As already indicated in Chapter II, the turkey readily fits in with farm work and yet not everyone can engage in turkey business because much depends upon surroundings. The laws of trespass do not permit animals and poultry to roam over the fields of one's neighbors, so unless the neighbors are willing to permit the wanderings of turkeys over their fields, this branch of poultry raising had better not be undertaken. It is essential that turkeys have range, and if one finds fields are not large enough to permit ample forage, turkey raising had best be abandoned as a leading branch of poultry raising. To be sure, a few turkeys can be grown on a small farm, even with limited range, but usually it is not safe to grow in restricted quarters more than will supply the demands of the home table.
So far as locality is concerned, turkeys can be raised anywhere. It is not safe, however, to attempt keeping them in damp places, nor heavy soils. Light soils, well drained, especially on uplands, suit them best. Where such conditions can be provided with abundant foraging ground, there is no reason why the turkey should not prove profitable. It does remarkably well in grain and stock sections, since the fowls can pick up much of the broken heads of grain left in the field and also secure abundant insect diet, particularly after the hay crop has been harvested. It must be remembered, however, that turkeys are a side line; they have not been raised in commercial quantities like ducks or chickens.
One advantage of turkey raising is that expensive and extensive coops are not required. Probably the majority of turkey raisers permit their turkeys to roost in trees no matter what the weather may be. This is not considered as desirable as formerly. There is no question that turkeys intended for market cannot make as good growth when exposed as when protected, at least somewhat, and it is just as unlikely that stock birds will do well when forced or permitted to roost in trees where, during a sleet storm they may freeze to the branches. On these accounts, shelter of some sort should be provided and the birds taught to roost under cover. The sheds need be only sufficient to keep out snow and rain and the severe wind. They may be somewhat after the order of the open-air house illustrated in Chapter IV (see "Fresh air poultry house"). These turkey sheds should, however, be more lofty than for chickens and the roosts should be several feet above the ground, preferably rather close to the roof. There is no reason why a turkey should not adopt more rational methods than it did in the forest and the fact that it can be taught to do so is distinctly in favor of the turkey raiser.
Feed trough for turkeys and roosters.
During the laying season, many turkey raisers confine their flocks to comparatively small yards at least until their hens have decided upon a place to lay. After the first two or three days of laying the hen turkey will rarely desert her nest, so that when the whole flock has begun to lay it may be allowed full freedom. As a modification of this plan, breeders keep the flock confined until about noon each day, until all the hens are laying. This practice saves the turkey raiser much time which would otherwise be needlessly wasted in watching turkeys to find out their nesting places and then walking daily from nest to nest to collect the eggs. A score of hens may be kept without difficulty in a yard 75 feet square. This inclosure need not be fenced very high. Few turkeys will attempt to fly over a woven wire fence 5 feet high.
The same practices in breeding discussed in Chapter VI apply to turkeys. It seems advisable, however, to lay special emphasis upon the selection of breeding turkeys because throughout the country the practice of breeding from inferior stock is the general rule. Most farmers select their best turkeys for the Thanksgiving market so as to get the high prices. This is well enough so far as the market is concerned, but if it leaves the slower growing stock for breeding, it is to be condemned. The best way in order to improve one's own flock is to select the breeding stock first of all, irrespective of any market considerations. None but the very choicest, quickest growing, best birds in every respect should be selected from each year's young flock to replace the old ones that have survived their usefulness. In this way, one can, be continually improving, especially in size, precocity of development and stamina. Too much emphasis cannot be laid upon this fact. For best results turkey hens should be two years old and cocks three years old or more. They will prove useful for eight or ten years or even longer. The customary size of a flock is ten to 12 hens to one tom, though often as many as 18 or even 20 hens are used.
The Laying Season
As a rule, turkey hens begin to lay in the latter part of March or early April. Both season and latitude vary this considerably. For best results it is desirable that they be encouraged to lay in places convenient for the poultryman. Boxes, barrels, coops, etc., may be placed where desired or hay, straw, shavings, or other convenient material left in piles partially concealed by bushes. If the hens find such places ready, they will usually choose them in preference to wandering away, but if they do show a tendency to wander they should be confined as already noticed. During the breeding season grain should be fed in fairly liberal quantity. Corn, wheat and oats are all good, provided the fowls have free range. Many turkey raisers soak the grain for a day or more before feeding, others feed mash in the morning and grain at night. If turkeys are confined, great care should be exercised to supply not only plenty of grain and grit but animal feed, cut clover, alfalfa or other green feed and ample fresh water.
