The story of our turkeys - from eggs to roast

by Liz Beavis
The turkeys arrived at our property as 12 eggs, bursting out of an egg cartoon (being larger than chicken eggs), towards the end of June 2010.  We put them all straight into the incubator and 28 days later 4 chicks hatched.  They were just like chicken chicks, maybe a little bigger, but just as cute.

Turkey chicks look like chicken chicks - very cute!


The turkeys got bigger quickly and soon stopped looking like chickens.  They started to get their weird turkey features and we could see that we had 2 hens and 2 gobblers.  Speaking of gobblers, there's some wonderful terminology for turkeys, which has been a source of much amusement since they arrived here.

Caruncle - brightly colored growths on the throat region.  Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.
Snood - the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey's beak.  Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.
Wattle - the flap of skin under the turkey's chin. Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.

As the turkey got bigger they started to grow their weird turkey features
We were worried about having the two gobblers together, as we didn't know if they would fight.  We have found that our roosters tend to fight, aggressively and with a dedication that suggests they would fight to the death if we didn't intervene.  However, unlike the flapping and kicking rooster fights, turkey fights are more like wrestling!  One gobbler would bite onto the other gobblers' snood (te he) and they would wrestle until the second rooster could get hold of the other gobblers' snood.  It seemed to go on for ages, in silent, slow motion, with little result.  They also seemed to grow out of it, because we didn't see any wrestling when they got bigger.  In general, the adult gobblers are quite ridiculous to watch.  They try to impress the hens by puffing up their feathers, sticking their tail in the air and holding their wings by their sides.  They walk around the pen slowly, like blimps, then they shake their feathers back down and go back to normal.
Full sized turkey are funny-looking


When we put the turkeys in a larger pen we thought it was time to give them a go at free-ranging.  All our chickens free-range, we let them out of their cages when we're home (to keep an eye on the killer kelpie dogs) and they can wander around where-ever they want (although we have chicken mesh to separate the two roosters, and they still try to fight through the mesh).  They go to bed by themselves around dusk and we just have to remember to close the door of their cage to keep out any foxes or feral cats.  I thought the turkeys could do the same thing, so I opened the door one afternoon.  It took the hens about 10 minutes to figure out how to get out.  


The gobblers got really excited when they saw that the hens were out, but they took a further 30 minutes to work it out (I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that one).  They then walked around in formation, 2 by 2, when they got to something high, like their cage, they flew up onto it.  This is when I realised that maybe free-ranging wasn't such a great idea.  If they could get up onto their cage, they could get into my garden.....then one of the gobblers got a fright (this is the story of their lives, they are VERY easily frightened) and flew over the chicken wire fence and into the paddock with the white rooster.  The white rooster came to see what the intruder was, so did Bruce the steer, this gave the gobbler ANOTHER fright and he flew back over the fence.  The situation was getting out of control, so I decided it was time that the turkeys went back home.


When we want to get the chickens to go home, we just throw some grain into their cage, or just ahead of them, and they usually run in the right direction.  Turkeys are very different, if you throw grain ahead of them they just get a fright and run in the other direction!  Eventually I succeeded by walking behind their formation and 'steering' towards their cage.  I think Cheryl the kelpie can take some credit for herding as she happened to stand on the other side of the door of the cage and they ran in.  There ended a very stressful afternoon of turkey free-ranging, and we never let them out again, as they were considered a 'flight risk" (te he).  Since then, the gobblers have developed an alarming habit of charging at us when we go near the cage (they haven't worked out that they are surrounded by mesh, so they charge, hit the mesh and bounce back), so I haven't liked to try any further free-ranging experiments.  
Turkeys make a variety of different noises. You can hear in the video the constant 'peep peep' noise and a bit of 'gobbling'.  They all gobble together in response to loud noises, including, the dog barking, the steers mooing, the rooster crowing, thunder and loud swearing.  This can be great entertainment.  The gobblers also make a deep booming noise.  When I caught one of the gobblers recently he growled at me, which was quite off-putting!  
After nearly a year, we found that the turkeys were eating too much food (and the peeping noise was really irritating me), so we decided it was time to try roast turkey!  We were going to keep one gobbler to breed with the hens, but decided that they were both too aggressive, and we'll buy another, nice one for spring if we like the roast.
The first gobbler cooked up beautifully, weighing in at 6 kg, so we'll be eating turkey for the rest of the week!  And we're keen to keep breeding them, now we have got used to their crazy behaviour!  They are not like chickens at all.  I'd love to hear if anyone has successfully let turkeys free-range - I think we will try again with the hens, they seem to be a bit smarter.....
The first gobbler was cooked as a delicious roast

2016 update: we ate the two turkey hens as well.  The problem with turkeys is that 6kg of meat is just too much for two people.  Also their drumsticks are full of small bones, so its really hard to eat or cut them up for mince.  We really just decided that we didn't like turkey meat enough to keep them, even though they were hilarious.  As we found with the guinea fowl that we tried a few years later, its easier to specialise in one poultry and chickens suit us perfectly.  I can definitely see the benefits of turkeys if you were feeding a larger number of people.

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