Friday, April 8, 2016

How do I raise baby turkeys?

Raising turkeys is similar to raising chickens, but there are some differences you should know.
Royal Palm tom

There are two types of turkeys: heritage breeds and broad breasted breeds. The heritage breeds are also called "ornamental" breeds. They include Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Slate and Black among others.


Broad Breasted White and Broad Breasted Bronze are larger and typically raised for meat. We'll refer to them as whites and bronze.

Here's a handy reference from Oklahoma State's Animal Science Department.

Once you understand the breeds, you can decide which one you'd like to raise.

You raise the heritage breeds the same as you would raise chickens, including the feed. They are usually no more trouble than chickens. The whites and bronze, however, are a different story. You must use a 26% to 28% starter feed. I recommend a medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis. Click here for our entry on Feeding 101When they are ready for grower, I recommend a 20% grower in pellets if you can get them. This eliminates wasted feed around the feeder. 

All poults (babies) need a starting temperature of 95 degrees F. Be careful not to get over 95 degrees, and you must lower it by five degrees per week.  Stress can be a real problem for the poults. It's caused by overcrowding or being too hot. They must have plenty of room to move around. You can tell they're too hot two ways:
1. At 2-5 days they get weak, have trouble standing and die.  

2. At 10-14 days they start picking at each other. Birds almost always pick at the rear end, and once in a while at the wings.  Left alone, they will pick each other to death in a matter of hours.  If you notice picking, lower the temperature, make it dark in the brooder and put a piece of tape over the picked part. Put white tape on the lighter turkeys and dark tape on the bronze. Masking tape and electrical tape work well. This helps camouflage the wounds.

Some times in your turkey raising you find one of your bigger turkeys died. If you find the bird on its back that's a heart attack. This is not unusual in larger birds. However, if you find them on their breast it is a concern. Try to figure out what may be wrong. Make sure they have clean feed and water at all times.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale AKA Turkeyman

Friday, March 25, 2016

How do I get the most out of a swap?

Swap meets are very popular with poultry breeders. Here are a few tips to help you have the best experience possible. Want to try them out? The Walworth County Fur & Feather Swap is Saturday, April 9 in Elkhorn, WI.

Who holds swaps?
Most swaps are fundraisers for either a poultry club, 4H club or other youth organization.


Do I buy baby chicks at a swap?
Yes, but you must realize they might not be purebred and they might be straight run (mix of male and female birds).
"Take us home with you!"

How do I choose healthy chickens?
-The sellers will have them in boxes, cages or crates. You don't want the box to seem so crowded they can't move. It might be a clue the sellers aren't taking care of them at home.
-The birds should look generally healthy, with no runny nose or runny eyes. They should not seem lethargic. The birds should not sit with feathers fluffed up (not to be confused with broody hen), and should jump if you touch the cage.
-More than 95% of the people selling are honest people, but there's always a small percentage trying to sell a five-year-old hen as a year-old pullet.
-Find someone who is hosting the swap, and ask if they know the seller.

How early should I get there?
The earlier the better, since that's when you'll have the best variety. Most swaps have a food stand so you can have breakfast there.

What do I need if I buy birds?
-If you think you're going to buy something, bring at least a carrier or a few cardboard boxes with covers. If you think you're in the market for baby chicks bring a small box. If you are in the market for the bigger animal, bring a carrier. If you think you are not going to buy anything, bring both. (rimshot)

-In Wisconsin, you should get pullorum and typhoid papers to sell birds at swaps or show the birds at fairs. 

Even if you have backyard chickens, you should have papers showing it's from a Wisconsin Tested Flock, Wisconsin Associate flock, Wisconsin 90 day test papers, NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Program). By state law if you bring birds together you have to have one of the four types of papers. They should be in the name of the seller, so you know who sold the birds.

What should I ask the seller before buying the birds?
Most people will talk to you about the birds if you have questions.
General questions--what do you feed your birds, how long before the birds start to lay. You'll get a different answer from everybody but you'll average it out. General rule: people selling at swaps are really friendly.

