One by land and five by air!?

In the world of a free range mixed flock of chickens and turkeys you get to observe allot of interesting behavior. An example of this is how do chickens and turkeys differ when watching for predators. The behavior is interesting to saw the least.

In the chicken mixed flock world the rooster is charged to watch out for his hens. On the turkey side it is both the hens and the toms that have observation duties. Now this is were it gets interesting. What I have noticed is that the roosters are primarily concerned with air threats and the turkeys are scanning for ground threats. It is in my observations that I have seen this division of duty in threat scanning. The turkeys being larger are not concerned about air threats so they give more of their time to scanning the terrain. In the rooster world the day threats primarily come from the sky unless of course you have a vixen with kits then it is game on for chicken slaughter. It only takes one hawk or falcon to get a hen and every rooster in the flock is looking to the sky from that point forward.

20150524_080627

Rooster escorting turkey pullets.

When a threat or potential threat, meaning anything that is a certain size, flight speed, or flight pattern that the roosters do not like then the blood curdling scream from the roosters goes out. The scream/call takes some getting used to and it is different according to each rooster but, when it does go out every chicken scatters and the turkeys look up. If there is a hen with chicks she is in the brush with the little ones with her body covering the babies.

Baby turkeys

Maverick Mamma and her chicks.

In the case that the turkeys see a threat there is a very distinctive ‘peck’ sound that goes out. At that point the chickens move quickly and with order back into the chicken run while the turkeys will line up and confront the threat. These are all heirloom turkeys so flight is very much an option for escape.

With the introduction of our livestock guard dog, Bear, they terrestrial predator losses has stopped. However, the turkeys are always scanning and will demonstrate this behavior with deer or with Merlin the six month old 13 lb kitten that thinks he is a tiger. Yes, he does like to chase the turkeys. There will be more on Merlin and his antics in the future.

So what is the proper ratio of roosters, hens, and turkeys? Currently the flock is 41 hens, 5 roosters, 3 toms, 6 hens, 11 turkey chicks. In the last year I only lost two chicken hens to hawks. When they free range they are in continuous flux going from one rooster led forage group to another. The toms move were the hens go. You never see the toms eat since they are in continuous stud muffin mode.

stud muffin mode

Thanksgiving in stud muffin mode.

In conclusion, I am a big fan of the mixed flock. There are some out there that would advise against putting turkeys and chickens together. Myself, I have been doing it for going on four years and have not had any problems. Like anything the flock will become part of the surroundings and adapt to what ever signals the ecosystem is giving off.

Advertisements

What came first the chicken or the turkey?

Spring brings hens that get broody. In the case of this year’s list of broodiness the star players are two chickens and two turkeys which form a mother daughter combination. With the chickens I experimented this year to see how well a chicken hen could take care of a turkey chick.

The two chickens that I picked out were both Cuckoo Morans which are a large chicken that has black feathers and white dot highlight feathers. They are known to be broody and good mothers therefore I placed two turkey eggs under one of the hens. It did not last long. She go up and moved around to a nest that had more eggs in it and a game hen cross took over. If you are not familiar with a game hen cross they do not have big fluffy feathers like most chickens. Game hen crosses have big breasts and long legs. They are also medium sized when it comes to chickens coming in at about 5 pounds live weight. With two turkey eggs under this chicken it looked like she was high centered and had breast augmentation. It was a sight to see. Thinking that this will not do and took both eggs from her and put them under a mix that I got from a neighbor when the fox decimated my stock. This mix, has no name as of yet, is fluffy and could take both eggs. So I left them with her for the 28 days that it takes to hatch a turkey.

Two days later I am looking at the broody girls, at this time there were five of them, and I noticed that the game hen cross had another turkey egg under her and this time she was not going to let me take it. So I left it with her. At first it was funny and a bit serious at the same time. There was no certainty that the two hens would hatch out the chicks or if the eggs were fertile. So to continue the experiment I marked the observation date on the calendar and the anticipated 28 day hatch estimation and checked on the girls every day.

About three weeks into the process I looked at my turkey hens and scolded them for not laying on their own eggs. There were also a hefty threat of eating them that came along with that if they did not sit on eggs and hatch out turkey chicks. It took two days of this and three turkey hens broke off and started siting on eggs. At that point it was a lot of “good girls” and sit well and thoughts to Thor for protection of the girls since they were outside of the run at night and thanks for Frey fertile eggs and strong chicks when they hatched.

Then came the day that I walked out to the coop and checked the girls and a turkey chick was staring at me from under the fluff chicken. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “No shit a baby turkey under a chicken”, I was channeling my inner Captain Obvious. At that point I started to look for the second egg that was underneath her and found that the second chick hatched, but was dead from being pecked. The next step was to take the new mother and her chick and put her in the nursery with food and water. The hen and chick took right to the food and then the water.

