Tales From The Coop:

Learning From Mistakes!

by Linda F

Published March 19, 2024

I’ve come to the conclusion that mistakes can be turned into accidental experiments and therefore learning opportunities. Sometimes you learn a new way to do something and sometimes you get confirmation of the way not to do something. This spring I’ve done some unplanned experimenting.

Young Turkey Poults Foraging in the Grass Meyer Hatchery logo

The Right Stuff – Meeting Their Needs

I was raising turkeys and the little guys started out doing really well in the small brooder.  After some weeks, I started to get frustrated with them. They just weren’t growing much, but seemed otherwise perfect. I had them where it was clean and dry on pine flakes. They had fresh food and water. The temperature was good for them, but something was amiss. Why weren’t they growing as expected?  Well, the moral of this story is, to make sure you pick up the right bag of feed! When I got to the end of the bag, I found that I’d picked up the wrong feed bag when I was moving it to the turkey’s area. I should have double-checked the label, the little one sewn onto the seam on the bottom of the bag, but apparently, I had not done this.  I put the bag in my feed storage metal trash can and didn’t take it out until the bag was empty and that’s when I noticed the label; my poor little turkeys had not been getting enough protein. Poults, and meat birds in general, grow very quickly, so without the right nutrients, especially protein, they can’t grow the way they should. If you think the amount of protein in feed doesn’t make a difference, I can tell you that it does!

27% Protein Poultry Food bag nutrition facts tag from Meyer Hatchery

I placed the new, correct feed in the metal trash can where I store their feed. Yes, I did double-check the label this time. Within 1 to 2 weeks there was a huge difference in their size. They seemed to catch themselves up to get right where I thought they should have been, so now I could move them out to the pen I’d been saving for them.

Turkey Poults in a grow out Pen outside Meyer Hatchery

Predators and Corrective Action

When a turkey or chick gets moved on to the next stage of life where it has open-air, grass, and sunshine – the ability to be outside, forage, and enjoy being a turkey or chicken, it should be a happy day, but this year, this day was not as happy as I’d hoped it would be. I have a fully covered pen that over the years has housed both turkeys and chickens successfully. I generally use it for meat birds, but occasionally have moved my laying ladies into it for a time and most have been housed in this area without any issues. Over the years I thought I had perfected it and secured it from predators. Sadly, once again, something was amiss.  

It seems my predator-proofing was lacking this season. I found 2 things to be problematic.  First, when using this pen, I make temporary roosts with bales and 2 x 4s. I put them in the center so the birds can go to them at night and all is well, usually. I don’t know why, but this particular group seemed to have at least one turkey per night that stayed on the ground and close to the outside edge of the pen, right up against the fencing, although plenty of roost space was available. So, unlike previous birds, the turkeys weren’t in the center of the pen at night and some raccoons were provided a very tasty, tender turkey dinner by reaching their little hand-like paws in the fencing and killing the turkeys. Since they were unable to take the whole meal away.  I was sadly left with a carcass to clean up in the morning. I added additional barriers to any areas that I thought were weak, hoping to protect the turkeys from the raccoons by blocking them from the edge of the pen.

The second problem was missing some of the tweaks I’d made to the area over previous seasons. I have one short side that opens.  It’s my access to care for the birds. In previous years, I’ve used clamps to secure netting from the top to the fencing on this side. Guess what I forgot to do this year? Everything was still fully covered with the netting coming from the top and overlapping the fencing on all the sides, but this one short side where I open and close the fencing daily, allowed a raccoon to get into the pen by going under the net and over the fencing because without the those clamps, there was a gap and the raccoons could climb the fence and scurry under the gap and over the top of the fence. The other 3 sides had the fencing up and netting secured with zip ties to the fencing with plenty of overlap and no gaps big enough for a raccoon or other climbing critter to enter.  Needless to say, this little raccoon door was not good for the turkeys. I had failed them.  Something quite simple would have alleviated this problem and I’d missed it.

Lessons Learned

What did I learn from this?  Fencing may work when the birds go exactly where you expect or want them, but hardware cloth all around, at least for the bottom half of the pen fencing should not be optional.  I could have protected my turkey flock had I just done that everywhere, not just most places, along my fence.  I won’t need to worry about the birds sleeping directly in the center of the pen if I take enough care on the outside of the pen to keep the critters and their little paws out.  It doesn’t take much time to double-check for openings.  These can usually be easily fixed.  It is well worth it to do so before any losses occur!

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