My goal, or one of my goals, for the ranch for 2016 while we built the infrastructure for the larger livestock, was to grow turkeys. In previous years, I have purchased pastured turkeys from other local farms/ranches because I just didn't make it a priority. Desperate to have something growing on the ranch while we built, turkeys became the obvious choice.
I had read and heard from friends that raising turkeys was dicey. They are more fragile than chickens, less disease resistant and able to keel over dead for no apparent reason! Consequently, I wanted to be thorough in my research so that I could be as prepared as I could be. After researching the breeds, I decided I wanted to try the heritage breeds. I ordered Midget White and White Hollands as they were available in the time frame I needed to get them ready in time for Thanksgiving (it takes approximately 28 weeks to get a female heritage breed turkey to 15-20 pounds). I also ordered companion layer chicks as I'd read that they assisted the poults in learning the way around the brooder! Specifically, poults can die due to "starving out", a condition where the poults don't eat despite the presence of food due to not knowing how to eat out of a feeder. The chicks 'teach' the poults how to eat.
As I am a big believer in staying away from gmo feed and soy, I researched the feed options. Poults need a higher protein content their feed than chickens, as high as 28% for the first 4 weeks of their lives, and that percentage gets smaller as they grow closer to their slaughtering day. Finding non-gmo feed with no soy with high protein that was local (so I didn't have to pay a high shipping fee) was difficult. I eventually decided that I would continue researching for more local alternatives for the following years' flock, but for this first flock I would settle for a non-gmo feed and drove out to Elgin to purchase all the turkey feed we were going to need to raise the flock.
The poults arrived as scheduled at the post office and my African Cowboy picked them up for me as I was out of town. He did as he was instructed (dunked each bird in water and stinging nettle tea), gave them feed with slippery elm powder sprinkled over it, and placed them in the brooder in our carport, with the chicken wire cover to keep them from flying out, and keep predators away.
I arrived back at the ranch a the following day and met our first poults. I made sure they were fed and watered, and went about the ranch doing chores. We repeated the routine of checking their water and feed twice a day for nine days. On the tenth day, I woke up early and after I had my first cup of coffee, I went outside to start with chores.
As I approached the brooder, I noticed it was very quiet. As I leaned over to check inside, I saw lifeless bodies laying about the brooder. I'll be honest and say that I did a double take. I was not expecting what I was seeing. I glanced around to see if I could see anything out of place or a disturbance. Nothing! I looked to see if the brooder cover had been dislodged. Nothing! I was bewildered. So I went to fetch my African Cowboy because he knows all!
I found him getting his coffee. As I started to tell him what I found, I did have to hold back tears. He came out with me, gave one looksy, and stated he was bewildered also. (As a note of clarification, African Cowboy is a cattleman and a horseman. He is not a poultry man. As he wants his wife happy, he has willingly submitted himself to being my most enthusiastic supporter/helper as we expand our ranch enterprises.) We cleaned up the brooder, and brooded over our poults demise all day.
Our answer to our bewilderment didn't happen until the following night. We were both in bed, almost to the point of falling asleep when we heard some noise coming from the carport. Being the household protector, African Cowboy went to investigate. He came back a few seconds later to locate his 22 rifle. As he left the bedroom, he stated that he had found the murderer. It was a raccoon! Not believing him, I joined him at his vantage spot and saw the raccoon lift the lid to the trash can and climb in to retrieve our garbage.
There was one less raccoon when we returned to bed.
The following Monday, I called the hatchery and ordered more poults.
The turkey enterprise for 2016 will not be a profitable enterprise. The lessons learned are priceless!
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