Now anticipating chicks the next day during my rounds I was anticipating another chick that the game hen was sitting on. It took two days before her chick was out of the shell and staring at me from underneath her. Before the hen could see what was coming I scooped her and the chick up and placed them both into the nursery with the other hen and chick. Both new mothers took to each other’s company and started raising the little ones in a tandem fashion. One week later all four were out and about in the run fully integrated into the flock. (Video of both hens and chicks)

There are many advantages of having a broody sit and then raise the chicks. The chicks are more emotionally sound over chicks that were incubated. This is gauged by social action with other chicks and the rest of the flock to include roosters and toms. The social signs that I am looking for are that the chicks are not cowering or running into a corner. Running about and under the adult birds is exactly what I want to see because this shows that they are a member of the flock.

The chicks are healthier and have a higher survivability rate, upper 90% versus mid 80%, during the critical first 11 weeks. Now this is based on keeping a close eye on how the hens act. The prize turkey hen named the Rogue Momma liked to take her chicks on death walks all over the property which killed a lot of her chicks during that 11 week period. It was her moving around away from the flock that brought in hawks and falcons that would swoop down and scatter the chicks. The chicks would have a tendency to get lost because they were disoriented. Once they became disoriented no matter how much they called in distress it was a matter of time that they would be snatched up or die of exposure.

Following the course of action of herding the hens into the nursery helps calm the hens and gives them a reference point so when they do take the chicks out the nursery they will take them back again and not leave the run until about seven to ten days. Then there is the protection of the flock with the roosters scanning the sky for air threats and the turkeys scanning the ground for terrestrial threats.

But as it was once said, ” That is a story for another day.”

Spring

It is now spring and the level of effort now has increased three fold. Eighteen wicking boxes have been built and twelve of them have been planted with the others waiting for the seedlings to come out from under the grow lights. This is the first year that I started all of the seedlings under the grow light and I am impressed with the success of the endeavor. The vine vegetables have been so successful so far that the trellis’ for the cucumbers, bitter melons, and watermelons had to be built ahead of schedule.

This success can be contributed from five years of experimenting with raised beds and finding the faults of the raised beds in the Texas Hill Country. First of all why raised beds? It all comes down to the terrain that the homestead is on. The Texas Hill County is made up of the Edwards Plateau which consists of limestone and granite. The limestone was formed during the Cretaceous period when the region was part of the Great Inland Sea. However there is rock and formations that I have found that range from the Jurassic to the Quatemary when the last remnants of the ice age melted into the aquafer.

With all of this limestone it is difficult to farm in a more traditional manner since limestone can be found from the surface to the 18” deep and everything in between. With no consistent depth of soil boxes were the most economical and practical option. The first boxes were raised beds made from wood that had the dimensions of 4’ wide, 2’ tall, and 8’ long. There were four of these boxes that were built. The fault of this style of box in the Hill Country is that watering leads to soil compaction very quickly. Another issue was water. There was never enough water that was placed on the box to get anything to thrive.

This is where wicking boxes came into play. The first generation wicking box that I built was of the same dimensions as the raised beds, but with the addition of a plastic lining on the bottom to hold in the water. Crushed rock is placed on the bottom of these boxes to form a reservoir. The soil is placed on top of that so that the soil acts as a wick sucking up the water from the reservoir. This design worked well for two years but had to be rebuilt because of the wood decaying. The third generation was to take metal roofing screwed into wood so that the metal is in contact with the plastic lining. The major fault of these boxes was that the plastic, which was 6 mill, was not thick enough to prevent punctures therefor the reservoir leaked out over a short time.

20180313_173238_resized

The current model of wicking boxes is a 2’ tall, 2’ wide, and 6’ long. A 1.5” PVC pipe is run on the bottom, perforated, and 90 degree joint attaches the 2’ pipe out of the container. Just like before rock fills the first 12” of the box and the soil is placed on top. The pipe is to fill the reservoir when needed and since the stock tank is steel there is no worries of perforating plastic. With the whole piping system there is little concern for soil compaction since the water is going directly into the reservoir via the PVC pipe.

The soil was mixed with composted chicken poop and other organic fertilizer.

20180509_111258_resized

The Saga of Procyon Lotor

The smell of destruction filled the air. It permeated everything and there was no escape. The raids have taken their toll and hopelessness filled the hearts of the people. The raiders go by many names, night stalkers, dark travelers, clawed and masked demons to name a few. These raiders always are attacking at night breaching defenses and laying waste to our food stores. Now the kingdom was under siege and the fields were burning. The Owl King did not know how his people came into this situation. Continue reading