Sunday, March 30, 2014

twenty seven balls of peeping fluff and some awesomely easy stock tank brooders

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Sweetgrass Tiger Bronze turkey cross

After sitting on my hands for 48 hours, I was finally able to open my incubator and remove my hatched turkey poults. You can clearly see the egg tooth on several of the poults below.

Wikipedia really needs some photos of something cute on that page like my turkeys our chickens, dontcha think?

Day-old turkey poults

The last few eggs to hatch are almost always weaker birds, and our hatch was no exception.  The last poult to hatch died.  The last two that hatched and survived were much smaller and weaker than the rest of the hatchlings.

One had a splayed leg/spraddle leg, which we fixed with a splint like they show in this post: Spraddle leg causes and treatments.

Turkey poults in their temporary brooder

I never got a decent photo of the little turkey, which we nicknamed "Blue" after the color of the Vetrap that we used for the splint.  He/she only wore it for two days and then its legs were perfectly straight so the tape came off.

Temporary observation brooder bin

After any hatch (chickens or turkeys) I always put them into a small, temporary brooder that I keep in my kitchen where I can observe them all for a day or two.  If someone is struggling, they stay here longer.

Turkey poult exploring the brooder

I make this brooder using a plastic bin minus the plastic cover, using chicken or rabbit wire for a mesh (breathable) top.  We added a brooder light without a big heat light bulb - instead we used a small 25 watt red bulb.  A red bulb is better for the babies when they are trying to sleep.

This small wattage doesn't generate enough heat, so we also added a heating pad underneath and a small electric heater near the brooder.  Temps should be between 95-100 F for new hatchlings.  It is advisable to set up this brooder several days before your hatch, as it will take some tweaking to get the temperature right.

After I'm assured everyone is doing fine, they all go into stock tank brooders in the basement.

Ingredients:
  • Wood stove pellets or other appropriate bedding that offers secure footing (nothing slippery like newspaper).  I find one bag per stock tank sufficient for a couple of weeks, depending on the number of birds in the space.  Pellets are SUPER absorbent, and smell good, too. 
Wood pellets make super absorbing bedding in brooders
  • Stock water tank (available at all farm supply stores).  The benefits of stock tanks for brooders are several.  They have curved ends, which prevents chicks/poults from piling up on top of each other. Square corners can cause massive pile-ups and suffocation. They won't leak. They're made to hold water, so no worries like you have with cardboard brooders getting soggy and leaking.  They are easy to clean out at the end of use. Especially polycarb tanks. Shovel out the pellets (add them to your compost pile) then spray them out with a hose.  Used galvanized stock tanks can usually be found second hand for cheap.  Ours was left here on the farm when we bought it. It might not hold water perfectly anymore, but the pellets in the bottom of the tank are super absorbent and if we were really worried, we could set it on a tarp or other piece of plastic. 
Stock tank brooders for turkeys or chickens
  • Brooder light fixture and heat light bulb (red) 250 watt. 
  • Thermometers (one for every tank)
Day-old poults and chicks need 95-100 F
  • Feeders - turkeys need a higher protein starter mix than chickens.  We get ours (organic) at our local feed mill.  It is 26% protein. At first we just use the feeder base, then as the poults eat more, add the top part that holds a quart of feed at a time.
  • Waterers - I do not like open waterers like the one pictured here. The chicks/poults inevitably soil it with bedding and poop.  Since we never put medication in our feed or water, I really don't want poo in the water trough. When the chicks are a bit older, they will readily drink from a rabbit/guinea pig hanging bottle, which keeps the water much, much cleaner.  But for babies, we are still looking for a better way to water that the turkey poults will easily catch onto. We do put a small amount of apple cider vinegar into the water to help control coccidia naturally.  
stock tank brooder

Again you want to set up the brooder several days in advance of putting birds in it so the pellets can warm up and you can make sure the temperature setting is correct.  To adjust the heat, raise or lower the heat lamp above the tank.

For every week of age, drop the temperature in the tank by five degrees until they are fully feathered and no longer in need of supplemental heat.  We will usually transition our birds into the Cheep Shed before putting them out on pasture for the season.  

heritage turkeys at LitengÄrd

At a few days old we also start bringing chunks of sod (with dirt and grass) into the brooder for the chicks to play with. I've read the small amount of coccidia in the soil will help them gradually build up an immunity to it so there isn't a large hit to their system when they go out on pasture.  

So far, this system has been working well for us.  This is our second year hatching and our fourth year using stock tank brooders.  The only thing I would change is getting a few more tanks so I can have a lot more birds at the same time!

Cheers - 

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