So you're thinking about getting turkeys... Ha!
One sunny spring day we stopped by a local farm co-op. They had three "leftover" blue slate heritage turkey babies, few days old. I've always wanted couple turkeys for flock protection, but to be honest, this purchase was completely unplanned. We've raised chickens, ducks and geese, so how different can it be?... I wanted to get two, but the lady at the counter said to take three in case one dies. I immediately took offense to this, but didn't say anything - we ended up taking all three anyway because we didn't want the straggler to be by themselves in the brooder. I was wondering what that lady was all about, with the whole dying business. I have yet to have a chick die on me. Upon returning home, I discovered that one of the babies had a giant white glassy ball instead of an eyeball, and was overall a little "off". And then few hours later we have discovered that turkeys are NOTHING like any other poultry. O.O Enter crisis.
~turkeys as babies~
Do not acquire baby turkeys unless you have time and space to take care of them every few hours. Preferably inside of your house.
The next few days were super stressful, as we really didn't want them to die and all the signs pointed to them not making it. They lived with us upstairs, in a big brooder, with a solid heat lamp. They really do need high temps. The babies didn't know how to eat, how to drink, or basically how to stay alive. It's a good thing breathing is automatic, or there would be no turkeys left on this planet. We've spent hours hand-feeding with a dropper - a mix of boiled egg, bit honey, bit Himalayan salt, some ACV, some green vibrance, some of the mushed turkey crumble, and a bit of powdered plant protein mix. On day two, I was just bewildered that I simply can't get them to eat. Or drink. I finally put some shiny marbles in the water dish out of desperation, and... it worked. They pecked at the marbles (turkeys LOVE shiny objects, they are obsessed!) and figured out there is water, and they half chokingly started "drinking". Drinking is a loose term here.
Enter second challenge, food. Forget it. We gave up. Nothing worked. I finally put a baby chicken in there with them, and the baby chicken taught them how to eat over a course of two days. I was so relieved. We're getting somewhere! There is a _much_ better chance now that the babies will actually survive.
The first week they were lethargic, slow, and basically acting super stoned. Best way I can describe it. Stoned baby turkeys. Perpetually. There was nobody home. Even though they were fed, warm, had all their needs met, they all acted like they're on their way out. Slept a ton. Weren't interested in anything. They are NOTHING like baby chickens, or ducks, or geese. They only started getting perky around second week, and once we got over that initial hurdle, it's been nothing but positive surprises, laughter, and a total paradigm shift when it comes to turkeys. But the first two weeks, for the unprepared, can be a nightmare.
~first few weeks~
We've kept our turkeys upstairs with us for about six weeks. On third week, Prada started finding any and all possible routes of escape from the brooder and coming to us. It was a very tall brooder, but we ended up having to secure it with wire. We had two brooders setup, one in the living area, and one in the bathroom. Why? Because turkeys cry if they can't see or hear you. Nothing will ruin your sleep like a crying baby turkey. Much less three of them. They got trained that bathroom means sleep, we covered most of the brooder with a dark towel, and the wailing stopped gradually. But heavens forbid they heard us in the morning, and we didn't come to get them the moment we woke up.
We started letting them out with us on week two, they loved to cuddle on the bed (on a towel of course), in your hair, they would nibble and nestle in. We've watched many movies with turkeys curled up on our chests. This was the biggest surprise to us - they didn't run away, we didn't need to teach them that human contact is OK, in fact they always sought us out. I've hand raised chickens, geese and ducks, and none of them exhibited this level of affection or interest. At most, you get tolerated. At best, they like you cause you feed them. The turkeys genuinely adore you. And their chirps and nibbles will melt your heart. Be warned, this next video is cuteness overload.
Marley started "strutting" his stuff at a whole week three of his existence, which gave us endless laughing fits. We allowed them to roam around in the kitchen (engineered hardwood floors, so easy to disinfect and clean up), they loved to run and hop around, inspect everything new, and then interact with us and our dogs. And play with each other. It was hours of joy and fun. Until Popeye suddenly took serious flight and almost ended up in a boiling pot of water on the stove. He faceplanted into the front of the stove, thankfully, but it was time to move them outside. Sadly enough.
~chicken tractor times~
Weather warmed up a lot in the meantime, but I was still paranoid about them dying of exposure. So many horror stories on the internet. We setup an insulated nesting box for them to sleep in, with a strong heat lamp above, inside of a large predator proof heavy duty chicken tractor. We made sure they have plenty of dry area to roam around inside but also get sunshine if they wanted to. No wet feet! Chicken tractor was near the front porch/deck, so they could still see and hear people and dogs all day. It was bad hearing them cry for us, but they were too small to be let out just yet, or to live with older birds. I kept telling them every day to grow faster so they can come hang out with us. We still went and socialized with them, in the tractor. Since we live in the woods, I didn't want to take any chances. Lots of birds of prey around here. Then the day has finally come, when I could open the tractor and let them roam around. I had no idea what to expect. Oh, boy.
~freedom! and, early adulthood~
Turns out a momma turkey raises her babies for minimum six months. It explains why everyone thinks turkeys are dumb as a box of bricks. I mean that's what we thought too. Most of them never even seen their parent, much less have anyone to teach them anything. It's a bunch of clueless babies together. It's heartbreaking. Yes, they are pretty much born as a blank slate and there is nobody home BUT... you can teach them a lot. Unlike chickens or ducks or geese who come pre-programmed straight out of the egg, have preconceived notions about everything, and are ready to conquer the universe from the moment they hatch. Turkeys actually need supervision, teaching and care. And it's been nothing but a joyful and hilarious experience.