If you see something you like but aren't ready to buy it yet, get their name and number so you can call them when you are ready.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What is wrong with my turkey's wings?

If you notice the wings of your waterfowl and turkeys are dropping down or sticking out, they might have a condition called split wing or angel wing. It's a condition where the last joint in the wing goes in a different direction.

The most common cause in waterfowl is too high a percentage of protein in the starter feed. A 16% to 18% medicated feed seems to work well. If you are raising them for meat, after their skeleton has stopped growing you may feed a higher protein grower of around 20% to 22%.

In turkeys it just seems to be the nature of the beast. You start seeing it at about ten days in about a quarter of them.

It is rare to see angel wings in chickens.

To fix it hold the wing in one hand, grasp the very last part of the wing and tuck in under the rest of the wing so the feathers are parallel with the wing bone. 

Tape it this position for two days, three at most. 


Remove tape. If it’s still not correct re-tape it. We have found that small strip of duct tape (no pun intended) works best.


As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Talk turkey with Dale in person!

Those of you in Southern Wisconsin will have a chance to chat with Dale about backyard chickens this Saturday, February 27 at the Sustainable Living Fair in Janesville.

His talk is scheduled for 11am.
He'll have plenty of advice and freebies.

General details here. Background info on Dale's experience here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How do I keep my chickens warm in the winter?


I’ve put off writing this for awhile since the weather here in Southern Wisconsin has been mild.

For the most part chickens tolerate the cold very well. Some breeds do better than others. The comb is the part of the chicken most at risk in the winter.

Chickens with rose combs fare the best. The main problem is males with large combs. They can freeze, turn black and slough off. They usually live although they will go off their feed, will not breed and sometimes die. I have heard that putting Vaseline on large combs help keep them from freezing. I have not tried it, but it used to be popular years ago.

Coops don’t need to be heated. Try to block off any drafts while leaving plenty of ventilation.

If you do feel you have to have heat do not use a heat bulb with adult chickens. They fly around and can hit the bulb causing hot broken glass to hit the bedding. Also be careful of the heaters that have coils that turn red when hot these also can cause a fire.

In the cold weather some people like to feed corn to boost energy. In a limited amount this is fine. The problem comes if you feed too much. Chickens need 15%-16% protein to lay. Corn is around 8% so you can see the more corn you feed the less protein the chickens receive. The chickens will stop laying.   

Water: We use ice cream buckets and try put in just what they will drink. Every few days we bring the buckets in the house to thaw out.

Frozen eggs: Sooner or later you will get eggs that have frozen. If the shell has not cracked it should be fine. However if they are cracked I would toss them. A crack could let bacteria in.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman
photo credit: DSC_0164 via photopin (license)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Egg matters

Trivia about eggs:
When a female baby chick hatches, it already has all the eggs it will ever lay.

When an egg is incubated, the white of the egg becomes the chick. The yolk is the nourishment. During hatching it is absorbed into the chick's body. This enables the chick to go for 72 hours without food or water.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts eggs in the fridge. I think if you buy your eggs at the store they should go in the fridge because those eggs are required to be washed and sanitized. This takes the natural “bloom” off. If you keep your eggs on the counter, do not wash them until you are ready to use them.

Ever wonder how to tell if the eggs are getting old? A very simple old time way is to put them in water. If they lay on the bottom-- still fresh. If they bob up and down– iffy. If they float toss them. The reason this works is eggs lose mass (get lighter) as they age.

Sometimes you see a spot of blood when you crack an egg. A lot of people think this means it’s fertile. All it is a blood vessel that broke while the eggs was developing.  Don’t worry, go ahead and use it. Not any different than blood in a steak. 

A broody hen (she wants to be a mother) somehow knows if an egg she is sitting on is any good. She will roll the bad ones out of her nest.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman.

photo credit: honorarium via photopin (license)

Monday, October 26, 2015

How do I trim a chicken's wings?



We get a lot of question on how to keep chickens from “flying the coop”. My good friend Twain Lockhart sums it up very well in this video. If you decide to trim your chickens' wings, make sure you take extra precautions against predators, as described in this Ask a Poultry Farmer post.






As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman