There are currently 13 turkey eggs incubating on my kitchen counter! And now, five chicken eggs, as well. I can hardly wait until 5/18, when they are due to hatch. You can bet I’ll be posting updates and pictures.
The kids and I drove out to Steinbacher Poultry Farm and picked up our dozen hatching eggs last Wednesday (April 20, 2011). The farm was fun to see, with all the geese and turkeys and ducks and chickens (and one gorgeous Kangal livestock guardian dog – so jealous – to keep the predators away). The Krebs were very kind people, nice to talk with, and they gave us one bonus egg. I kept the shoebox full of eggs (turkey eggs don’t fit in a standard egg carton) in the passenger seat next to me all the way home, holding it steady on sharp turns. It was an uneventful ride.
A few days earlier, our new incubator, the Brinsea Octagon 20 Eco, had arrived in the mail. We set to work cleaning it, setting it up, calibrating, etc., so we were all ready for the new eggs. Why did we buy an incubator, you ask, after successfully hatching chicks underneath broody mamas last year, and after swearing never to brood baby poultry myself again? Well, two factors swayed me: cost and education. First, cost. Hatched poults are $9/bird, making them $108/dozen, whereas hatching eggs are $36/dozen (or $3/egg, if your math is fuzzy). I purchased my incubator on sale, plus had a coupon, so the cost of the incubator and hatching eggs combined was not that much more than just buying the poults hatched. And now I have the incubator for future use, like if a broody hen quits on me, or if I want to hatch rare breed eggs or something. This incubator came highly recommended and is really neat. It takes up very little space, is super easy to clean/sanitize after hatching, recovers temp/humidity quickly, and doesn’t require opening to turn the eggs. The ends are octagon shaped, see? So you simply rock the whole incubator back and forth 90 degrees at least three times a day (I usually end up doing it 5 – 7, because I’m home) instead of having to open the lid to turn the eggs (which messes with the temp and humidity every time).
Oh, and that second factor – education. My children love seeing baby chicks, but they’ve never seen them hatch, because all our hatches have been at a hatchery far away (for our first ever chicks) or underneath broody hens (three hatches last summer). Broody hens are often awesome moms, meaning they’re very protective, so they kids never got close up looks at the little fuzz balls. This incubator will have the side benefit of letting the kids watch the whole process.
But yes, sigh, I will likely be brooding the poults (and their companion chicks, more on that below) indoors. Well, in the garage, because I don’t intend to have baby poultry in my actual living space ever again (famous last words). They are so poopy and dusty – they give off this fine dander that is impossible to clean. No, no, not in my bathroom again, like the first year. We’ll rig up a brooder in the garage, where they will be protected from drafts and off the ground, for at least the first eight weeks (eeps, that seems like forever). Turkey poults are more susceptible to disease and death than chicks, though I’ve read that after eight weeks, they are even hardier than chickens. Our chickens free range all over here, plus we have lots of wild birds, and both can be carriers of Blackhead (a disease that won’t kill them, but is fatal to turkeys). So I keep reading that you need to really baby your poults at first, and they’ll reward you by possibly not dying.
We’ll see what happens. Honestly, if I get a broody hen before the poults are due to hatch, it will be very difficult to keep myself from giving her the eggs and letting her brood the poults/chicks herself. She would likely do a better job than I, and I have my own human brood to keep me busy. I’d love to avoid the heat lamps and bedding changes and brooder additions as they grow. But I’ll do what I have to – I’m excited about these turkeys.
The breed we’re going to be raising is Bourbon Red, a heritage breed. They are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s watch list, meaning they are still in danger of being lost altogether. They’re beautiful turkeys, sturdy and flavorful, and I hope we’ll keep a small flock year-round and butcher most in November for Thanksgiving. (We’ll have free range turkeys for sale this fall – let me know if you’re interested!) We have lots of wild turkeys nearby, and I know that domesticated turkeys are not that far removed from their wild counterparts, so I’m worried about our turkeys running off and joining their freer brothers/sisters. I don’t mind if the wild turkeys stay close, but I’d rather not have my expensive heritage turkeys wandering off!
So, back to incubation. I started the 13 turkey eggs last Wednesday (4/20), right after I got home from picking them up. They need 28 days to hatch. Today, exactly a week later (4/27), I added five of our own chicken eggs (we raise mostly Buff Orpingtons). They take 21 days to hatch. See, they’ll all be due 5/18! Adding a few chicks to your poults is supposed to help with the survival rate, as chicks are less likely to forget where the food/water is. Supposedly. We’ll see. It’s worth a try, as we have plenty of fertile eggs around here. I had to get a little creative to five chicken eggs in there, but I got ‘er done. I’ll post pictures of the updated layout later on. Basically, if you look below, I put chicken eggs wherever you see wax paper.
I’m very excited for this new adventure on our little farm. The next round will be hatching Buckeye chickens, whose eggs I will have shipped from an Ohio breeder. Shipped eggs have a lower hatch rate, due to rough handling in transport, so I will be buying two dozen to fill up our incubator. These chickens are going to be a great addition to our farm. They are cold hardy, dual purpose (good for meat and eggs), and have great personalities. I still plan to keep the Buff Orpingtons, and maybe play around with a few crosses, but I will largely keep the breeds separate. My Buff flock is hatchery quality, whereas my Buckeye flock will be from a reputable breeder.