November 7, 2008
In the event any of you readers are thinking of raising Wild Turkey Poults - Be ready for lots of hours, heartbreak, tears, love and joy.
Last spring my wife and I came across a Wild Turkey on her nest in our back woods, each day we would pass at a distance to see if she was still sitting or if we could hear peeps in the forest. We lucked out, within a week of our find - 17 poults were trailing, tripping and falling behind a large hen. (One egg never hatched or she abandoned it) She moved them to our brush/log pile and we could see them exploring from a distance. On the third day we no longer saw them and went searching. We found the remnants of the hen but no sign of the poults. We thought coyotes or our resident fox had eaten all. The following morning we spotted one poult at the edge of the brush pile. Upon approaching - it dashed into the cavity of a small hollow log. Investigating - the poults had taken refuge within the log and Mom paid the price along with two of the little ones. We gathered the 15 up and brought them to our barn, hoping to raise them & release all to the wild. WOW! Never thought it possible to fall in love with Wild Turkeys but just couldn't help it. Raising them was lots of work! Pen building, constant feeding of crickets from our local pet store and fresh greens pulled daily from wild carrot in our field. We also supplemented their food intake with Wild Turkey Starter and as they grew switched to Wild Game Bird Feed we purchased locally. Caring for the runt we named "Gracie" was added duty and many sleepless nights. We spent countless hours of guided walks, taking all into the forest to teach where to forage and find water. This all was not without incident - two poults killed by raccoons, 6 killed by marauding wild mink. Raising them was like having a band of unruly wild teenagers. They were amusing, loving and always seeing how many could pile on top of us or sit on our heads. The bigger they got the fewer that climbed aboard. We did keep them away from all other humans, plus we never spoke around them using whistles and notes passed between us. Once they were large enough to be in the outdoor pen (within 3 – 4 weeks) they were never in the barn again. Also, we never took them close to a house or vehicle. We thought all these precautions were key to keeping them as wild as possible.
At 9 weeks we taught them to sleep in the grove near our prairie. Though we think they were teaching us more than we ever taught them. It seems as if most of their instinct was innate and carried over from the generations of Wild Turkeys before them. The first couple of nights - I strapped myself to a tree using a ladder as support and spent the night with poults huddled around me. After the first few days they knew to return to those trees in the evening, though for several nights I did stay with them until they were comfortable in their perch positions high within the limbs. Two days before they left home - they were more obstinate than ever, not wanting to return from our walks in the woods. Finally the day came, I had left for a job out of town and Elaine (my wife) had taken them out to forage as she does all the time. I received the following email from her:
The kids left home... but I saw them this morning! AMEN!
I took the seven out yesterday morning... they followed me down the trails and did not linger long in any one spot as they usually do. When we got to the knoll in the back where they love to take dirt baths, I stopped again, but they wanted to go on to the woods! I just had a feeling that this would be it... the past 2-3 weeks they have really been showing their independence. It has been very difficult to get them back in the cage.
The biggest male had a game he played with me the past couple of weeks when they were in the run. When I would lean over to put down food or water, he would quickly peck at my barrette and take it out of my hair! There would be a few seconds of keep-away and then I would take it back. Well, as we were on the knoll, that male came and stood next to me... I didn’t know what he wanted, so I asked him if he wanted to be petted and as I leaned down to pet him, he stole my barrette! I got it back and then he turned with the rest and headed toward the forest. I went with them... put on my mosquito netting. They went to the rock pile and pecked around for bugs... a couple flew up into the trees. So, I left them there, which is what I have been doing!
When I came back later (after you called), they had moved a little farther into the woods... they would not come with me. I asked God to watch each one and keep them safe, as the tears were streaming down my face! How did we fall in love with wild turkeys???
If I looked at the field once I looked at it hundreds of times all day long, looking for any sign of them, but there was none. I went out several times and walked to the forest edge, but saw nothing.
I left the food and water in their pen, just in case they came back, but I closed it at nightfall so that no other animal would get in there!
As soon as it was light enough this morning, I walked out to the forest area... it took a while, but I found them at the area where you walked them to that tree! I talked to them and then left, but they stayed!
I SO hope that they continue to hang around so you can see them! BUT, they made it through the first night.... may it continue! As much as it hurts to have them leave, we did our job! Just hope that they don’t become someone Thanksgiving Dinner!
LOVE YOU! ME!
It has been nearly two months now since the kids left home. The 7 returned to the wild and hopefully will stay close within our woods. We see them maybe early morning once a week foraging at the edge of the woods but any approach by us - they look but then turn and vanish. I thought they would always come to me no matter what - very sad to have them turn their backs - but I guess we did what we had set out to do. I'll keep you posted if they ever return. By the way – Gracie, the runt we hand fed and sat up with for countless hours - never made it - she was one of the 6 that were killed by the mink – I sobbed for two days.
I was asked if we would ever do it again – maybe not in the near future – but yes I would definitely do it again if opportunity ever presented itself. It was the most rewarding 5 months in the past several years. I would normally spend countless hours doing the mechanical hobby things with nowhere near the rewards and personal satisfaction with a project such as this. We did keep a daily written & photo journal of the poults progress and mainly of the mistakes we made which cost the lives of a few poults. Nature can be very cruel but survival of the fittest hopefully will keep the species around forever.