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Peace, Love and Kidney: Adventures in Baby Turkeys

| 6/26/2018 10:17:00 AM

baby turkey chicks

Tiny turkeys enjoying their heat lamp.  Photo by Steve Barnes

This last week, I played midwife to two dozen baby turkeys.  In our walk-out basement for the last four weeks, my Octagon incubator was humming away, gently rocking back and forth on its electric cradle.  Every other day, I’d refill the water in the chamber for the wet bulb and restock the reservoirs inside, so the humidity kept up with the balmy temperature for the precious, speckled eggs inside.

A Memorial Weekend hatching wasn’t my first choice, but it was the soonest I could collect eggs from my turkey ladies once temperatures warmed.  Too cold in the coop, and the embryo inside the egg will die if you don’t snatch it up soon enough.  And turkeys are, well, turkeys, which means not much wits and low dependability to keep the eggs warm unless one gets setty.  And if that happens, she turns into a hissing hydra to defend her beloved treasures beneath.  My suggestion?  Wear sturdy gloves when approaching!

Over the course of four days, I carefully collected the eggs, using steel wool to scuff off any bits of bedding that may have stuck to the shell.  Can’t wash them because it takes off the precious waxy layer on the outside of the shell!  The eggs have to sit air-sack-up in the incubator (the air sack is on the fatter end).  Air, of course, is lighter than the white or yolk in the egg and migrates to the top.  The little chick inside needs that bubble of air to breathe before it can peck through the hard shell, and if the air sack isn’t there…then the story’s over.  One of the reasons I candle all my hatch eggs is to see that the air sack is present at the correct end of the shell.

Each week in the incubation process, I candle the eggs again to check for progress.  First blood vessels can be seen forming, then a dark central object casts its shadow, then the whole egg except the growing air sack turns quite dark when viewed through the light of the candler.  If an egg stays clear with just the yellowy yolk as the process continues, then the egg is infertile and has to be removed before it makes trouble for the other ones in the clutch.

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