Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bourbon, sweet bourbon.

So I went with the Bourbon Red turkeys. I ordered them from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys. The service was wonderful, the price was very good - I was able to get them (with shipping) for a bit cheaper than I could get them from McMurray Hatchery. I've heard good things about McMurray, but if all other things are about equal (price, service, distance shipped), I'll pick a small business over a large business. I wasn't disappointed.

Because I had an infant this spring, I pushed all of my poultry purchases back about a month in the spring so that I wouldn't have to be hauling the baby out in the cold to take care of them. Since I wanted to avoid mixing chickens and turkeys (blackhead is not a problem in our area, but as a rank beginner, I didn't want to chance it), the turkeys didn't come in until June.

I was very pleased with their health. Only one had a health issue (that you'll see in a later picture) that she had to be put down for. One died because the temperature spiked one day and I should have unplugged both lights instead of just one. I pulled that one up as high as I could, but it was still too warm for them. I've heard how frail they are and I was scared that no light would make them too cold.

Then that night, it was still warm when I went to bed, so I lowered the light down closer but left the other light off. One froze to death that night. I was pretty downhearted.

But after that, things evened out and I lost no more turkeys to poor health.

I *was* worried about their wings. See the little guy below? About half of the poults had wings that stuck out like that. I researched it and some people said to wait, that the wings would come back in line, and others said to tape the wings down. I chose to wait because I wanted to see if they'd go down on their own. I don't want to be buying turkeys every year (or keeping some in a gene pool) that need monkeying around with - they need to have healthy, structurally sound wings.

The wings straightened out on their own, every poult.

From the very first day, these poults were so different from my chicks. They stand more upright, so their running as babies is really funny. I'll get a video next year. If you put a turkey poult and a chicken chick in front of me now, I could likely easily tell the difference. There's also that bump on the top of their nose.

This girl was my problem child. See that eye? Her right eye was fine, her left eye was always shut. She was healthy other than that, so I didn't put her down. I didn't knock the shipper for shipping me a bad poult since she'd been put in as an extra, to help with body heat in the box.

I should have put her down as a baby, I guess. The inevitable happened, but not until she was around seven weeks old. The eye finally died completely and I couldn't keep things clean enough. Amazing what we city folks will do to avoid having to kill an animal that we bought as food to begin with. I finally faced the music and put her out of her misery.

These turkey poults were also much more curious and friendly than the chicken poults and seemed more desirous of a parent figure. I loved having them come cheep cheeping up to me as babies. I threw greens in there every day and they demolished those much faster than the chickens did.

Monday we took our turkeys and remaining roosters in to be harvested. In our area, there is only one man who does it. I'm not happy with him for various reasons, so I am looking for another person to slaughter for me. I may do it myself next year when my baby is older, but was not up for it this year with two youngsters and a baby. I would have preferred to wait a few weeks to have them processed, but he is booked up, so I had to take them in this week.

This is one of the big boys on Monday morning. This studly specimen decided about three weeks ago that my hens needed a male presence, so he flew into their pen and refuses to leave. For the first week I threw him back out every day, but he'd come right back in. Then hens actually seemed to enjoy his presence and he wasn't picking on them, so I left him in there. You'd think he would want to free range with the rest of the turkeys, but he didn't.

Look at the face on these birds. Did you know that that entire head can turn bright blue? 'Tis true, I swear it. When they get into dominance fights or get scared, that head goes bright blue. It's a little bit blue in this picture because he's showing off.

I wasn't a big fan of turkeys (except for the eating part) before I got these. I like them much better than the chickens and miss them already. Next year I may keep a few hens and a tom. I miss their chattering to each other, their gobbles, and them running up to me in the morning trying to get my attention. I've always heard how dumb turkeys are, but I've found that that wasn't true with these birds. Maybe it was their breed, maybe their upbringing - nature or nurture? Maybe turkeys, of all breeds, just really aren't that dumb. (As a sidenote, my husband had always heard how dumb sheep were and believed it until he started owning them. Not many animals are truly dumb - just different types of intelligence, I think.)

When I got my birds back, I weighed the carcass. They ranged from 6 pounds (the hens) to 18 pounds (the biggest tom). Most were in the 10-12 pound range, not too bad for heritage breed birds that are only five months old.

I don't think that I'll be getting any meat chickens next year - if I do, they will likely be Cornish crosses for the feed conversion rate. But if I find a good source of grain, I'll likely get some of these Bourbon Reds from Porter's again. The price was right (less expensive than the big McMurray clearing house), the genetics appeared to be better, and their health was very good. We'll see how they taste.


Candace @ A Garden of Blessings said...

Hi Sarah,
I read Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and remember the author describing how difficult it is to establish a breeding flock of turkeys.
I think this is the breed she had.
Are you considering trying to breed?
Are their housing needs like that of chickens?
Let us know how they taste.

Anonymous said...

The weight at five months info is very helpful. I've been concerned about butchering our Bourbons so young but I won't hesitate now. Thanks for including that.

Candace, I raise Bourbon Reds. They set and raise their poults easily.

Katey said...

I thought from the title you had set up a still. ;) I love reading your blog.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Sarah, they are beautiful! Did the guy save some feathers for you?

The creepy poultry processor near us, sells the wing and tail feathers, and people practically have to fight him to get their feathers back, if they want them.

Cindy said...

I can hardly believe how big they got in 5 months! Amazing!