Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cooking backyard turkeys for Thanksgiving

We are frequently asked how to cook a backyard turkey for Thanksgiving.

So you got a “backyard turkey” this year, want to make sure you get the most out of its deep, rich and moist flavor?

Use your favorite recipe, but remember these tips.
  • Watch the temperature. Cook your turkey to 165 degrees. Backyard turkeys are a lot more moist so they cook faster. Use a meat thermometer to know for sure when the bird is cooked. 
  • If the thighs & legs are not done, separate them from the rest of the bird and put them back in the oven. 
  • We don’t stuff our Thanksgiving turkey. I believe they cook better without the stuffing in it. If you do stuff make sure to check the temperature of the stuffing.
  •  We never cover the bird or use a  roasting bag. There is no need to baste your turkey. 

One thing that we have done is to fully cook the turkey the day or so before, carve it & put it in the fridge. This frees up the kitchen and oven. On the day you're going to eat it, put it in a Nesco with some water. It comes out the same as being roasted the same day.

As always, ask questions in the comment section.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Where can I buy and sell my poultry?

Maybe you have a backyard hen that's started crowing. Maybe you want to find a specific breed or just see what's out there. Animal swaps are a good way to buy and sell birds and equipment.

We've posted a detailed list of what to expect at a swap. If you're in Southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, a great chance to use this knowledge is coming up Saturday, April 15 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn, WI. The Walworth County Fur & Feather Swap supports the 4H and FFA exhibitors at the Walworth County Fair. With only $2 admission and selling spaces starting at $5, it's an inexpensive introduction to this style of buying and selling. 

Keep in mind health papers are required.
In order to sell poultry you must be one of the following: NPIP, Wisconsin Tested Flock,Wisconsin Associate Flock, or have current 90 day test papers.  
Details here.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Friday, March 17, 2017

How do I incubate or set eggs?

There comes a time when chicken owners want to incubate eggs from their chickens. Your new incubator should come with detailed instructions. It’s best to closely follow these instructions for the first few hatches. After that you can try new things that you have thought about or heard about. 

The incubator's directions might not tell you how to check your thermometer for accuracy. The best kind of thermometer I've found is a digital meat thermometer. Fill a glass with ice water, let it set until the ice is melting. The thermometer should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If it doesn’t, just consider the difference when adjusting your incubator. A still-air incubator should be kept at 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit and a forced-air incubator at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turn the eggs at least twice a day. For incubators that require hand-turning, the eggs will be on their side. Mark the side with a pencil so you know how far to turn them. The directions may say that if you have an automatic turner, on the 18th day take the turner out, lay the eggs flat and don’t open the incubator until the 22nd day. The reason is the chicks can get caught in the turner plus you will have to clean the turner. We have a 1940s Humidaire Incubator where the eggs are set upright and the whole incubator rotates. The chicks hatch fine standing up while the incubator turns.

While you are waiting to set your eggs, store them in a carton pointed end down (also how they are placed in the turner). Place a piece of wood under one end (a 2x4) and switch the end twice a day. You can keep fertile eggs in a cooler room for up to two weeks. Do not wash them or put in the fridge. Before setting we spray them with a 50/50 mixture of Original Listerine and water. This works to disinfect them before you put them in a hot, wet environment.

You can help the slow-hatching chicks. We keep a eye dropper filled with mineral oil in the incubator. If they don’t get out right away the membrane on the inside the shell dries on the chick and they can’t move. The oil will loosen the membrane. You might see chicks with  “splay legs”  or bad wings

Remember there’s no big hurry to get the chicks out of the incubator. They will be fine without feed or water for up to 72 hours.   

If you don't have an incubator, you can set eggs under a broody hen. Depending on the size of the hen, you can put up to a dozen eggs underneath her. A few days before setting move the hen to a place of her own. Any kind of box or basket works well. Make sure that it won’t tip over when the hen gets off to eat and drink. Mark a couple of eggs for her to start with. Change these every day (they are fine to eat or set) until she is ready. Just put a dozen or so fertile eggs under her. All this is best done when it’s dark. Then just wait 21 days. If you find an egg rolled out of her nest just pitch it. Somehow a hen knows if an egg is bad.

As always, ask questions in the comment section.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Throwback Thanksgiving

If you thought your Thanksgiving plans were elaborate, you forgot the ceremonial turkey walk! (There's always next year.)

Happy Thanksgiving from the folks at Ask a Poultry Farmer!

photo credit: dorothy sebastian tropical thnksgvng via photopin (license)

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to cook a backyard turkey

We've sold naturally raised Thanksgiving turkeys for more than 30 years. While we use the standard instructions to cook a turkey there are also a few tricks and tips for turkeys raised in small flocks. We'll use the term "backyard turkeys" to refer to turkeys that aren't purchased from a grocery store.

Smoked turkey
First, it's always important to thaw the turkey safely. Start planning in advance if it's frozen. If it's fresh, you should buy it only a couple days in advance.

Generally, this means you're in contact with the farmer or producer about when the turkey will be processed and have planned pick-up to accommodate your cooking schedule. 

Once you're ready to cook the bird, backyard turkeys cook about half an hour faster than store-bought birds. Keep an eye on the temperature and check the turkey 45 minutes before it's supposed to be done. An overdone turkey is a dry turkey.

Before the turkey goes into the oven, cut along the thighs (between the thighs and the body) so the thighs cook at the same rate as the turkey breast. Thighs typically take longer, and you don't want the breast to dry out.

If you don't stuff the bird it will cook faster.

Our family always cooks our Thanksgiving turkey the day before we plan to eat it. We carve it, then reheat it in a Nesco roaster with water. It stays moist and you don't have to wait for the turkey to finish cooking.

We have customers who brine, smoke or otherwise get creative with their turkeys. These are some basics to help you get started.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

-Dale, aka Turkeyman

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why is my chicken losing its feathers?

Your chicken is molting.

Molt is nature’s why of “rebooting” poultry. 

When the days got shorter and cooler chickens will slow down, stop laying and lose their feathers. They don’t have to be laying when they molt. They will take six weeks or more to grow feathers back and resume egg production. 
Photo via Flickr

Birds can go through either a hard molt or a soft molt. A hard molt means all the feathers are lost almost at once so molting is over relatively quickly. A soft molt means the feathers are lost and regrown gradually. Sometimes you may hardly notice a soft molt, except as a reduction in laying. 

There are actually two juvenile molts before a chicken's first annual molt. The first mini molt begins at 6-8 days old and is complete by approximately 4 weeks when the chick's down is replaced by its first feathers. The second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old and the chicken's first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this time that a rooster's distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear 

Waterfowl molt a little differently. The first molt occurs shortly after nesting. Drakes trade their gaudy breeding plumage for drab brown feathers known as "basic" plumage. The second molt occurs from fall to early winter. Only the birds' body feathers are replaced during this molt, in which drakes develop their brightly colored "alternate" or "nuptial" plumage. 

The manner in which waterfowl molt their flight feathers, or primaries, is unique among birds. Most birds undergo a "sequential molt," in which their flight feathers are lost one at a time from the innermost primary feather to the tip of the wing. This allows many birds to retain their flight capabilities while molting. However some waterfowl undergo a "simultaneous wing molt," losing all of their primary feathers at once, which renders them flightless for 20 to 40 days.

Ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman