Well, it’s Friday the 13th, and it’s Fowl Friday.  You can already tell where this is going, can’t you?  As much as we love to share our successes, life on the farm doesn’t always go quite the way we intend.

Jenny laid a clutch of 18 eggs this spring

It’s been a difficult spring for our turkeys this year.  A month ago we reported that Jenny was busy laying a clutch of eggs, and was periodically being visited by her not-so-secret admirer, the Wild Turkey Tom.  Unfortunately, wild visitors to the farm have taken a rather catastrophic toll on Jenny’s eggs this season.

This wild turkey Tom seemed downright obsessed with Jenny this spring

Since we last updated on Jenny she had become a very diligent mother, and seemed to be doing all she could to take excellent care of her eggs.  She was stuck to the nest like glue, keeping the eggs warm, while Jake took charge of seeing the intruders off, and except for the one broken egg mentioned in the last post, everything seemed to be going well.

Jenny laid a clutch of 18 eggs (19 if you count the one Jake broke early on).  However, she went from 18 eggs to just 7 by the last week of incubation.  Persistent visits from not one, but TWO wild Toms periodically sent Jake flying into a rage, and on more than one occasion he ran Jenny off her nest.  He then ran through, and broke a number of her eggs. In one incident he broke five of them at once.  It was difficult to blame him when he was trying to protect Jenny.

Once her clutch was complete, Jenny was diligent about incubating the eggs, except when Jake ran her off the nest

We also had some trouble when Jake was inappropriately amorous with Jenny while she was incubating the clutch last week.  I caught him in the act, and chased him off, but it was already too late, he’d broken more eggs.  The difficulty was we had nowhere to safely put Jake, especially at night.  He insists on sleeping on the ground, and always has, so he’s highly vulnerable to attacks from raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes if he sleeps outside the security of the pen at night.

Early last Wednesday morning, two days before the expected hatch date (turkeys take approximately 26-28 days to hatch from onset of hard incubation), we were surprised to find a dead chick in plain view in the middle of the pen floor.  We weren’t expecting chicks until Friday at the earliest, but at least we had confirmation Jenny’s eggs were fertile.  We couldn’t quite tell if the chick had hatched on its own, or if this was the result of a broken late-term egg, and inquisitive turkeys.

Toward the end of incubation only a few eggs remained

Down to just 6 eggs, and with hatching so close, we made the decision to kick Jake out of the pen for the rest of the incubation period.  During the day he was fine, and loyal enough to Jenny that he didn’t wander more than a few feet from her.  I had to keep a close eye on him though to ensure the neighborhood predators wouldn’t be a problem.  At night we had to resort to securing him in the chicken run.  Not ideal for a whole host of reasons, but better than leaving him as fodder for the predators at large here.  It was the only chance for any of Jenny’s eggs to hatch this spring.

Jake was evicted from the turkey pen to give the remaining few eggs the best chance of hatching

Finally, the day before Mother’s Day, right on cue, this adorable little one came peeking, and peeping, out from behind Jenny.

Just in time for Mother's Day, this adorable and healthy poult hatched from one of Jenny's eggs (click image to enlarge...you know you want to)

I almost cried, after all the loss, I was so happy to see this healthy little one zipping around. A little ray of hope amidst an otherwise disastrous nesting season.

The poultplays a game of hide-and-seek with the camera

Over the weekend Jenny continued to incubate the remaining five eggs, but with every hour that passed, it seemed less likely.  Turkey eggs should hatch within approximately 48 hours of each other.  By Monday she was showing signs of giving up on the nest, and it looked like we’d just have one chick this spring.

By Monday we could see the poult's wing feathers were growing out quickly

Then late on Monday afternoon, while outside the pen, I heard Jake’s alarm call, a unique noise I usually only hear when hawks fly overhead, and went out to see what he was upset about. I caught a glimpse of tan colored ears twitching in the grass behind the chicken coop, and I immediately knew we had trouble.  I thought at first there was just one pair of ears.  I was wrong.  Jake was surrounded by three coyotes, and one of them was clearly the mangy coyote that had previously pursued Frodo.  A distinctive, and unmistakable creature.  I’ve seen loner coyotes here during the day, but a pack?  In broad daylight?  This was bad.  We’ve heard packs hunt near here at night. They’re not the swift and efficient killers that bobcats are, they’re ruthless, and vicious.

Unlike the encounter with Zilla and the Bobcat, I managed to get to Jake in time, cussing and swearing all the way up the hill.  No doubt the squirrels and Steller’s Jays learned some vibrant new language.  One coyote, looking right through me to Jake, stood his ground. I had to charge at him, and throw a few large rocks in his direction to ward him off.  The pack backed off somewhat, but didn’t leave, they just spread out.

You again! This coyote harassed Frodo some weeks ago, and was also part of this pack. He's small, and missing a lot of fur, so easy to identify

I had a split decision to make.  If I leave Jake, they’ll tear him limb from limb.  I certainly wasn’t going to stand there and watch that happen.  I’ve heard it happen to other wild creatures in the dark of night, and it’s horrific enough to listen to.  The chickens were in the run, and they’re not fond of Jake, so that wasn’t an option either.  All I could do was risk putting Jake back in with Jenny and junior.  I didn’t like that idea either, but with the coyotes starting to close in again, the only thing I could do was put Jake back in the pen.

Jake was terrified, and didn't stand a chance against an entire pack of coyotes

With their hopes of an easy meal dashed, the pack finally gave up and moved on.  I crossed my fingers and toes and hoped that Jenny would at least try to keep young junior safe.

Early the next morning, I got up to check on everyone, and was surprised to see Jenny was up and around.  It was a cold 37 degrees outside, and junior was just milling around on his/her own, contentedly pecking at specks in the middle of the pen. Jenny seemed completely oblivious to the poult.  Turkeys aren’t smart, and clearly she was still figuring this motherhood thing out, but except for leaving her baby out in the cold, all seemed to be going fairly well.  I was relieved that Jake was ignoring the poult, and if really cold I knew junior was good about seeking out Jenny.

"Mom, move over! I'm cold!"

An hour later Mr. Curbstone went up to check on the hens though, and found junior, just five days old, in the center of the pen.  Dead.  The poult’s lifeless little body was bloodied on one side, and at the very least had been stepped on.  It’s unclear if Jake attacked and killed the poult intentionally, but the wounds to this poult looked suspiciously similar to the last one.

We'll never really know what happened to this little one

Toms have occasionally been known to kill their own chicks, and I do have my suspicions.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt though, knowing how big and clumsy Jake’s feet are, perhaps it was an accident. Maybe. The similarity to the first dead chick though is rather damning.  Regardless, by 8 AM my worst fear had been realized, and I couldn’t believe this bright, healthy poult was running around one minute, and so very gone the next.  I felt awful knowing that this happened because I’d put Jake back in the pen, and if I hadn’t…

Less than an hour before, the little poult was up and around, foraging in the pen

With junior gone, I pulled the remaining eggs from Jenny’s nest, and I could see one was broken.  Ironically, Jake, who just killed his own poult, tried to defend the eggs as I retrieved them.  I necropsied each egg to determine why they’d failed to hatch.  One had no chick at all, but the others all had developed, and appeared to have suffered late embryonic death. All were normally developed, but were malpositioned (in the wrong position to have been able to hatch). This can occur with both naturally, and artificially incubated eggs. The most likely cause was either insufficient turning by Jenny at some point during incubation, or more likely, excessive turning by Jake’s feet as he kept running through the eggs in late development.  Of 18 eggs, and almost a month of dedicated incubation, Jenny has no chicks to show for her efforts.

This broken egg contained a dead near-term chick

We have some friends raising turkeys in the Santa Cruz Mountains this spring, and they’ve had similar problems to us in regards to clutch losses this year after predator, and wild turkey intrusions.  They’ve also lost a number of hatched poults to ravens and crows overhead.  Fortunately our pen at least is covered with wire mesh, so the corvids aren’t an issue here.

Jake, however, is a very serious problem.  Our turkey pen, although excellent for keeping predators at bay, and keeping turkeys safe at night, isn’t an ideal breeding pen, as there’s nowhere to separate the Tom if needed.  We’ll rectify that this summer. The pen was an adapted enclosed garden area, and is in need of a few repairs this summer anyway, so we have some ideas to redesign it while we’re making repairs.

Hopefully Jake and Jenny will have more success next time

By next spring, Jake will have at least a partition in this pen where we can isolate him as soon as egg laying commences.  Even then I’m still likely to take at least half of Jenny’s next clutch and use the incubator and brooder.  That or put them under our persistently broody Buff Orpington hen.  It is actually possible Jenny may lay another clutch this year.  If that happens before we can build the partition, we’ll artificially incubate all the eggs.

We're hoping for a much happier ending next time

We’d rather Jenny raised her own chicks, but rather not repeat the events of this spring.  I’m so sorry little junior.