A Turkey is not just for Christmas
Artist and author, Celia Lewis shares her experience of hatching and keeping Turkeys.
I’m lucky enough to own a small incubator. It’s the most fascinating piece of equipment that does the work of the hen or whatever bird’s eggs you’ve chosen to hatch. As turkeys come into the Ducks & Geese book I thought I would hatch a few to really get to know them.
Firstly one must find someone willing to sell their eggs – google to the rescue and although September is late in the year for turkeys to still be laying I easily find someone willing to post me 6 eggs. Into the incubator they go, it is programmed to stay at the correct temperature, and rolls the eggs slowly backwards and forwards to mimic the mother bird who would turn her eggs several times a day. All you have to do is make sure the humidity is correct and fill up the water containers when necessary.
It is a long wait – 4 weeks in the case of turkeys but at last the day comes, often preceeded by cheeping from inside the egg before it even cracks. The chick pecks its way out and is dry and standing within minutes. All this you can watch through the lid of the incubator – a great time waster. Patience is required as its very important at this stage not to let the humidity or temperature fall so one has to resist the temptation to take the lid off for a better look.
Once all the eggs have hatched they can be transferred either to a broody hen or under a lamp. I was lucky and had a broody that I’d settled into one corner of a stable. Four eggs hatched and were soon settled with their new mother and all seemed to be going well. However a week later I found the largest chick dead. The only explanation I could come up with was that the hen had trodden on it by mistake – down to three.
When the chicks were large enough I put the hen back in the run with her friends – I intended the turkeys to be free range in the garden reckoning that when full size they would be more than a match for a fox. They grew and grew, 2 male and one female and eventually I allowed them out of their temporary run and they took to roosting high up in an oak tree. They stayed by the hen run (occasionally flying in as I think they were convinced they were hens having been brought up by one) and became charming friendly birds. However, you’ve probably guessed, one morning only two came to greet me and I soon discovered that a fox had indeed managed to catch one and carry it away – incredible, these were full size birds standing a metre high and heavy.
Now there were only 2 left and for their own safety they had to join the hens in Fort Knox aka the hen run. Turkeys are delightful birds, not beautiful perhaps but surprisingly gentle – I don’t think they will end up on the Christmas dinner table.
Find out more about keeping Turkeys in Celia’s book:
Celia is also the author of: