Every year we debate the costs and benefits of purchasing new chickens. This year we have a new idea. But first, a little backstory…
Two years ago we started with a mixed flock of twelve, then lost three birds to predation, and so purchased three more birds last spring. We lost eight birds at various points through the past year (hawks and owls, we think) and one more last weekend. So now we have two hens. We are tired of losing chickens. They are the ultimate prey birds. Even our hardy girls, Vera and Bossy, are at risk. It’s in their nature. They vanish during the twilight hour, just before it’s time to lock them up in the coop for the night. We even moved the girls to the back porch in January, but to no avail. Edna vanished the same day we shot this compost video.
The last three girls: Edna, Vera, and Bossy were/are Jersey Giants. We think their intelligence (if you can call it that) helped them survive. Sadly, they are not impervious to hungry foxes, hawks, owls, or other predators. Interestingly, the Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken. Their size probably contributed to their survival more than anything else. We were sad to discover there are no larger chicken breeds in existence. However, there are turkeys.
For the past few days, we have researched turkey keeping in North America. This is what we’ve learned.
- Turkey’s are native species in North America and they can tolerate the weather swings of our region.
- They lay larger eggs less frequently and those eggs pack a more nutritive punch per gram by volume. (Yay B vitamins!)
- Adult turkeys are not victims of predation near as often as chickens.
- Numbers of wild turkey populations are in decline, but that same species, Meleagris gallopavo, is also domesticated and we can buy numerous varieties of the species for our little homestead.
- The most popular commercial birds (Broad Breasted White and Bronze Turkeys) are no longer able to reproduce on their own so we’re not interested in them.
- Hens do not gobble, only toms, and only when it’s mating season (or when they feel threatened).
These are all good reasons for us to switch to backyard turkeys, but there are some drawbacks.
- The eggs have four times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. Yikes.
- They need a stable at night; a coop is too small.
- Waterers and feeders need to be elevated so the birds don’t knock them over or poop in them.
- Everything needs to be bigger.
- Turkey chicks and poults die at a higher rate than chicken chicks and pullets.
For cooking needs, three turkey eggs are roughly equivalent to five chicken eggs by volume, no shells. To keep us in chicken eggs we needed at least three chickens which works out to about 18 eggs during good sunshine and nice weather weeks, as few as a dozen during cloudy or cold weeks, and seven eggs per week through the winter. To keep us in turkey eggs we’ll need four turkeys which should produce 10 or 11 eggs during good weeks, 7 (maybe 8?) during less pleasant weeks, and 4 (rarely five) through the winter.
If we ate other dairy, poultry, or meat products we would not be able to justify the extra cholesterol. We don’t, so turkey cholesterol is an acceptable trade-off (for now). If we were reliant on these eggs for all of our protein needs and B vitamins we would need many more birds. Luckily, we aren’t, so we don’t!
Our newest plan to produce organic, homegrown, bird eggs requires a lot of prep work on our end. First, we need to dismantle the current chicken run, then rebuild the stall that the 2013 tornado destroyed. It needs to be a turkey stable with sturdy, low, roosts. We’re going to try the deep bedding method outlined by this Swedish guy (Simeon, he’s great) who has many, many videos about poultry keeping and homesteading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcx26yWdvac
After contacting some local suppliers of turkey poults we learned they do not start selling them, typically, until mid-summer, so they will be ready for slaughter in November. We might buy from farms that sell butchered Thanksgiving birds, if they are willing to sell live ones at a much cheaper price, and if we can find Auburn Heritage birds.
The AH birds are a hearty, pretty brown, calm, large bird. Adult hens weigh ~20 pounds and adult toms weigh ~36 pounds. The hens start laying at seven months old, and the species can reproduce on their own if the need should arise next spring. Wild hens with a 100% pasture diet produce 2 eggs a week, but the domestic bird with a 50/50 feed/pasture diet can lay 3 eggs a week.
If we can get all the prep work taken care of by mid-summer then this plan is go-for-launch. Either way – we’ll keep you posted.