Backyard poultry have gained popularity in recent years as some municipalities loosen regulations to allow homeowners to keep coops. Raising poultry is a sustainable activity, which in relatively little space produces fresh eggs and meat. Made at Home: Eggs & Poultry (Firefly Books, 2012) is a complete guide to raising backyard poultry using eggs and meat for delicious homemade meals. The following excerpt explains how to hatch turkey eggs.
You can buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Made at Home: Eggs & Poultry.
The principles of incubating turkey eggs are similar for all domestic poultry and fowl. Hatching turkey eggs is relatively easy, but the key is that for the highest success rate you want to start incubation soon after the eggs are laid. Most people rear turkeys from young poults to provide the holiday birds for family and friends, so hatching and incubation isn’t an issue for everyone. But if you do want to hatch your own turkeys, go ahead and give it a try.
• Spray bottle
• Turkey feed
• Incubating bulb — infrared
Turkey eggs are equivalent in size to a duck egg and should be kept in cartons with the broad end upwards before you incubate them. Discard any cracked, damaged or misshapen eggs.
Store the eggs in a cool pantry or cupboard for no more than 1 week. For a few hours before they go into the incubator, allow them to acclimatize and reach room temperature.
For every day you store eggs their chance of hatching decreases.
An automatic incubator is the simplest system for hatching turkey eggs and should produce the maximum yield. Remember that everything has to be clean. The eggs need to be thoroughly clean and the incubator also needs to have been cleaned with disinfectant.
The temperature inside an incubator is exactly right for growing detrimental bacteria and micro-organisms, hence the need to sanitize the eggs and incubator.
Place the incubator in a room with an even temperature and aim for an internal temperature of 37.5°C (99.5°F), and a humidity level of 55 percent, for the majority of the incubation period.
After the eggs have spent 1 week in the incubator, remove them and candle using a flashlight. Check that the embryo is fertile by looking for a veiny blob in the egg, and make sure that the air sac is developing at one end. If the egg is clear, it is probably infertile. Red or black stains or a blood-red “ring” in the egg mean early death, and any eggs that have speckling inside may have a bacterial infection and should be discarded.
After 25 days the eggs will start to hatch. To start with, there will be just a faint pip noise. This is the time to adjust the temperature to 37°C (99°F) and up the humidity to 75 percent. By day 28 the turkeys should have broken free from their shells and will dry out into little puffballs.
When breeding turkeys, you should not count your turkeys before they are hatched. On average you can expect less than half the eggs to hatch, and of the poults, only about 30 percent can be expected to live to 2 weeks old.
Once they have dried out, move them to a brooder with a heat lamp, chick feed, water and some sawdust bedding. Check them regularly and make sure that the brooder is protected from rats.
Brooders are usually circular or at the very least have curved corners, so the poults cannot crowd into a corner and squash and suffocate each other. You will be able to see if the heat is right by observing the young birds. If they are cold they will congregate directly under the light, where it is warmest. If they are too warm they will try to hide from the heat at the edges. As the birds grow the heat can be reduced by raising the heat lamps or reducing the voltage.
Reprinted with permission from Made at Home: Eggs & Poultry by Dick and James Strawbridge and published by Firefly Books 2012. Buy this book from our store: Made at Home: Eggs & Poultry.
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