I realized recently that we talk a lot about our baby turkeys (poults) and big birds on range, but not necessarily about the time in between those stages. Although brooding (starting baby turkeys) and life outdoors are two of the high points (and definitely most labor intensive) on our farm, there is plenty that happens between those periods. I thought I’d share more about that process here.
All of our turkeys begin their life in a brooder barn. By the time they arrive on our farm, they’ve already put in an honest day’s work, pecking their way out of their egg at the hatchery, being sorted into boxes of 100, and then riding in a warm, comfy truck to the farm. Our poults arrive within a day of hatching, and we place them in small groups, encircled by cardboard dividers to create rings, where they can easily find heat, feed, and water. And they like the heat! While we maintain brooder barn temps close to 100 degrees, our farm team works hard (and stays warm!) while small curious poults trail close behind.
As the birds shed their downy fluff and grow into their real turkey feathers, we reduce the temperature and they are let out to explore the full space. It’s now time to move them to a bigger barn, so they’ve got more room to roam. This move also gets the birds into a barn with outdoor yards to explore.
The process of moving these young poults would probably look like funny choreography to a novice. Grown men shaking garbage bags on sticks, making foreign sounds to gently herd small groups of turkeys in the right direction. Some of us whistle, others shhh, and others talk quietly to the birds to keep them calm. We trust there’s a method to our sounds and movements. I’d bet I could pick out all of our farm team simply by the sounds we each make while moving turkeys. Depending on distance and time of year, we sometimes herd our turkeys to a new barn. In other instances, we corral them onto a trailer for the short tractor ride to their new home.
As the birds reach an age of 2-3 months, they’re able to start running outdoors, enjoying the space, fresh air, and sunshine in our barnyards. It’s at this point that our summer flocks would move completely to pasture, and I’ll make a point to share more about life on range in a future newsletter. For both our turkeys and our team, the move to range is another big transition.
Speaking of being outdoors, the spring-like days have allowed us to get our bigger birds back outside earlier than ever! Our first toms wandered out into the sun and snow last week, which seems like a record-worthy date to fling open the doors. For turkeys and humans alike, the signs of spring are a source of joy around here!