Saturday, October 25, 2014

How to find a farm-raised Thanksgiving turkey

Note from the farmer's daughter: my dad recently confessed that he didn't even like turkey before he started raising them himself. He used to put ketchup (!!) on them. ("Anything to kill the taste", he told me.) I can also attest that the difference in taste is worth it.

It’s not too early to be thinking about your Thanksgiving turkey. If you have never had a “backyard turkey” (one that is raised by someone at home who only has a few), your family is in for a treat. Backyard turkeys have better taste and they're juicier than those you find in the grocery store. 

How to find a local turkey farmer: If you are in Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois, contact us and we can help you find someone with turkeys available. Otherwise, talk to a local feed store, a poultry processor, look in the newspaper or on    

What type of turkey is best for Thanksgiving? Some families raise heritage breeds and some raise broad-breasted white or bronze. Click here to learn more about turkey breeds. If you like a lot of white meat the heritage turkeys might NOT be the birds for you. Heritage breeds typically have about 25% white meat of broad-breasted white or bronze.

Fresh vs frozen turkeys: We always have ours processed a week to 10 days before Thanksgiving Day. While we make sure our customers' turkeys spend less than a month from farm to table, we have kept our family's turkeys frozen for a year with no change in taste.

Price: Non-organic backyard turkeys are usually in the range of $2.50- $3.00 per pound. Most of our customers ask about the price the first time, but are sold after that.

Size: Don’t be afraid of a larger turkey especially if you like leftovers.  The problem is to find a pan big enough. I had a local welder build a special pan for our turkeys when my kids were in 4H. Those turkeys dressed at about 40 pounds, but those were raised for competition. Fitting a backyard turkey into your oven shouldn’t be a problem–we have a 30" oven and have had those big 40-pounders fit just fine.

Extra tips: We don't carve our turkey at the table, but we roast it the day before and use a NESCO to reheat it for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Backyard turkeys tend to cook faster than store-bought turkeys. Make sure you use a meat thermometer instead of just relying on a timer.

If you'd like to try raising turkeys next year for Thanksgiving, read our tips to get started.

As always, leave further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: stereogab via photopin cc

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Poultry with true grit

While researching poultry feed and practices, you will likely come across suggestions for feeding crushed oyster shells or another type of grit to supplement your birds' diet.

Grit is used to help the gizzard grind up the birds' food. If you are feeding a crumble or pellet I don’t believe grit is necessary. If, however, you are feeding whole grains, mash or scratch feed you may want to offer grit. Free range chickens should find all the grit they need.

Oyster shells are used to supplement calcium in the birds diet.
If you feed a name brand layer feed there should be no need for oyster shells. Thin egg shells can be a sign of low calcium but remember the older the hen the thinner the shell.

We use neither grit or oyster shells. If it makes you feel better go ahead and use grit and oyster shells. It won’t hurt your birds.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.
-Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: terriem via photopin cc

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lights on for the layers this winter

Winter is coming and you dread the drop in egg production. Luckily, it's easy and cheap to fix by adding lights to your coop.

These simple steps should keep the girls laying all the way to spring:

Source: Wikimedia Commons
1. Set a timer to turn the light on in the early morning and shut off shortly after sunrise.

2. Don’t have the light come on at dusk. The hens will be walking around and will all of sudden be in the dark. Just think how you would act if you are walking in your house and suddenly the lights go out.

3. Artificial and natural light should total about 14 hours per day.

4. Lighting does not have to be fancy or extremely bright. The light should be enough to read by, but not enough to confuse pilots of passing airplanes.

While you're out installing lights, don't forget to check for drafts in the chicken pens to prevent frozen eggs this winter, too.

As always, post further questions in the comments section.

--Dale aka Turkeyman

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mother hen

You go out to collect eggs one day and you favorite hen is acting strangely. As you approach her she fluffs her feathers up, makes a funny noise in her throat, will not get off the nest and even pecks at your hand. As days go by you notice she spends most of her time on the nest.  

You have a broody hen.

Image courtesy of Flickr
Broody hens always want to set on eggs. If you have at least one rooster for every ten to twelve hens this is the perfect opportunity to increase the size of your flock. If you have more than twelve hens per rooster, simply separate a few hens with a rooster. The eggs should be fertile after the first day. Collect them every day. Do not wash or put them in the fridge. Put them in an egg carton pointy end down. If it takes more than a week to get enough put a piece of 2x4 under one end and switch ends morning and night. 

Move your broody hen to a place where she is alone. This is best done after dark. After a couple days carefully slip the eggs under her. Don’t overdo it. Up to a dozen for a standard size chicken and six to eight for a bantam. In 21 days you should have chicks. If the hen keeps rolling an egg out of the nest it’s probably a  bad egg. Somehow they seem to know.        
The hen will take it from there. Give her a little chick starter on the floor (it’s OK for her to eat) and water.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Thursday, July 24, 2014

All's Fair in Poultry Shows

This entry written by Beth Tallon, Dale Wheelock's daughter.

"If you treat the bird with respect, the bird will respect you", says 17-year-old Lukas Reible, member of Bradford 4H club and Clinton FFA.

Lukas has been showing turkeys for seven years. He's had his ups and downs with the turkeys, but he says he's leaving a solid legacy in place for younger relatives and friends.

Lukas has a bronze tom that earned a second place red ribbon in Thursday's poultry judging at the Rock County 4H Fair.

