The last month has been a difficult one for me, as it probably has been for most of you. Shortly before the Covid-19 onset I had several personal challenges, and then came the slow realisation that the world was shutting down, and finally that I was going to have to shut my business. All immensely stressful and time-consuming.
So I’d not really thought about Catherine, our proud mother-to-be, and what I was going to do with the new poults. She was patiently sitting it out whilst, unbeknownst to her, the world was grinding to a halt.
Turkeys sit on their eggs for 28 days. And from what I’d read about low hatch rates, I was never really expecting more than three to survive. I thought there were only nine eggs, and six of them mysteriously appeared out of the nest halfway through the incubation.
At first, a friend advised me to put them in a bowl of water and see if they float. They did, which apparently means they’re dead… but I couldnt just dispose of them without knowing for sure! So I did the candle test to see if they were still viable. I could see the freaky veins inside them ❤️, so it seemed they were alive, but I wasn’t sure I’d done it correctly. If they had just died, wouldn’t the veins still be there? Very confused!!!
I couldn’t understand why they would have been discarded if they were still alive. I don’t think they would have fallen out by accident, and if they had, I’m sure she would have got them back in somehow. Nevertheless, I carefully placed the eggs to her side, and when I returned an hour later, they were gone. Either she had embraced them again, or the rats I’d seen frequenting the cage had got them… But it meant I was only really expecting three maximum to hatch.
Anyway, long and short of it, I hadn’t really done much research. Actually, I’d done none. And when 10 chicks landed on my door the day after I closed my business, I was thankful for the distraction, and dived right it, but basically just had to wing it.
A colleague actually has backyard turkeys herself, so I took some advice from her. She said to take the chicks away from the mother as soon as possible, as she might sit on them and kill them! Or that ants might eat them alive 😱 Online sites I looked at talked about “putting day old pouts in the coup alone.”
So that must be the right thing to do? Okay, decision made.
As it happened, fate intervened.
Once the chicks started to appear from under their mother, I was utterly besotted. I couldn’t keep myself away. So I was sitting at a distance, quiet as a mouse, my heart melting, videoing them doing their thing.
And then Henry decided to butt in.
Henry was my first turkey. He was a rescue turkey. He had spent most of his life tied to a tree. Now he follows me everywhere. And likes to get involved. And is sometimes quite possessive/defensive/jealous of interlopers.
But he’s also recently been defensive of Catherine: when strangers came over to see her nesting he got a little aggressive. And now, as I was filming her, he kept sliding in-between me and the cage. A little bit firmer and more sure of himself each time.
I wasn’t sure if he was jealous of the attention I was paying Catherine or if he was defensive of her.
It turns out it was neither.
He was actually trying to mount her, while (we learned later), she was still giving birth!!! Henry!!!!! You scoundrel! Shame on you!
We managed to pull him out of there but it took two of us. And she was screaming and flapping all over the place, quite beside herself. The tiny chicks had mostly disappeared, I couldn’t imagine where, I was imagining the babies crushed and dying. 😟 So we pulled Catherine out too to save them.
I was so relieved when I saw them all squeezed up between the nesting box and the wall, squirming around, trying to get out.
While my helper kept Catherine away, I had the perfect opportunity to quickly get the eight babies out (and take a sneaky photo).
I had never picked up a chick in my life, and I was very nervous. I was in such a panic, but I scooped up the little furballs one by one; they were so small that their wriggling wasn’t a problem, and I placed each one carefully in the box I had prepared.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.” Phew!
I swept the box away to the safety of a nearby table, well out of the reach of randy step-fathers, fretting mothers, and jumpy puppies.
That was when we noticed there was a ninth chick in the box, and an as yet unknown tenth egg slightly cracked.
I’m going to have enough for a football team!!! Go Tudor FC !