Friday, March 12, 2010

Romancing the Turkey

In case you haven't been following my story, we began raising turkeys 3 years ago.  The first year, we raised 3 domestic breed turkeys, which are bred to grow so large that they cannot procreate, fly, or even carry their own weight after reaching full size.  Our expert farmer friends, Paul & Kirsten, came over and butchered them in our driveway in exchange for the largest.  That turkey was so huge, they had to saw it in half to fit it in their oven.

Last year, we ordered heritage turkeys, which can fly, live full lives without their legs breaking under their own weight, and are capable of procreation.  However, heritage birds are so rare now that the mating instinct is a bit fuzzy, from what I understand.  Since almost all turkeys are bred through artificial insemination, there is little information about turkey mating, and even the turkeys could use some sex ed courses.

We butchered (that is, Paul and Kirsten did) five turkeys in November, leaving a tom and two hens in hopes of seeing them hatch a slough of babies this spring.  Having read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (highly recommended!) I have been watching for any signs of sexual maturity similar to those she describes in her book.  (We lost one hen to a raccoon attack.)

I've mentioned recently that Tom is acting like a Vegas showgirl, strutting around with his feathers all fluffy, rattling his wings to make a noise like a gentle motor.  He chases me whenever I turn away from him, then shies away when I turn back toward him.  I felt terrible when I learned that he scared the bejeesus out of our young housesitter last weekend.  But, despite months of turkey machismo, I have not seen an egg or any attempts by Tom to get jiggy with his woman.

Until this morning!  She has been approaching me for a couple of days as if she believes I am a potential suitor, sitting down next to me and bowing her head.  I used to sit and pet my turkeys when they did this, but I have since learned that it is mating behavior.  Still, today, I couldn't resist giving her a little pet on the back, which triggered an immediate reaction from Tom.  I thought he was going to attack me!  He ran over, making all kinds of noise, and proved that he could do for her what I never can.  Afterward, he looked like he wasn't sure what had just happened, but she appeared refreshed and satisfied.

From what I have read, even if the turkeys are mating, egg fertilization is tricky.  So, I'm not expecting this to result in hatching chickens right off the bat, but it is a very promising step in the right direction.  We are about to order a shipment of turkeys again, but I hope that, in future years, we will feel confident in our turkeys' ability to hatch and raise their own young.


  1. That's so exciting! I can't wait to hear what happens next.

  2. Tom attacked Mike yesterday, and I've become very nervous when I go in the coop area!