Hatching Heritage Turkeys
I started my turkey journey 3 years ago and currently own a flock of 8 Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys which includes 2 toms and 6 hens. Since toms are so protective and territorial, I do have to house the toms individually in separate areas with their own group of hens. If they were not separated, it would be a constant fighting match which is not safe for the toms or anyone near the area.
As the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” Every year my Bourbon Red hens start to lay around the beginning of April. After the first week of laying I start collecting the eggs and setting them in our house at room temperature. I do not wash the eggs, but will take a paper towel or plastic egg brush to clean off any dirt or feces. Washing the eggs will remove the bloom which protects the inside of the egg from bacteria. I like to use an open egg carton to temporarily store the eggs as they are always available. To prevent the embryos from sticking to the shell membrane, I alternate propping up one end of the egg carton every 12 hours.
After collecting eggs for about a week I have enough eggs to fill my incubator. I use a nurture right 360 incubator. Meyer Hatchery also has a wonderful selection of incubators to fit your hatching needs. I prepared my incubator by sanitizing it first and then let it run for a full 24 hours to make sure that it was functioning properly by maintaining the correct temperature and humidity percentage. For turkey eggs, your incubator humidity will start off at a stable 55-60% and the temperature, if using a circulated air incubator, is 99 degrees. If using a still air incubator you will want to increase the temperature 2-3 degrees more. Once the incubator is ready to go I mark each of the 16 eggs I have collected with a soft pencil, one side with a number and the other side with an x, allowing me to keep track while rotating the eggs each day. In my experience, I have a better hatch rate by hand turning, but automatic turners are fine to use as well.
Once the eggs are set, turning the eggs 180 degrees 3-5 times a day is essential. Turning the eggs prevents the developing poults from sticking to the shell of the egg.
Candling your eggs is a great way to check to see if your eggs are cracked in any way, fertile, and developing. Cracked or non-developing eggs should be disposed of. How do we know the eggs are fertile and developing? When candling or holding a bright light to your eggs in a darker room, you should be able to see spider-like formations in the egg around day 7. This shows that your eggs are fertile and developing. Clear eggs are infertile and should be removed from the incubator. I typically have a couple that I’m not 100% sure on and I will leave those to check when I candle a second time on day 15. By day 15, candling should make it very clear which eggs are developing and which questionable eggs are not.
Turkey poults take 28 days to complete the incubation process. After the first 24 days of turning your eggs multiple times a day and maintaining the proper temperature and humidity, it is time for what we like to call “lock down.” On day 24 you will stop turning the eggs ( remove the turning rack if using an automatic turner), increase the humidity in the incubator to 64% and wait for the first pip. A pip is the first break in the egg shell. Every batch of hatching eggs is a bit different. I have had eggs pip on day 27 and then I’ve had eggs start to pip at the end of day 28.
Day 28 and we see the first pip! It is important to make sure the humidity maintains 64% and does not go much higher or lower than that. Too much humidity can cause your poults to essentially drown and too little humidity makes it impossible for little ones to break out of the shell. You can easily increase your humidity by adding more water to the incubator and decrease it by opening the vents until the humidity is just right.
Be patient as your little ones start to emerge from their eggs. It is a lot of work for them and it can take them several hours to make their grand entrance. It may look as though many of them are having trouble, but resist the urge to assist them in the hatching process. Intervening can cause damage to the new hatchling and even death. Another thing to keep in mind is they will not all hatch at the same time. Once the first poult hatches it is as if they serve as the incubator cheerleader, encouraging the others to follow suit. I like to give all the eggs a full two days from the first pip to make their appearance. After two days and all hatchlings are dry I will transfer them into a prepared brooder space.
My first hatch of the year I had 14 out of 16 heritage poults hatch. I consider that a success! The incubating and hatching process is such a fascinating and exciting experience for the young and old alike. Every batch of fertile eggs is a bit different so be patient, enjoy the process, pay close attention to the humidity, temperature and quality of your eggs, and you are sure to be successful as well.
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