We let them out when we're home, and they always hang with us when we're outside. Our friends call them turkey-dogs, and also think I'm crazy, because I have pet turkeys. That come when called, know their names, and are absolute adorable sweethearts. And, I no longer want to eat any turkeys. Screw you thanksgiving. :(
Turkeys are highly inquisitive, and inspect everything very carefully. And I mean everything. Every flower, every rock, every shoelace, every person. They take their time. Reminds me of the Sesame Street earth-book aliens. They're slow, methodical and very curious. Earth-BOOK. Yep yep yep.
Turkeys can learn. They're slow, but they learn. It took me a few days to teach them to walk up and down the stairs on the deck. It was painful to watch. Any other bird would have just done it. But no other bird would care to learn to do that just to hang out with you. But they figured it out, and once they did, that's ALL they did, all day, and showed off to me every chance they had. Up and down, down and up, up and down. Look ma, no hands!
Turkeys will not instinctively know what to eat while free ranging. They learned some from my geese, and some from the chickens, and I also taught them to eat dandelion greens and a few other things. They will try to stuff everything in their pieholes to test it out, so beware. Including your hair, jewelry, paint chips, shoelaces, etc. They have an unbelievably terrible aim so be mindful, they will peck your eye out. Literally. By accident. Anyway, they would discover something new every few days that they liked, and then feast on it extensively for a while. They absolutely love mint and lemon balm, and picked couple patches clean.
Turkeys shut down for the night, and earlier than you think. Similar to chickens. But unlike chickens, they do not care to go back where they came from, they find the first spot that looks good (higher the better, although they have slept on my porch couch before) and go to sleep. Once they shut down, they do NOT recognize you so they will struggle when you try to put them away. I have peeled turkeys off of tents, sheds, trees, fence posts, tarps, my front porch couch, and I have to look for Popeye frequently as he finds the weirdest places to sleep that make no sense, in human world or turkey world. I often wonder what goes through that speciul nuggin, if anything.
I'd say it happens once a week where I need to go "fetch" them, but that's my own fault. Normally I go a bit early, they know their names and come when called, and I put them away in the coop for the night. They hang with the chickens these days in a large fenced area. All it takes is a slightly shorter day and a slightly more busy me, and I'm too late. Where is that ladder again?... Where's Popeye??
IMPORTANT: do not trust that your turkeys will know to not sleep in the rain. I've picked up Prada off of a tarp that was setup high in their run for rain protection over a feeding area, as she slept in pooling water AND being rained on. Took her upstairs, fixed up with a hairdryer, put her to bed in the tub. She was fine. But she may have died that night if I didn't go check on them before my bedtime (which I usually do every day).
~so, why turkeys if they're so much work?~
This has been an incredible journey, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've laughed more with these three idiots than with raising anything else, dogs included. How unexpected and delightful. Popeye turned out to be a "special needs" turkey. He's not all there, still blind in one eye, can't run straight, but he's happy as a clam; and most carefree and joyful of all of them. He prances around like a dunce when he sees Trevor coming. I've seen him fly straight into an apple tree and fall down behind a rock wall in slow motion. He cracks me up every time I see him. We never solved the mystery of the white eyeball. It's never been infected or bugged him, stayed the same shape, size and color. Marley turned out to be a big handsome strong boy, and we ended up finding him another home at the age of seven months as he was starting to display dominance towards geese, and overprotecting me. I would pull on his snood to deflate him, or his butt feathers. Or embarrass him in front of everyone by trying to give him a hug when he was poofed up and blocking everyone from accessing me. Boy, was he not impressed with that, but I loved deflating him. Lol. We knew this would happen sooner or later, as the ratio we got was just bad luck (two boys and one girl). And when the time came, we found him a good home where he has his own large flock of chickens to administer and protect, and a lady of the house to love and follow around. He's not too far away, so I can always go visit. Prada is a mischief maker, still breaks out from all the non netted six foot fences, she's super nosy and very demanding, and is also more intelligent than both toms put together. She also has a lot to say. Way more daring, but also very level headed and more analytical. She was the pack leader until Marley "came of age". She loves herding chickens for fun. She thinks it's freaking hilarious that they run like idiots. You can tell she's having fun, picking on them. All three of them have distinctly different personalities, likes, dislikes, needs and vocalization patterns.
Now we just have Prada and Popeye, and they are great together as neither one of them tries to be the alpha. I don't think adulting will ever "click" for Popeye, I hope he will forever stay my little speciul. Time will tell.
We wouldn't trade them for anything. There is something to be said for gangly big funny looking birds prancing towards you at full speed when you come to their area, telling you all about their day, climbing in your lap the moment you sit down and wanting to be around you, all the time. In the evening, they fold like wet paper bags on my lap, go limp on my arm and get all the pets and scratches. They can't perch on my arm anymore, but that doesn't mean they don't still try. We've traded it for lap cuddles. They are endless entertainment.
Just thinking about all the turkeys raised on commercial farms breaks my heart, because these guys have so much potential, and way higher emotional awareness and needs than any other livestock bird. And they also have very different lifestyles, like actually needing a mom for the first six months of their lives. They're clueless prior to reaching that age. So this experience has been very eye opening for us; we're not so keen at even eating turkey anymore. I mean, I actually put these guy to BED - I fetch them (they don't go in with the chickens, they wait for me), I walk in the coop with them, feed them a late snack if they're hungry, give them some pets and tell them goodnight - and then they saunter off to sleep without crying after me. Crazy talk, right? :) I'm definitely the crazy turkey lady.
Who would have thought. Turkeys, man.