Dear Neighbor,

The dust has settled and four weeks has passed but I wanted to catch you up on our turkey hatch that I started talking about in Turkey Egg Rescue. First I have to say: What a learning experience that was! The only hatching of eggs we’ve had here on the homestead, in over 20 years, has been by broody hens. I assure you; it is still my preferred method of hatching eggs.

If you remember, this was not a planned hatch. Weather forced us to steal away the turkey hen’s eggs from a ground nest prior to a major snow that was coming the following day. Of course, the turkey she is, chose to go broody the day before the snow and plunging temps. In her defence, we have had perpetual March-like weather from Thanksgiving to early January and I am certain her body was very confused. We caught her on the nest the first day she sat. Turkey’s are notoriously clueless mothers and I had no confidence she wouldn’t just abandon the chicks once they hatched in our coldest month: February.

Watch the video of our discovery on Home page.

Twelve eggs in the nest meant for eleven days she had been laying and leaving them in frigid temperatures, so we didn’t  think any of them survived. However, I am an optimist! As I walked around with those eggs in my bulging coat pocket I was thinking, “why not?” We cranked up the incubator and put them plus four eggs in it.

After about three weeks, I was working in the kitchen and heard peeping. I froze. What?! I believed I was hearing things. Then a few hours later, I heard it again! Five days early to hatch, two had pipped and I could see a beak sticking out like a snorkel reaching for it’s first outside air.

“We’re having turkeys!” I beamed and high fived my husband.

The first chick began unzipping and hatched completely on his own. I quickly cranked up the light in the plastic storage box we were using as the brooder and adjusted the temperature, accordingly.

Lesson #1- For small indoor spaces, a 100 watt bulb is always sufficient.
Instead of using a 100 watt bulb we used a heat lamp. To my regret, the first turkey that hatched that night perished from what I suspect was overheating. His little body was pressed into the furthest point away from the light in the plastic storage box.  I had no idea plastic could retain so much heat and the box was too small for the array of heat.

Lesson #2- Go with your gut and don’t listen to everything you read on the internet.
The other egg was unzipping and trying to break the outer and inner shell membrane far enough apart to get out. Everything we read said to not intervene. I sat on my hands, obeying all I had read, but sensed this was not a good idea. Finally after almost three days, I knew the second chick hatching could die if I helped him and surely would die if I didn’t. We discovered the membranes were dry, crusted on his feathers and he wasn’t stuck due to lack of strength but due to the ridiculously tough membranes that were drying out. I had plenty of humidity, or so I thought, but those membranes are going to dry after days regardless because they are exposed to air.

Lazurus

Lazurus

Lesson #3- Learn the anatomy of the egg and how to assist a hatch
After the second hatched egg, I quickly Googled how to assist a hatch and found a great site that explained everything you need to know.  We snatched him out of the incubator and with a tweezers, pulled the membranes away from his little body. It was at that moment I knew we had trouble because something in the egg was decaying and he was covered in rotten smelling goo. I used warmed peroxide and dabbed his little eyes as much of his body that I could. I knew deep in my heart he was highly exposed to an enormous bacteria poonado and  he’d likely go septic. Visit Backyard Chickens article on hatching turkey eggs.

Lesson #4- Consider a separate chick drying place in incubator or a second incubator
I laid him back in the incubator. The chick we named Lazurus, was so weak, he laid on his side and looked pretty dead. My heart broke as he peeped quietly. “Lazurus, you will live and not die! Get up and walk!” He laid there and I put my exhausted body to bed.

In the morning, I was greeted by what looked like a very healthy chick. He was dry and fluffy, but gimping with curled, deformed looking toes on one foot. I noticed his hobbling about had knocked all the other eggs in the incubator. Since you aren’t even supposed to turn them the last few days, moving them around concerned me.
I took him out and placed him in a new, longer box with a 100 watt bulb at the perfect temperature, plenty of room to pick the temperature of his choice and he seemed fine. He was obviously handicapped by that foot and couldn’t walk properly at all.

That same day we had another chick unzipping faster than the prior two. Like Lazurus, he seemed unable to get out before the membranes were drying. The humidity seemed over the top but still it was drying in there.  I let him go only 8 hours before I rescued him. This little one was clean as a whistle but both of his feet suffered the curling toes that turkeys tend to get when it takes too long to hatch.

Her newborn clumsiness was heightened by her deformed feet and ass he tried to walk, she too played bumper cars with the other pipped eggs. They would crash into the Styrofoam walls but I didn’t know what to do about it. One thing I knew: in a nest this wouldn’t happen. The hen would anchor those eggs enough to keep them safe. This made me very nervous.

