Good Turkey Girls
Our two turkey hens, Eleanor and Prudence, have been laying eggs for about a month now. They lay beautiful cream to light brown colored eggs with darker brown speckles. Before they started laying, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of nest box we should build for them. In preparation for the big event, I had read a lot about turkey egg laying behavior. Wild turkeys will make a nest on the ground, usually in the brush but sometimes more out in the open, and I learned that it’s fairly common for heritage turkey breeds, like we have, to flee the safety of where they are kept to go hide in the bushes somewhere to make a nest just like a wild turkey would. Nesting in the wild is a dangerous proposition, as they are an easy meal for any passing predator. Since both Eleanor and Prudence had flown over the fence and spent the night in the blackberries when they were younger girls (Wild at Heart), I was terribly worried that they would do the same thing when it came time to lay their eggs. I wanted to build them a nest in the pasture that would encourage them to stay close to home to lay their eggs. Of course we have built several structures for the turkeys over the last year, and most of them have been totally rejected as unsuitable for reasons unknown to us. So we debated about whether it was worth the effort to build a turkey nest box, knowing full well that they probably would reject it no matter how hard we tried to build something to their mysterious specifications. We did make one attempt by building a turkey sized nest box under one of the pallet structures, but of course the turkeys showed no interest in it. So we figured we would wait and see what they did.
Prudence was the first to lay, and much to my amazement she laid her first egg, and every egg since then, in a small chicken nest box in Ramon’s coop. Eleanor started laying a day later, and for the first couple of days I would find her eggs just sitting on the ground out in the open in the pasture. Then by her third egg, Eleanor started laying on the floor in the corner of Ramon’s coop. Eleanor is a bit larger than Prudence, and there was no way that she was going to fit into the chicken nest box. Needless to say, I was quite relieved that both of the girls had found somewhere safe to lay their eggs. I still worried a bit though that when one of the girls decided she was ready to hatch some eggs, she would fly over the fence and head off into the bushes. About a week ago, Eleanor started spending the night in Ramon’s coop instead of on her high roost with Ringo and Prudence. It seemed that Eleanor had gone broody, meaning she is ready to set and hatch eggs. I began making more and more frequent trips out to the pasture, looking to see if Eleanor was spending all day and all night in Ramon’s coop which would mean that she was truly broody. After several days of her being camped out in Ramon’s coop, I was convinced that she was broody. I had been hoping that one of the girls would go broody so that we could hatch some turkeys, and I again breathed a huge sigh of relief that she had done it in the safety of Ramon’s coop.
I had been collecting turkey eggs every day to store them safely in the house, and now that Eleanor was broody it was time to give her some eggs to incubate. I went outside one afternoon and called everyone for treats, and I was happy that Eleanor came out of the coop for treats. She had been sitting on two eggs that I had left in there for her for a couple of days. I quickly removed those eggs and put 10 newer eggs in the coop, marked with a big X on the bottom with a pen, so that I would know which ones were being incubated, and I could collect any newly laid eggs by Prudence that Eleanor may also try to incubate. It is important that all of the eggs that are being incubated start out being incubated at the same point in time so that they all hatch within a couple of days of each other. After I put the eggs in the coop and Eleanor had spent a few minutes in the pasture and was ready to go back into the coop, I saw her stick her head in the door, make a little noise, and then leave. Uh oh I thought, she knows something is up. I went about my business and came back to check in about an hour, and thankfully Eleanor was back in the coop in her usual spot, but she was only setting on four eggs, while the other eight sat beside her on the floor. Darn it! She definitely knew something was up. But thankfully her instincts kicked in, and when I checked on Eleanor a few hours later she was setting on all of the eggs. I did a happy dance! This just might work after all! It’s been two days since I gave Eleanor the eggs, and I have not seen her leave the coop once. A broody hen’s instincts are strong, and they will only leave the nest for a few minutes each day to eat, drink, poop, and take a quick dust bath. I’m sure she knows what she needs to do to take care of herself and her eggs, but if I don’t see her leave the nest in a few more days I may try to encourage her to leave for a bit to make sure she is eating and drinking. I have heard of a few sad stories where an especially devoted broody hen will actually starve herself while incubating eggs. So fingers crossed that all goes well, and in about 26 days we should have turkey poults hatching at the farm!