Turkey hens, especially young ones, rarely lay more than a dozen eggs before becoming broody. They may then be broken and made to lay a second clutch of eggs. Older hens seldom lay more than a dozen and a half for their first litter and not quite so many in the second of the season. As an average, 20 eggs is probably the usual average of a hen turkey, though specially good hens may lay 30 or even 40. The eggs should be collected daily and stored in a cool place until they can be set. Eggs from specially productive and otherwise desirable hens should be marked and set separately, so their progeny can be marked when hatched and thus given preference when selection for breeding takes place the following autumn. It is a safe precaution to put a few hen's eggs in the turkey nests to keep the turkeys contented when laying.
It is customary to set the early turkey eggs under chicken hens. While these hens make good sitters, even for the 28 days that turkey eggs require to be hatched, yet they are not as desirable mothers as turkey hens. They are more or less restless and less effective protectors against birds of prey, rats, etc.; they wean the little turkeys too soon and are harsher in their treatment of little turkeys, especially those that do not belong to their own flocks; they do not forage as well as turkey hens and the little ones, therefore, do not get as much insect food as they would with their natural mothers. Perhaps worst of all they are more likely to be troubled with lice. During the first few days while the little turkeys should be mothered a great deal, the chicken hen is likely to keep them roaming more than they can stand. She can be prevented from doing this, however, by keeping her cooped or tied up. On the other hand, the chicken hen is more easily handled and thus is more likely to encourage tameness in her flock. She is far more certain to mother her brood in her coop than the turkey hen is. The turkey hen has to be carefully taught to bring her brood to the brooding quarters at night.
Because of objections to the chicken hen the practice is common of setting several hens at the same time that a turkey hen is set, so that the little ones may be given to the turkey either as soon as hatched or when the chicken hen weans her brood. There is no special objection to this latter practice, because turkey hens are not so averse to taking alien broods as are chicken hens, especially if the broods are brought together during the night.
No special directions need be given as to setting hens on turkey eggs; the practice is the same as for hen's eggs. Usually ordinary hens will cover eight to ten eggs; large ones perhaps two or three more. It is generally necessary to let turkey hens sit where they wish. They choose their own nests and object to being moved. This applies with special force to turkey hens that are more or less wild. Turkey hens may be moved in much the same way that chicken hens usually are, viz., at night, supplied with nest eggs for a day or so and when found satisfied given the regular clutch. Small turkey hens will cover 13 to 15 eggs; large ones perhaps 18 or 20.
It is usual for turkey eggs to be fertile. On this account it is not essential to test them, as chicken eggs are tested. Ordinarily, the only test is made about the twenty-sixth day. Then the eggs are placed in warm water and the dead ones removed. Live ones can be recognized from the fact that they move in the water. Hatching usually commences on the twenty-eighth day, though it may last or even not start until the thirtieth day. It is just as important to remove the hatchlings as little chicks. They should be placed in a box lined with flannel or woolen goods and kept in a warm room.
During the first day or two the turkeys do not need any food. The mother hen must, however, be fed liberally. It is a decided advantage to place the coop over the nest if possible so the turkey will feel at home and contented. Where this is not possible the brood and mother should be moved to desirable quarters; a coop with a board bottom should be given preference. After the first three days when the young ones are beginning to run around a small yard should be provided. A convenient yard may be made of three boards 14 inches wide set up on edge in the form of a triangle with a coop in one corner and the mother turkey allowed her freedom. She will not go far from her brood. The little ones may be kept in this kind of inclosure until they are large enough to jump up and make their escape.
As with chicks, the coops should be moved from place to place frequently. A space inclosing about 100 square feet will be ample for the ordinary sized brood. Where the coop cannot be placed upon short grass, ample green feed should be supplied daily. It is also important to give plenty of grit and charcoal and especially necessary to fight lice from the very start; in fact the fight should begin when the hen or hen turkey is set and as much headway made as possible in the way of prevention -- before the shells are pipped. It is not safe to use kerosene on turkeys. Insect powder is satisfactory and harmless.
Pens should always be situated on dry soil, preferably where there is no danger of flooding during a rain. Nothing is so important as to maintain cleanliness at all times, unless it is to keep the little ones dry until after their heads have become red. Up to this time of "shooting the red" is considered a trying period for poults. After they have passed it they are much more hardy. During the development of the red itself more animal feed than usual should be given. From the time that the little ones begin to wander they should be taught and encouraged to come to roosting quarters in the evening. This may be managed very easily by accustoming them to an evening feed of grain. About the time that they shoot the red or a little after they usually begin to roost. Roosts should be placed 3 or 4 feet above the ground where there is plenty of protection, preferably in regular turkey quarters.
Portable chicken coop. Ends of ridge pole extend for handles. Slats, wire netting and roofing paper tacked to frame of light wood. Size 6x3 feet, yard, 4x3 feet.