Once dry, I casted both of her feet, spreading and straightening her toes properly. We trimmed her two little paddles and then casted Lazurus’s foot, as well. They both instantly walked like champs.
Lazurus and Paddles seemed to be totally fine until day three. Lazurus started to become listless and I knew like I knew he was septic. By the end of the evening, he was gone. I cried.  Sigh.

Taping the toes straightened curled up feet. After three days they were repaired.

Taping the toes straightened curled up feet. After three days they were repaired.

Lesson #5- Hatch chicken eggs in with your turkey eggs.
Paddles was so lonely. Turkeys are flock critters, after all. Her incessant peeping only subsided when she heard our voices. As soon as we would leave the kitchen, she would peep so heart breakingly loud, I could barely stand it. Wait 3 days after you set the turkey eggs and add a few chick eggs to the bunch.

Then we had the ordeal of teaching her to eat. I had no idea how  unlikely they are to learn to eat on their own! This isn’t a problem you have with chickens. If you have baby chicks with turkeys, they will teach your turkeys to eat  by imitation.

Teaching Paddles to drink was a bit easier. They kind of have to swallow water if it gets in their mouth. Food is another story. I tried to teach her for two days then on day three, I decided to mimic what a mother hen does to her chicks when she finds a feast. Sprinkling some bird seed on the floor, my finger pecked at food and , well, yes, I peeped. She seemed to understand this and pecked at whatever my finger was pecking at. What?! She would peck but dropped the seed she picked up. I decided this was a coincidence.

An hour later, I peeped again. “Peep, peep, peep” as I pecked the seed and this crazy little thing got so excited. She once again began to peck at the seed and this time, she kept in a few pieces. Once I saw she was understanding the mother hand, I moved my finger to the feeder and she followed it and once I peeped and pecked at it, she ate out of the feeder. This turkey was now eating and drinking on her own.

Paddles became so tame, if my hand would go in box she would jump into it. Yes, I held my turkey for a minute or two each day. She was so lonely we ended up putting the radio on during the day to soothe her.
At five days old, we introduced Paddles to her new flock: twenty five Rhode Island Red chicks. All I can say is their first meeting was  pandemonium! Poor Paddles.

Paddles' is asking, "Who put all these gingers in here?"

Paddles’ is asking, “Who put all these gingers in here?”

The chicks were very hyper, ate like locusts, were constantly moving and Paddles couldn’t catch one wink of sleep. While this may not seem like a big deal, baby birds do sleep a lot. After all, they are babies. After about 3 hours I could see her swaying under the light, her eyes closed and one of those crazy gingers would knock her over. I scooped her up and within 10 seconds she fell asleep in my hand.

We moved all but two of those chicks outside. Only the three birds got to stay inside and instantly things became calm.  By the end of the evening, Paddles was sleeping close to the two chicks and the ear piercing peep of loneliness stopped. In fact they were so quiet, I had to check them to make sure they were alive!

We waited three days after the scheduled hatch day and almost a week after our first turkey was born to deal with the yet unhatched eggs. A float test showed one was obviously long gone but the other four floated correctly but did not move. After an autopsy we had 4 fully developed chicks in them, yolks unabsorbed. Back to Lesson #3, I believe they died due to traumatic injuries from being jarred by the other two newly hatched chicks.

25 Rhode Island chicks look a bit like a Bloomin Onion...or chicken nuggets?

25 Rhode Island chicks look a bit like a Bloomin Onion…or chicken nuggets?

Lesson #6- Life is strong yet delicate.
Eggs are very strong and hardier before the chick is formed. All research would have told me that these eggs should have all have been duds due to the extreme cold they were left in each night. In reality, only five didn’t develop.

Entering the real world is a trickier ordeal, especially for turkeys. They are much more delicate than chickens . This is why they are so expensive!

Everything matters. Humidity is one biggie. Especially with turkeys since their membranes are already very thick. I mean like wet suit thick! Opening the incubator even to get a chick lessens the humidity and rectifying it is,well hard to do.

At the end of the day, the chick that survived is not from the nest at all, but one from inside the house which is from our Broad Breasted Bronze, Petunia and our Narragansett tom. This would make a great meat bird but as you can imagine, we have yet another pet turkey. Paddles hopefully is a hen and lay us some eggs, which can produce some future turkey dinner.

I am sad for the ones that didn’t make it but so grateful for the one little turkey life we have; it’s one more than we had! We already have another dozen of our eggs in the incubator. We are informed and ready. I’ll keep you posted.
Happy homesteading, Scarlett

P.S. Quick snatched a picture of Paddles, today, at 30 days old. She’s a keeper!

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