & seed, and inquired about adding a of couple of turkeys to my flock.  Well, they had none, but would put me on a list that would be ordered as soon as the number reached the minimum turkey order of fifteen.  OK, no problem, I was pretty busy with my chicks and didn't think much about it.  Well, spring, then summer came and went, no turkeys.  Fast forward to this spring; again, I'm on the list, but not very hopeful.  I want a specific breed, Bronze Heritage.  Big, pretty, regal birds.  Chicken babies arrived - got two more barred rocks, cause we just love the big brown eggs, and six "Easter Egg" chickens, aka Ameraucanas.  They lay really pretty blueish green eggs.  Well, they are happy, healthy chicks - recently introduced to their outside home and doing great.  My indoor chicken house was returned back into a guest bathroom, and all is well.  Then comes the call; "we have your two turkeys, come on by and pick 'em up". 

I'm so stoked at this point!  I love babies, all babies, probably even opossum or dinosaur babies.  So, here go I to Arnold's and am handed two of the cutest baby birds in a little cardboard box.  They are tiny.  Too tiny to live with my now six week old chickens.  So, I also purchase another heat lamp, and inquire as to exactly what these little guys eat, assuming they can have the same starter feed as the chicks.  Glad I asked, because, turns out they don't.  They need a food that does not contain medication.  OK, I'll have a bag.  Good news is that even though the turkeys cannot eat chicken starter feed, chickens can eat turkey starter feed.  That will make  things a little less complicated if and when they can be introduced into the same yard.   Obviously, I have yet to read the entire turkey mom manual.  

We are home, two tiny turkeys and a heat lamp.  Find a box that will suffice for now as a brooder.  Heat it up, add the turkeys a little bowl for water and some starter grain.  Well, it's quite obvious that even though they are siblings, just like people siblings, personalities are vastly different.  Show them how to drink.  No luck.  Google "why won't my turkeys drink their water", find out that cold water is bad for turkeys.  Give them lukewarm water.  Toss a few marbles in the bowl, cause they like shiny things (my rings).  Bingo!  They are sipping like champs.  I feel better.  Not much interest in the food, but I'll give it a while, this is a big adjustment for them.  They literally just hatched yesterday.  I sit and watch for a while.  Turkey A is running all around the box and cheeping like crazy.  Turkey B is lying down looking about dead.  Not good.  Google "why is my turkey lying about looking dead?"  This is apparently a common cause of concern among new turkey parents.  In addition to really warm, dry housing and the right kind of food and lukewarm water, they need love.  They need to bond, and feel loved, and develop a desire to live. 

Did I mention that poults are needy? 

Charge my phone which is dead from all the turkey googling, plug in the heating pad, wrap the babies in a kitchen towel, grab my "Goat" book, and go sit on the sofa to "bond" with the new babies.  Turkey B snuggles right in and falls asleep after a couple of contented peeps.  Turkey A, however, needs to hop around, poop on my shirt, peck the grain that the goat left behind on the sofa, poop on the sofa, then finally settles in to rest a while, and we bond.  Hallelujah, it stopped crazy cheeping!

It's about bedtime for momma, so poults go back into their cozy, warm box-made-into-a-brooder.  Not good enough.  They continue to cheep loudly.  I go back in, encourage them to eat by "pecking" in their grain with my finger.  Monkey see, monkey do!  That worked!  They ate pretty hardily and had a bit more to drink.  I'm feeling pretty successful at this point.  Even Turkey B has perked up and is moving around.  Turn out the overhead light, good-night baby turkeys. 

Nope. 

Really loud cheeps.  Go back in, check the temperature, snuggle them a bit, loosely wrap a cloth around them, put Turkey A back in said cloth five or six times.  Finally, through sheer exhaustion, they both settle in for the night.  I listen from the other side of the door, and only hear a few soft peeps.  Pshew!  Checked on them at 2am and all is well.  First day of turkey rearing was a success.  Now to watch them grow and quickly learn everything I can about raising turkeys.

I have to mention Trixi here.  Trixi is my high-strung huskey mix who is the self-appointed baby bird guardian and is relentless in trying to "take care" of any new bird babies that come to the farm.  The turkeys are getting use to her poking her nose at their butts,  the little chickens just ignore her and will hang out with her if she'll be still with them.  The hens actually torment her by pecking at the glass door when she's on the other side.  I don't think she realizes just how large these new additions are going to become!

My two adorable, cheeping babies survived their first 24 hours and were rewarded with a trip to the garden for some much needed sunshine and a really fun photo shoot.  I know they are happy because the loud, persistent cheeping turned into a soft "pdrrreeeep, pdrrreeeep" and Turkey B has found her legs and leisurely strolls about while Turkey A, the nervous one, darts back and forth, in and out, pecking everything in sight - no longer screaming to be held.

Why turkeys?  That's the question of the day.  Even my sister asked me if I'd lost my mind (like she has room to talk!).  No, not for Thanksgiving dinner, or any dinner for that matter.  I just think they are pretty.  Word has it that they are very friendly, calm, easy going birds.  These are a breed developed by crossing domestic turkeys brought from England in the 1800's with wild turkeys.  My little ones are "Mammoth Bronze" and will grow to a hearty 18-20 pounds if they are female and a whopping 30 pounds if they are male.  So, why turkeys?  Well, just because, and why not?


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