Friday, April 8, 2011

Turkey Season

In my neck of the woods the statement 'Turkey Season' refers to hunting wild turkeys.  However, on my farm it means collecting and hatching eggs for the eventual Thanksgiving Holiday season.   I will be blogging over the course of the season about the process of going from breeding flock to Thanksgiving dinner as a turkey farmer.

I have raised several heritage breeds of turkey in the past (Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Midget White) but I fell in love with the Black turkeys.  Now the Black turkey is the breed of choice on my farm.

The Black turkey is listed on the ALBC conservation priority list as 'Watch' status...

In managing my breeding flock of about 30 birds, I keep them out on open pasture until February when I know it will soon be time to start collecting eggs for hatching.  At that point the birds are moved into portable hoophouse structures where they are secure from predators and the eggs are clean and easy to collect.  This year the turkeys began laying a bit late and kept me waiting until the first of April before they really started to lay well.  That delay was starting to become a concern because with turkey production for the holiday market you have a short window of opportunity to hatch your poults in, if you hatch too late in the season then your birds do not have enough time to grow and mature to the desired market size. 

I like to hatch as early as possible in the season and don't hatch turkey eggs after early June.  Any later than June and the birds don't have time to grow to a good market size and put on a little fat.  A minumum of 24 weeks is what I am looking for as far as a grow out time.

So this seasons hatching egg production began a few weeks ago and we are collecting eggs for us to hatch out as well as to sell to a local/regional hatchery that specialized in heritage poultry breeds.  When we collect the eggs we are looking for clean eggs that are not oddly shaped.  We then store the eggs in a controlled manner until we have enough to set in our incubator or send to the hatchery.
Once we have a two week supply of eggs collected it is time to package them for transporting them to the hatchery.  Hatching eggs are fragile in more ways than one.  We do not want to have the eggs broken in transporting them, nor do we want them shaken up too much, disturbing the potential hatchability of the egg.
The eggs are carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside an egg carton with the small end down. 

The cartons are then taped shutand placed in a box with generous ammounts of packaging material to further protect them during shipping.  Ideally they will be shipped with the box upright.  Once the eggs arrive at the hatchery they are allowed to sit and rest from all the motion for a day and then placed in the incubator to hatch.
Once in the incubator the waiting and monitoring begins.  A precise balance of temperature and humidity must be maintained for the next 28 days while the embryo develops and turns into the turkey poult.  On day 25 the turning of the eggs will stop and they will be placed in the hatching tray for 3 days.  On or about day 28 the poults will hatch out of their eggs and beging the next phase of their journey towards Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned for the next blog post following our turkeys journey to Thanksgiving dinner...hatching and brooding of the turkey poults...

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