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Thursday
Apr072011

Nesting Narragansett Turkeys (7 April 11)

My giant rubbermaid container that I use as a sled to drag hay around in the winter was sitting near the turkey tractor, empty except for a single beautiful blue chicken egg. I had left the egg there for a few minutes so that it would be safe until I was ready to take it up to the house. The lone Narragansett turkey hen (the other turkey hen was eaten by a fox a few months ago) was meandering around looking and scratching at things. Even though it still seemed to be the dead of winter, I wondered if she was trying to find a nest site. To my great surprise, she sauntered over the rubbermaid container, peered in, and liked what she saw. She lept into it with delight and gently rearranged the chicken egg before scratching the container and scrunching herself around in it endlessly. Apparently she did not like the similar but slightly smaller nest box that I had put into her turkey tractor a few weeks before, preferring this one instead. I filled her chosen container with straw and moved it to the chicken tractor.

After a few days, she laid her first egg in it. She's been adding an egg every day or two ever since. She takes very good care of her eggs, turning them and arranging them carefully every day. There are now 12 eggs in the nest, and she has started partial incubation. 

 

Strangely enough, turkeys do partial incubation before switching to full-time incubation. This phenomenon is not well understood. It does not make sense that the hen would sit on the eggs, raising them to a warm enough temperature for cell division to take place, only to get off the nest after a few hours, allowing the eggs to cool down and stop developing. But this is how turkeys take care of their eggs and apparently it works because mother birds do a far better job of hatching eggs than people with incubators. 

  

 

Turkey eggs hatch after 4 weeks of incubation, so hopefully we will have some baby turkeys (called poults) in early May. The tom turkey stands proudly near the turkey tractor, keeping watch, while the hen tends the eggs.

 

While they were once common on Amerian farms, industrialized agriculture has endangered the Narragansett turkey with extinction. This heritage breed is listed as threatened by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. We are pleased to be contributing to the conservation of Narragansett turkeys. While it may seem counterintuitive, raising them for meat, and eating one for Thanksgiving, helps to ensure their survival. If there is a strong market for Narragansett turkey meat, then farmers will raise them and they will be common again. 

 

Reader Comments (1)

I'm raising Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys. My hen did exactly what your hen did, much to our surprise. She made a nest, laid an egg every day or two, but never really sat on it. The nest was in a bad place, outside our yard, so we worried about predators. After she'd laid over a dozen eggs, disaster struck. We think it was a fox since the eggs disappeared and no shells remained in the nest. One egg survived. We brought that egg into the house. This time our hen found a better nest site just outside our courtyard wall in a cactus patch. She laide 13 eggs and we added the salvaged one. She got broody and now sits constantly on the nest. She also pulled out most of her lower breast feathers, the better to contact the eggs and provide warmth against her skin, we think. Although we have two Toms, we've never witnessed them mate, so aren't even sure these eggs are fertile. She leaves her nest so infrequently, we can't even get an egg to candle. Time will tell. The eggs are due to hatch May 5th. I hope, for Sophia's sake, these eggs all contain poults because she certainly has been an attentive mother!

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Ballard

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