"It got a red because it was missing its tail, so I grant that," he says. "Everybody else did very well, so I have a lot of blues and one top blue (ribbon)."
The Poultry Farmer inspects broad white toms.

Full disclosure: my dad sold the turkeys to the Reible family. As we made our way around the poultry barn, he checked the tags to see how other customers fared in the judging. He stopped to ask one dad how his veteran 4Hers placed.

"Not as well as we hoped," he said. "No champion this year."
"Then you must have done something wrong!" was the immediate Wheelock comeback.

He's only half joking. Starting in January, the 4Hers' care of the chicks is a key ingredient to their success. The birds' feather health, leg color and size (all viewed as "condition" by the judges) can be affected by the type of feed they eat, amount of sun they receive and cleanliness of their pens.

Sometimes, though, the birds can suffer on a technicality. First-year exhibitor Lauren McKay lovingly raised Sullivan the Sultan and Roosevelt the Rosecomb. While we were at the fair, they had yet to be judged, but their condition was good. The birds were easy to handle, which means less stress on them.

Sullivan the Sultan

Sullivan was a late bloomer, and the McKays were sure they had a pullet on their hands. My dad looked at the feathers and declared it a cockerel. Sullivan would likely receive a fourth place pink ribbon because he was entered as a female.

Roosevelt's chances seemed better. His feathers were also in fantastic condition, and he didn't have any gold in his hackles, which Dad deemed impressive.
We're awaiting updates from judging. 
Questions about poultry shows? Ask them in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cannibal Chickens

You go out to collect your eggs and find one with a hole in and nothing inside.
The next day there are two more  like that. Whatever could be happening?

The first thing to do is check your coop to see if any varmints could get it. This includes raccoons, opossum, and skunks.  Don’t forget your cats. They will also eat eggs. If doesn’t seem to be it then it’s likely to be the biddies themselves.

I have heard it said that chickens eat their own eggs because of a lack of calcium. To me this is unlikely for two reasons:
1. If you are feeding a good quality feed there’s no need for extra calcium.
2. The chickens don’t really eat the shell. They may run around with it and drop pieces here and there. This is the same thing they do with bugs, leaves and even a random mouse.

I have heard of people putting golf balls in the nest to stop it. The thing that works the best for me is to clip their top beak so that it’s blunt. It’s just like clipping your finger nail. Don’t worry if you get a little blood. It will stop. 

They will be able to eat fine, they just can’t break an egg. This is not like what large farms do with the commercial chickens. The beak will grow back.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

-Dale, aka Turkeyman

Sunday, June 22, 2014


There will come a time when you start shouting, "Dadgum varmints!!!" just like Yosemite Sam.

Everything kills and eats poultry in a different way. Here are some ways I have seen in Wisconsin

Pet dogs:
They will attack, killing for sport and leaving what looks like a massacre.  

Feral dogs:
Usually only grab one bird and carry it off for food.

One mistake is leaving your chicks in the same room as Fluffy. To a cat, chicks are food usually until they are half grown. They also will eat eggs.

Will take babies and hide them so you don’t realize they are missing. Rats also will contaminate the feed and the building.

Fox and coyotes:
Usually they will just carry off one at a time but I’ve seen where they have killed several coming later back for the dead ones. We have had good luck leaving a radio tuned to an all night talk station.

Take babies to half grown chicks. They are very small so they can get in a rat hole. Trappers use a wooden rat trap to catch them. Most calls I get about a weasel killing turns out to be a mink.
Cats have been known to kill weasels.

Particularly nasty. They seem to kill for sport and kill everything in the pen. They bite the neck or back of the head. Leading people to say the suck the blood, I don’t buy that. I have seen they kill a litter of kittens. It’s said that you only see they near water. Don’t believe that. We live a mile from any water and still have a problem They can also can squeeze through a small opening. They have very strong jaws and can break certain types of wire with their mouths.

Likes eggs and will take full grown birds. They eat them there. Also, they can climb and like to eat chicken feed.

Interesting thing is they like to eat the intestines. You find the birds looking like were processed. They will gnaw on the carcass if they are hunger. You may find a lingering odor. I have read the skunks will not attack full grown birds. Don’t believe it.


If there is a challenge it’s the raccoon. They climb, dig and have little hands that can open things.
Courtesy of Flickr
Don’t use chicken wire on the outside bottom of your pen or tractor (moveable pen). This is most important for non-roosting birds such as meat chickens and waterfowl. If they crowd against it at night a ‘coon will reach in, grab a leg and chew it off. For a roost for chickens I like to use a pipe for the roost. With a wooden roost the ‘coon can walk on it to get them. It can’t walk on a pipe. 

I once got up in the night to dogs barking in a barn. I couldn’t find anything until I looked up to see a ‘coon hanging upside down on the rafters.

When a 'coon has been in the coop, you usually find just the skin and skeleton of the birds picked clean.

Pretty easy to derail. Put netting over the run and don’t free range your birds. If hawks are in your yard, the birds will just be gone.

They are normally nocturnal but I have seen them in the daytime, so use the same precautions as hawks. Make sure to lock your birds up at night. Owls have been known to go right in the chicken house. Some say a light keeps them away but I’ve seen them fly under a yard light.

Most animals can be live-trapped. Don’t just take them a mile down the road and let them go. First, they will come back. Second, don’t give some else your problem.

As always, post questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman