Tag Archives: turkeys

NABLOPOMO – Sorting – More of These, Less of Those

The next few days look like they are going to have a similar theme: sorting and reorganizing.

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[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] – Some of last year’s Toms in the breeding group.

The Christmas birds are going to be processed on the 21st which means I’ll need to pick the very best birds to hold back for breeding. I’l be looking for decent size and reasonable growth speed (there are two groups – a younger and an older and there are birds from the younger group that are actually much bigger than birds from the older lot), decent temperament, and, finally, more or less correct colouring. I’ll keep 2-4 Toms in the breeding group and 10-12 hens. That way, if someone comes along who would like a breeding trio, we can accommodate them. The birds will be useful through the breeding season, producing a good variety of poults for sale as well as my next year’s Christmas birds. Some of those breeding birds will have reached a good size by summer and when the laying and hatching season is over, some of those can be processed for a few Thanksgiving customers. I will likely also hold back some of the scrawny stragglers for the same purpose.

We are also slowly building a customer list of people who are interested in turkey eggs for eating. We love them, but it is very uncommon to find eating eggs in stores (can you think of a time you saw a carton of turkey eggs at a shop?) and it just doesn’t occur to people that turkey eggs are an option for the frying pan or baking.

Without the competition from the larger flock and some extra time, the smaller birds will have a chance to grow out in time for Easter or Thanksgiving of next year. Carrying more than 15-20 birds year round gets very expensive – commercial organic feed is exorbitant and during the winter months there isn’t much decent pasture for the birds to devour. And devour they do! Hungry turkeys eat an incredible amount each day and though I supplement with hay and veggies and softened alfalfa cubes (plus whatever they manage to find themselves), the feed bill gets out of hand very fast when I’m feeding too many birds.

Of course, the keepers and those destined for fine dining are to be found scattered between my two main groups of turkeys, which are raised in two different locations. This will mean penning, sorting, and transporting birds from A to B and B to A and then, the night before they leave the farm, loading the dining birds into the stock trailer for the short ride to the processor. We will also need to make sure we have more or less the correct number of birds of approximately the right size to fill the turkey orders.

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[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] Freckles, one of the ewes soon to be introduced to the ram, Babar.

Meanwhile, our new  Cotswold ram will move from the farm where he has been spending the past number of weeks to the sheep fields. But, before he can get here, we need to move the ram lambs to their own field and separate the small ewe lamb who is too young to breed (she will spend the next couple of months hanging out with the goats). Only then can we introduce the new ram to the ewes to be bred for late spring lambs in 2014.

The ducklings from this summer are now also ready to process, though whether or not I can get coordinated to run them up island before the holidays are full upon us is another question. The ducks will stay with the layers (each year we increase the numbers a bit to try to keep up with demand) and all but two of the drakes will go for processing.

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[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Pompadour, our Large Black Hog boar, ready to do his duty and sire more piglets.

And, finally, the piglets still are not fully sorted and reorganized. Olivia’s piglets are in a separate paddock but after a spectacular bolt down the hill and through an electric mesh fence, Cora is back in with her little ones. We will give that another go, perhaps tomorrow, to see if we can’t get all the weaners in one place and all the sows back together in another. Pompadour will then be called upon to woo the two mothers and we will continue to watch Pearl closely for telltale signs that she is pregnant (she has been in with him for a month or so now, so it won’t be long before she starts to bulge a bit).

The chicken sorting can wait until the new year, but not too long as the heritage birds do take their own sweet time starting to lay, so an early start is definitely an advantage. Wimpy will get to move into his own area with the four gorgeous Black Orpington girls who are now mature and ready to get to work in the spring.

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[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Bill, the light Brahma rooster yelling about something… probably protesting my plan to take away his stunning Black Orpington girls and give them to Wimpy.

So, for the next few days it’s going to be all about counting and patience, because even though it may seem like a simple thing to move some piglets from pen A to pen B and sort out a few dozen turkeys, the critters seem to have a knack for being particularly uncooperative when their routines change. Wish me luck!

NABLOPOMO – Charging in for seconds! (and thirds… and fourths)

 A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed…

I don’t know why anyone thinks that calling someone a ‘bird brain’ is an insult. I have a lot of birds around (turkeys, ducks, chickens, and a cute little cockatiel up at the house) and I can tell you they know exactly which end is up.

Hen at Large

The farm birds range from a group of laying hens procured as pullets to fancy light Brahmas I raised here. We have a few spare roosters, a flock of fancy bantams, and some gorgeous Black Orpington hens. Our Muscovy ducks produce some lovely ducklings each year and the Ridley Bronze turkey flock is made up of a mix of those we grow out for holiday table birds and our breeding flock (the Ridley Bronze birds are a Canadian heritage breed that has been teetering on the edge of extinction for a number of years).

Most of the time, the birds do their own thing, roaming around hunting, pecking, posturing, and procreating. They never go far first thing in the morning because that’s when they get their major meal. Then, they scatter, scavenging lost morsels the hogs might have missed, making trouble in the hog water (if they are ducks), and sneaking off to lay eggs if they are chickens.

The turkeys have the worst case of wanderlust of all of them. They make their rounds to various neighbours (thank goodness the neighbours don’t mind too much!) and all over our property, gleefully hopping over fences and leaping from branch to branch in the trees. They know where the best bramble patches are (late, sweet blackberries are a favourite!), the plumpest seed heads on the tall grasses growing along the edges of the fields and ditches by the road, and have memorized every place where I might ever spill a few grains of feed on my rounds.

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed...

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed…

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The ducks are particularly fond of the the manure mountain and pick through the recent deposits in search of red wigglers. The pile is full of worms turning it into rich compost, so the ducks have a field day feasting.

They also do a round of the areas of the vegetable garden I’ve opened up for them – they, along with a few of the chickens, are on weed-pulling and slug-annihilation detail. The ducks are also marvelous for trimming the grass paths between the beds, a task they eagerly look forward to each autumn.

Weed Patrol

No matter how busy they have been or what treats they have managed to find during the day, every free-ranging bird on the place knows when it’s three o’clock: time for seconds (thirds, and fourths)! I will head down the hill to do the afternoon hog feed and be met at the feed room door by a sea of bird beaks and beady eyes.  The turkeys and drakes are the pushiest, literally crashing over the stacks of feed buckets in their haste to beat me to the feed bin when I enter the barn.

Yesterday, a young Tom turkey launched himself into the air at the same moment I opened the lid of the plywood feed bin. A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed and there was much thrashing and indignant complaining (from both of us!) until I could haul the bird out of the bin and send him on his way.

The birds are such a menace, the only way to get them out from under foot is to throw a bit of feed down outside. As I was doing this today it occurred to me the birds have totally won this round of farmer vs livestock (why would I think otherwise? I’m still way behind in the game of ‘Put the Turkeys To Bed’). They have very efficiently trained me to start the hog and horse feeding rounds in the afternoon by tossing bonus grub to the birds!

Afternoon Tea

Doubt my word about bird intelligence? Watch this Ted talk about crows, the way they have adapted to life with humans, and their cool vending machine… Intelligence of Crows

Sigh. I don’t have a hope if my motley flocks start talking to their wild cousins.

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NaBloPoMo – Glass Half Empty? or Half Frozen?

Prompt: Do you see the glass as half full or half empty [on the farm]?

I’m looking at my Iphone screen right now and having a serious glass half full/half empty moment:

Half full?On the glass half full side, look at all those little yellow suns!!!! Not only is a bit of sun (low slung though it may be these days) a balm for the post-November soul, it also means the heavy traffic hog zones will dry out a bit, as will the mucky area near the gate to the turkey pen where I have my breeding birds. For some reason, this year the water has been pooling right there, which means I risk getting stuck, or the gate getting stuck when I’m trying to maneuver into the pen with buckets of feed and vegetables and water containers while not letting any turkeys out.

Turkeys

This dance of the hysterical turkeys (because they do get a bit silly when they see a human coming with buckets attached to her arms) will resolve itself very soon when the field where the Christmas birds are growing out will become available for the breeders. This lovely, large, and securely fenced area will give the few birds I will keep for next year’s procreative roster plenty of room to frolic before we have to get serious about selecting breeding groups, collecting and hatching eggs, etc.

Also on the glass half full side of the equation is an upward nudge of the daytime temps to just above freezing (for my friends south of the border, we are looking at Celsius temperatures, not Fahrenheit). The forecast had been putting the daytime highs just below freezing, which would definitely have been more of a glass half empty kind of thing.

As it is, with several nights of below zero temps, all my water pipes are going to freeze. And that is most certainly NOT a good thing. The little suns mean no snow, sleet, hail, or other nasties falling from the sky (half full!) but the frozen water ,means hauling Jerry cans into the laundry room, filling with hot water, lugging said cans, now full and VERY heavy, to various water containers up and down the hill…

Oh yes. The hill.

Room With a View

A half full sort of geographic feature when you are standing on top of the hill surveying the amazing view we enjoy, but a half empty bump in the road when you are slithering down it trying to hold back the cart loaded with VERY HEAVY containers of hot water because the hill is a) steep and b) frosty and you realize as you are about to hit a fence post because the cart has developed a mind of its own and is determined to plow you over and send you arse over tea kettle into the goat pen but there’s no way you are going to let go of the cart because then it would tip over and the cans would fly out, probably shatter in the cold, and then you’d have to make a trip to Canadian Tire to replace them with better, stronger versions so you can return to the laundry room sink, refill, and try again. I don’t think that last bit was in any way grammatically correct, but who thinks of grammar at times like that?

Where was I? Oh yes, trying to think if there was a glass half full way of looking at my frozen water situation because, basically, I am very much a glass half full kind of person.

Nope. I don’t think there is. Wait! Yes, I did think of something that won’t happen when there is a nice, thick layer of ice on top of the hog water tubs: the ducks won’t be able to get in there and blow their noses and wash their backsides!

Little White Duck

This may not be a good thing for the ducks, but it is a good thing for the hogs who (after I hack drinking holes for them) will have cleaner water to drink and for me because I won’t have to tip, scrub, and refill the hog water so often.

The other thing that won’t happen if the water freezes is I won’t find little bodies in the horse troughs. Every now and then the bantam hens and certain foolish wild birds decide they can drink from the horse troughs (they can’t – they slide in and can’t get out…). Fortunately, this is an infrequent event and those who don’t figure out that they are NOT ducks generally don’t survive to raise future generations of misguided offspring. A protective layer of ice will eliminate this problem entirely. Which is a good thing.

The other good thing about the forecast is that single degree above zero will give me hope each day that the water pipes might start flowing. I will check every half hour starting at 1pm, just in case. This will continue until 4 pm and the sun starts to go down and the temperature dips again. Most likely, the pipes will NOT unfreeze, once they are nicely frozen – but where there is sun and a single plus side degree, there is hope. And where there is hope, the glass is always half full.

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Day 20 – A Gleaning We Will Go

Apparently, gleaning (being the act of scrounging for leftovers after farmers are done harvesting their fields and orchards) was encouraged way back in the Bible. Back then the beneficiaries were meant to be tragic and unfortunate souls like widows and orphans, but I tell you, this contemporary farmer is very happy the practice has not died out entirely.

Michell’s Farm Market on the Saanich Peninsula – several generations of the family farm the land and run a successful farm market.

I am neither widowed nor an orphan, but I do have a lot of mouths and beaks to feed. As it turns out, the generous Michell clan down the road (of Michell’s Farm Market fame) has a lot of slightly squidgy squash, pumpkin, and gourds left over now that the big Halloween/Thanksgiving festivities are done. Add to that some ever-so-slightly yellowing broccoli and you have a FEAST for hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. 

You can imagine my delight when I had a call asking if I wanted to come pick up some goodies for the critters. Oh, yes please! Thinking there might be a box or two or three I didn’t bother changing back into farm clothes as I was heading into town on another errand right after picking up the veggies. Mistake!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

Of course, it was bucketing down with rain when I started to load and by the time I had transferred the bounty from the bins to my truck, I was soaked.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

I stacked everything in a corner of the hay shelter and have been doling out the treats to everyone ever since. I have to hack open the harder-shelled gourds for the birds (they love the seeds and innards), but the hogs manage to crunch through whatever I toss in their direction.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Thanks, Michell farmers for keeping a glorious tradition alive! And, in case you are wondering what happened to my in-town errands, I was running so late by the time I had loaded and hauled away the booty I didn’t have time to go up to the house to change and had to make an appearance in not one, but two different offices wearing soaking wet, filthy clothes. Ah well, my embarrassment was a small price to pay for the sake of hearing those happy snuffling grunty noises of deeply satisfied hogs.

 

Day 7 – Who is the Turkey at Bedtime?

Turkeys have a terrible reputation for not being very bright. What does this say for the human who cannot win the nightly game of 'let's put the turkeys to bed'?

Turkeys have a terrible reputation for not being very bright. What does this say for the human who cannot win the nightly game of ‘let’s put the turkeys to bed’? These chumps had put themselves to bed out on the goat fence. By the time I found them it was pitch dark and herding was impossible. One by one I had to catch them, carry them off, and tuck them in. Because, you know, I have nothing better to do with my evenings.

Every evening shortly before dusk I steel myself for a series of humiliations at the hands (talons?) of my turkeys. I know I am supposed to be smarter than they are, but if this is the case, how is it possible that the score is so lopsided when it comes to me trying to put them to bed and the turkeys figuring out ways to stay up just a little longer?

They are just like unruly kids who pull out all the anti-bedtime stops with an unsuspecting babysitter! The turkey kids pretend like they are heading in the right direction only to be distracted by some very important blade of grass. One will pluck said piece of grass and, leaving enough dangling from its beak so the others can see, will sprint off across the field. The other turkeys, convinced this particular blade of grass must be the tastiest in all the land, thunder after the trouble-maker who is, no doubt, chuckling under his snood because he knows very well the human caretaker can’t possibly keep up no matter how fast she sprints.

Occasionally, the turkeys are calm and cooperative and I’m able to herd them into their overnight huts with relatively little trouble, using two long bamboo sticks to help guide them in the right direction. Even on nights like these, though, several will decide they need to scale the shelters to roost on top rather than inside. As I am persuading these birds to jump back to the ground, they protest and scrabble around on the top of the shelters, which upsets the birds already inside. The inside birds sprint out looking very indignant just as I’m rounding the corner trying to herd in their wayward companions. Do you think the roof-hoppers quietly sit inside the shelters while I retrieve the sprinters? Of course not! There’s often a series of one goes in, two come out exchanges before, finally, everyone is wrangled into place.

The worst game they play is ring around the turkey hut. In this variation of the bedtime-avoidance game, one or two wily birds will sneak around behind the hut and hide. They are experts at matching their speed to mine, always keeping just out of sight on the other side of the hut. I try to sneak after them using tricky human maneuvers like changing direction when they least expect it. Except, usually they have already changed direction so I come around the corner saying stupid things like, “Hah! Fooled you!” except, there’s no turkey there because, hah! they fooled me and have sneaked up behind me. When I turn around, there they will be staring up at me with their beady reptilian eyes as if to say, “Are you looking for someone?” When two or three birds gang up on me to play a team version of this lame game it sometimes results in me sinking to my knees and pleading with them to, “Just go to bed, already!!!” This plea is often followed by some rude words that include references to Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Sometimes the birds pretend like they have never been herded anywhere ever before and each bird will head in a different compass direction when they see me coming. At times like this they are completely oblivious to my efforts to keep them all together. The exception to this general state of chaos will be a couple of goody-two-shoes birds that head straight for the shelters when they see me. Only when I have finally gathered the rest of the flock and we are almost at the shelters do the early-to-bedders decide they have had enough of being good and sprint back out of the shelters heading for the turkey waterers because, you know, they are dying of thirst and just need to get one more drink before they can settle down for the night.

The worst part of all this is that the main turkey field is overlooked by neighbours on three sides. I see them in their windows watching the Nikki vs the Turkeys Comedy Show each evening.

Yesterday when I went down to the field ready for a lengthy battle I was greeted by a completely empty field. Not a single turkey was anywhere to be seen. I felt sick. Raccoons. Stray dogs. Eagles. A cougar. Some irresponsible jokester neighbourhood kid let them all out. A foody thief stole them all. How would I report the theft to the police? How did I know they had been stolen and not eaten? How did I know they hadn’t got a bit confused and tried to fly off with the Canada geese? I figured I’d better have my evidence in order before I called 911, so I entered the field, steeling myself in case I had to pick up turkey bits and sweep up piles of feathers. Which is when I heard the distinctive soft chatter of turkeys settling in for the night. Every last bird had put itself to bed. They had evenly distributed themselves between the three shelters. They were all on perches and, eyes half closed, were talking quietly among themselves, no doubt wondering what was taking the human so long to close and lock their doors. Or, more likely, plotting what devious trick they were going to play on me next time.

Photo of one of our turkeys taken by D. Craig, BC Min. of Agriculture

Photo of one of our turkeys taken by D. Craig, BC Min. of Agriculture

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmerto find out!

Day 5 – Seasons Change for Better, for Worse

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You know summer is long gone when chunks of ice fly out the end of the hose when you fill the poultry waterers.

It’s hard to know what to wish for, weather-wise, at this time of year. Living here on the wet west coast where grey skies day after day after day can bring down even the cheeriest soul, it’s hard not to hope for clear skies and a bit of sunshine. Clear skies, though, also generally mean colder temperatures – that dreary blanket of cloud is a blanket of the warming kind, too.

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My farm is small and it’s spread over several neighbouring properties where I lease land to graze my animals. Even though the entire operation is contained within a kilometer radius, the difference between what’s freezing at the lowest lying, most exposed field and what’s still just wet and cold is remarkable. Yesterday morning the remaining grass down in the main turkey pasture area was crispy with frost while up at the top of the hill near our house everything was soaked with heavy dew. The water was running freely at the house but down there in turkey-land, after some ominous gurgling and crackling, chunks of tube-shaped ice shot out the end of the hose. That was too close to a full on freeze up for my tastes!

Frozen water lines are a pain in the backside around here and require schlepping of hot water from the house to whatever frozen water bucket needs to be defrosted. Given that we have years where we never freeze (last year was one of those) and over the course of most winters we endure truly cold temperatures for only a few days, it’s not really worth installing expensive water systems even here at the home farm and not an option in the various leased fields.

And so, I watch the skies and the weather reports and on a morning like today when I look outside and see slate grey sky and hear the sound of rain, I breathe a little sigh of relief.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmerto find out!

Day 4 – Five Odd Questions About Poultry

I like Holly Spangler’s idea of posting short lists… so today’s post is a list of five questions we’ve been asked about our eggs and poultry.

1. Do you need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs?

We get asked this question all the time, so in case you have been wondering but were too shy to ask, the answer is no. Hens happily lay eggs even when there is no rooster around. If you want your eggs to hatch out chicks, that’s a different matter.

Chicken Eggs

Most grocery store eggs are either brown or white, but chicken eggs come in a range of colours. We find eggs that are pale blue, green, creamy-coloured, dark brown, pale brown, speckled, and plain. They also vary widely in size and shape depending on the particular breed of chicken, age of the hen, and season. Yolk colour also varies and ranges from yellow to deep orange to almost red. Yolk variations are most dramatic in response to changing fruits and vegetables we feed to supplement the birds’ standard diet of pasture and grain.

2. How long is a turkey pregnant?

Errr… turkeys don’t get pregnant, nor do they suckle their young. They lay eggs like other birds. It takes them about 28 days of incubation to hatch out a clutch. That’s shorter than our ducks and longer than the chickens.

3. Can you eat turkey eggs?

Absolutely. They are delicious! After we’ve collected enough eggs to incubate and hatch out for holiday birds we eat the rest of the eggs laid that season. Though, as our customers learn how good our turkey eggs are (and, how large – they are about double the size of a decent-sized chicken egg) we are finding we have fewer and fewer left for our fridge!

4. Can you cross a duck and a chicken?

Not any more successfully than you could cross a cat and a dog. Though, our rooster Wimpy is a bit in love with one of our Muscovy ducks and has certainly been trying to pull this off.

5. Does the rooster fertilize the eggs externally?

The asker did not clarify exactly how this was supposed to happen, but I can only imagine he was thinking about how our local salmon do this. Ever since, I have been keeping an eye open for our rooster stalking around the orchard looking for unattended nests so he could… err… squat and sprinkle.

The serious answer is ‘no.’ Chicken reproduction occurs internally. I won’t go into further detail as this is a family-friendly blog, but if you are curious, this website has a lot of excellent information about how all that works…

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about all month long? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!