Various breeders have their preference as to turkey feeds. Perhaps the most general favorite for turkeys a day old is hard-boiled eggs and stale bread soaked in milk but squeezed comparatively dry. Generally the egg is fed a day or two before the bread. When a week or ten days old clabber is often used. When about two weeks old many breeders give a mixture of equal parts of milk and cornmeal, middlings or some other meal. This is allowed to swell for several hours before being fed so as to prevent any possible danger of swelling after being eaten. About this time cracked corn and wheat are often given in the evening.
Three times a day seems to be enough to feed little turkeys until they are well grown, especially if allowed more or less range and given an opportunity to pick grass, insects, etc. In fact, it is almost essential that they have something to pick at all the time. For this reason a grass yard should be given the preference to all other quarters.
Milk may be given instead of drinking water if desired, but it seems best to have ample pure water before the brood at all times, whether milk is fed or not. It is also essential to have grit. Some turkey raisers, especially those who do not have grass runs, consider it necessary to feed every two or three hours until the birds are ten days or two weeks old. No more should be fed at a time than the poults will eat without waste.
Many poultrymen feed johnnycake made of cheap flour, preferably of the whole grain and cornmeal mixed with milk and infertile eggs from the incubator, but without soda or baking powder. The ingredients may be of almost any ratio, but preferably about equal parts. After mixing to a rather soft batter, the cake is thoroughly baked and allowed to become rather dry. It is then allowed to become stale before being crumbled for feeding. This practice eliminates the danger of swelling after being eaten. The swelling takes place in the oven.
Grit, shell and charcoal hopper.
Gradually after the first week small seeds, such as millet, cracked wheat and corn may be added to the daily ration according as the poults grow in size. A good mixture of grains for fattening consists of one bushel each of whole and cracked corn and one-half bushel each of kafir corn and oats. While this is being fed the fowls should be somewhat confined. Feeding of the fattening ration begins about the first of November. Some raisers prefer to feed whole corn exclusively three times a day and some object to confining the birds at all. When fed liberally on corn they do not forage as much as usual.
Profits in Turkey Raising
The profits in turkey raising for the market range, as a rule, between 75 cents and $1 a head. The opportunities for the sale of breeding stock are much less than with chickens, so there is not much money to be made in this direction, though it is a decided advantage to keep good stock. From about the last week in November until New Year's is the best season for marketing turkeys. Rarely are turkeys kept over this period unless they happen to be late-hatched ones. These may be developed for the January, February or even March markets. During these months such fowls will command good prices, but, as a rule, it will not pay to keep turkeys this late if they are ready for the holiday market. The advance in price would be more than offset by the cost of feed.
In a few cases there is a small demand for specially young turkeys, say three months old or perhaps a little younger, but it will not pay to cater to this market unless one knows beforehand that there is a definite demand. The only places there is such a demand is at a few of the fashionable summer resorts in the East. The greatest demand is for turkeys of medium size, ten to 15 pounds, for home tables. Such turkeys sell best about Thanksgiving time. Extra large birds are in smaller demand and at lower prices, as a rule. They are used mainly in restaurants and hotels.
Varieties of Turkeys
There are six leading varieties of turkeys. Besides these there are also scrub turkeys which are altogether too common and are not nearly as desirable to keep as birds of good breeding. As a rule, they are not as robust, as large nor as prolific, nor do they make as good an appearance when dressed. One of the principal reasons for this is that the best birds have been sold annually for market instead of being kept for breeding.
About the best way to improve a farm flock of no special breeding is to purchase a well-bred tom in the autumn and mate him to a dozen or a score of the choicest hens, young and old, on the place. From the progeny select the very best young hens to take the place of the less desirable ones in the previous season's flock. All young males should be disposed of and preferably a new male introduced, one not related to the male purchased the first year, but of excellent breeding. By excellent breeding is meant a bird with good stamina, good weight and preferably two years or more old. If two neighbors would agree on changing males every second year, only two males need be purchased and the danger of close inbreeding could be avoided, to the great benefit of both flocks.
Unquestionably the leading variety is the Bronze or Mammoth Bronze. This is also the largest and most profitable. The adult tom has a standard weight of 36 pounds and the hen 20 pounds. Much greater weights than these are often reached. Usually, however, these heavy weights are bred for sale to fanciers. One objection to the Bronze variety is that the hens are considered poorer layers than hens of other kinds.
The Narragansett is a close second to the Bronze in size and popularity. Its standard weights are 30 and 18 pounds for the tom and hen respectively, in general, their color is gray, mixed with black.
Black, Buff and Slate turkeys are uniformly colored as their names imply. They weigh 27 and 18 pounds respectively for cock and hen. Though fairly well distributed throughout the country they are by no means as popular as the Narragansett, the Bronze and White Holland.
The White Holland is the smallest variety of turkey. Its standard weights are 26 and 16 pounds for tom and hen respectively. Locally in many places they push the Bronze variety in popularity. They are reputed to be better layers and more home loving than some of the other breeds.
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