The turkey poults are almost four weeks old, and they are quickly becoming my favorite feathered friends here at the farm. For the first three weeks, we raised them in the house under a heat lamp in a large wooden brooder box. Just like the chicken chicks we’ve previously raised, the turkey poults need to be kept very warm until feathers start replacing their baby fluff. There are many similarities between turkey poults and chicken chicks, so we weren’t expecting too many surprises. Before we got the turkeys, I did quite a bit of research, and one of the things I read was that the immune system of turkeys is more sensitive and slower to develop than in chickens, and that the survivability of turkey poults is lower than for chicken chicks. The first three weeks are an especially critical time to make sure that all of the turkeys are getting enough to eat and drink, their bedding is kept clean and dry, and that they don’t get chilled. These things are all easy enough to do, and since I work from home most days, I was able to keep a close eye on them to make sure they got off to a good start.
There are a few differences between turkey poults and chicken chicks. One difference is that in contrast to chicken chicks which tend to be fearful when you put your hand into the brooder to pick them up and will run in the opposite direction, turkey poults are very curious and will run over to your hand to investigate it. When you do manage to catch and pick up a chicken chick, they will try to escape and fly out of your hand, whereas when you pick up a turkey poult they will more often than not sit down and make themselves comfortable. These differences make turkey poults very easy to interact with and makes them a lot of fun.
Another difference between turkeys and chickens is that turkeys grow fast! At three weeks old, they were twice the size that three week old chicken chicks would be, and as a result the turkeys were getting crowded in the brooder that we had raised chicken chicks in until they were six or seven weeks old. So we began leaving the screened top off of the brooder box so that the turkeys could perch on the top and have a bit more area to hang out in. For the first few days they behaved themselves and did not venture beyond the edge of the brooder. Then one day when I left them unattended while I left the house for a few hours, the turkeys jumped down onto the floor and began exploring their surroundings. They were soon discovered by my husband and returned to the confines of their box, but not before leaving a few presents for me to clean up!
Thankfully, the turkeys had just turned three weeks old, and they all seemed strong and healthy so I felt comfortable moving them out to the new turkey coop. The coop is not quite finished, but it’s close enough to being finished for them to move in. The enclosed rear portion of the coop is finished, which is where they will live for the next couple of weeks. They will still have the heat lamp turned on to keep them warm at night until they finish growing in their feathers between six and eight weeks of age. The front portion of the coop is an open air sun porch where the poults will spend a couple of weeks transitioning from living inside the coop to living outdoors, before we eventually give them access to the pasture. This staged transition to living on pasture is important to help them develop their immune systems, and apparently eight weeks old is another important time for young turkeys when they typically get put out on pasture and when their immune systems face new challenges.
We will keep the turkeys separate from the chickens until they are a few months old, have adjusted to life outdoors, and are at least as big as Ramon the rooster. Then we will redo the pasture fencing and let the turkeys share the pasture with the chickens that live in the front pasture, Ramon, Henny, Penny, and Little Miss. I am hoping that we will have at least two females in our batch of turkeys, but it is too soon to be able to tell the sexes at this point. The turkeys have already begun to strut and display to sort out the pecking order. I’ve read that the dominance displays of both males and females can look fairly similar at a young age, and so it cannot be conclusively used to determine their sex. I have to say that seeing these tiny turkeys lower their wings, spread their tail feathers, and circle each other in a dominance display may just be the cutest thing I have ever seen. I can’t wait to figure out which turkeys are toms and which are hens, but in the meantime we are having lots of fun watching them grow up.