We haven’t posted about the turkeys in some time, but it’s spring, and it’s become a little interesting around the turkey pen this week!

Jenny (click any image to enlarge)

Most commercial turkeys raised for market can’t breed naturally, the Toms are simply too fat, but heritage breed turkeys are much closer to wild turkeys in build, and can breed on their own just fine.

A couple of weeks ago our turkey hen, Jenny, started laying her first eggs.  In the beginning her eggs were scattered all over the place.  When she started laying she didn’t even seem to comprehend what an egg was.  Not all turkey hens make good mothers, and we weren’t holding out much hope.

However, to give young Jenny the benefit of the doubt, and to avoid her mate, Jake, stepping on the eggs and breaking them, we corralled the eggs to one side of the pen in the shade, and set them on a bed of straw.  We opted to leave the eggs in the pen, even though Jenny wasn’t in the least bit broody.

This is Jenny and Jake, our pair of Standard Bronze - Bourbon Red Cross turkeys

Even though the eggs may not hatch, we were curious to see if Jenny’s behavior toward them would change as the clutch size increased.

Sure enough, after about the 5th or 6th egg, she started laying new eggs with the rest of the clutch.  Jake also started to become much more defensive of the pen.  In fact, he won’t even let me through the door!

This blur is Jake, defending the door...from me!

As such, Mr. Curbstone now is on turkey feeding and cleaning duties.

This last Friday I was outside painting our bee nuc box, and it kept sounding like Jake’s gobble was echoing off the hillsides.  Every once in a while I was sure I heard a second turkey.  I chalked it up to paint fumes, and an overactive imagination, and went back to painting.  By the end of the afternoon though, I was finally convinced there was a second turkey, a wild tom, lurking just up the hill somewhere in the undergrowth. Either that, or Jake had perfected throwing his voice!  We’ve never seen wild turkeys on the property, but neighbors have reported seeing them in the area.

Now that it's spring, Jake spends most of his time strutting around and gobbling

Early Saturday morning, as I was heading into the kitchen to make coffee, I spied a turkey…in the driveway!  Apparently I still had turkeys on the brain.  Perhaps I was hallucinating and just needed some coffee?  I blinked a few times, and asked Mr. Curbstone if he could see the Tom Turkey standing in the driveway.  “Yep, there is a turkey”.  Great…now we’re both crazy!

Sadly, our trusty video camera drowned in the storms at the end of March, right after I filmed this waterlogged video.  However, I did have an old pocket camera that could shoot short bursts of video.  The lens is terrible in low light, but it was all we had, so I ran to the office to grab that.

Here’s the interloping Tom Turkey walking along our hillside, heading toward the turkey pen.  The video is a little dark because it was still so early in the morning that I hadn’t yet had a single mug of coffee!

As you can see, the wild Tom marched straight up toward the pen, as if he’d been there a thousand times before. Maybe he had, and we hadn’t noticed?  That didn’t seem likely.

What transpired over the next 90 minutes was Jake vs. the wild Tom.  The two of them proceeded through a very ritualistic ‘dance’.  At times it almost looked like a turkey staring at itself in a mirror.  It went on…

Jake and the Wild Tom - Lean to the Right...

…and on…

...Follow Me...

…and on…

...Lean to the Left...

Two cups of coffee later the wild Tom started to walk around the side of the pen where Jenny was sitting on her eggs.  She’d only begun to even sit on them in earnest a few days earlier.  There’s a rise in the ground on that side, so the Tom was effectively standing above her, looking down.  Startled, she hastily jumped up off the eggs to get away from him.

Jake was seriously NOT amused.  Jenny is his, and he had no intention of being upstaged by this young Casanova!

Jake and Jenny

He charged toward the Tom on that side of the pen, and I winced as he got close to the eggs, expecting him to barrel through them.  Then…to my surprise…Jake turned his back to the Tom, and tried to sit on the eggs. His wings we’re dropped around the clutch to try and shield the eggs from view.  It was intriguing to watch Jake’s behavior, as up until that point I didn’t realize he was all that concerned about the eggs.  I thought most of his posturing and defensiveness, at least toward me, was to guard Jenny, not the eggs per se.

Unfortunately, as Jake tried to settle on the eggs, I heard a loud POP!  I knew right away that he’d broken an egg with his giant feet.

In Jake's valiant effort to guard the eggs he accidentally stepped on one and broke it

Up to this point, as we’re not always in the immediate area of the pen, we figured these two males had to come to some sort of agreement on their own, as we may not be here during a future encounter to intervene.  Clearly though, the situation was escalating in the wrong direction, and I was concerned that although Jake’s intentions were noble, his clumsy feet might inadvertently destroy the entire clutch.

I walked calmly toward the pen, and quietly shooed the wild Tom away.

"Who? Me?!"..."Yes YOU...shoo!"

Ten minutes later though, Tom was back.

In this short video you can see him sneaking back down the stairs near the chicken coop.

The next day, he was back again, and making himself quite at home.

The wild Tom tries to show the hens what a pretty blue color he can turn - I don't think they were very impressed though

On his return though, he didn’t challenge Jake again, but just seemed content to stand by the pen, or the coop, or out in the weeds, and graze and preen in the sunshine, and Jake seemed less agitated too.

So it seems Jenny has a not-so-secret admirer lurking on the farm this spring.  The turkey pen, like the bee hives, has certainly proved that ‘if you build it, they will come’.

This wild Tom can’t get to Jenny or the eggs directly, so both are secure.  Jake’s clumsy feet only broke a single egg in the clutch, and as is typical of birds, Jenny’s instinct automatically kicked in after the egg was broken.  She immediately removed the shell and disposed of it on the far side of the pen, and then rolled the remaining eggs in the clutch to a clean area of straw away from the spilled egg contents, even before we managed to get into the pen to clean up the mess.

Jenny's clutch is now up to 15 eggs, and she's been more serious about incubating them in the last week

So it seems that Jenny’s nesting instincts are finally kicking in, and she is tending to and incubating her eggs just as she should.  Whether or not any will hatch, we’ll have to wait and see.  Jenny does have an advantage being in the pen, as predators of turkey eggs include raccoons and opossums, and neither can get into the pen.  Predators of young turkey poults include bobcats and coyotes, and we have plenty of those too, just ask Frodo!  Although wild turkeys have very low hatching success rates, approximately 15%, with a 70-90% mortality of chicks, most of the losses are due to predation, which is probably why turkeys lay so many eggs in a clutch.

We’d like to give Jenny the opportunity to try raising her own though.  If the eggs don’t hatch, next year we may try hatching some eggs in the incubator, but as we don’t have a secondary pen this year to separate the poults into if we hatched them ourselves, the eggs are better off staying with Jenny this spring.

When Jake is on alert he turns a vivid shade of violet blue

We’ll have to wait and see what transpires over the next few weeks.  In the meantime, Jake will be keeping a very watchful eye on us…and the eggs!