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Turkey hens fighting. How can I stop them?

Discussion in 'Turkeys' started by elcarchick, Feb 22, 2016.

  1. elcarchick

    elcarchick Out Of The Brooder

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    I have 4 bbb hen-turkeys that are almost a year old. They were peacefully coexisting until this morning. They have a shelter that they share every night, and they free range during the day. This morning 3 of them started fighting each other. Trying to pull them apart and separate them temporarily simply didn't. Finally one of them lost all the fights and had to hide, and now the remaining 3 turkeys turned agains her. They are ganging up on her and keep viciously tugging at her skin like turkeys do, her face is all scratched up. The only thing I can think of is that we've had a couple of warm spring-like days and this weather might be waking up some of their sexual behavior instincts. One of them started strutting like a tom and making those spitting sounds. Today 2 of them were doing it. My head is spinning lol. My nice peaceful turkeys turned into monsters in just one day. I am new to turkeys and I am having hard time understanding their behavior. Can someone explain why they are doing this and if there is a way I could stop them from fighting? They have been exhibiting sexual behavior since fall - squatting and laying eggs. We used to have a tom, but his legs gave out and we had to slaughter him, and that was about a month ago. I've seen my hens fighting a few times, but those fights never lasted long and they always went back to normal soon after. I've never seen them as aggressive as they are now or the fights going on for so long, or them ganging up against one.
     
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    Unfortunately for you that is how turkeys fight, spring is approaching and they are fighting for dominance. I just let mine go at it. The loser can end up chased for a long time. Sometimes it helps to separate them for a short time, hoping they will calm down. Mine are heritage and the loser will end up in the shed on a roost. Not having a Tom might be makeing it worse.
     
  3. elcarchick

    elcarchick Out Of The Brooder

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    Thanks! It helps! I am trying to understand turkeys behavior since it's so new to me. I've found plenty of info everywhere on how to feed and raise them to butcher, but almost no one discusses their behavior. I wish I could find a book on this subject. I'd love to have a tom, and I figured that it's not good for them not to have one, but I can't get one anywhere now. These were my experimental turkeys. I ordered BBB's because I could order just 5-6. If I ordered heritage, I would have had to order more. I really fell in love with them so much, that this time I've ordered a bunch of heritage turkeys, and my poults would be arriving in just a few weeks. My 3 BBB's kept chasing the loser for a long time, and then it started raining and I finally decided to put them all up in their shelter. They did go after the loser again, but after she got in the corner, they left her alone. As much as I hate to see them fighting, but it looks like I may have to let them just sort it out, separating them doesn't seem to help, because as soon as they are back together, they are right where they started.

    Do you know of any good books on turkeys or other good sources of info? It seems like most books that I find are written for newbies and cover only the basics. Some of the things I am finding challenging are turkey shelters and turkey nests. Chickens know their shelter and their nests and they always return there. My four BBB's all found their own nests in the woods surrounding our house. I was able to track them and just let them use those spots and placed some nest eggs for them to keep them coming back. Yet, every time anything disturbs their nests, like my dog stealing and burying their nest eggs, they would go looking for another nest again, and I have to keep tracking them again. It's okay with 4 laying turkey hens, but I've ordered 17 heritage turkeys and I hope at least 7-9 of them will be hens. Since they are heritage, I assume, they will be even more inventive in their ways to hide their eggs lol. Is there a way to make turkeys lay eggs in certain places without confining them? The same problem happens with shelters. My turkeys do not like any shelters I make for them and do not return there voluntarily. Rain or shine, if they decide to spend the night on the ground under the open sky, that's what they do, so every night I have to coax them to get into their shelter. I do not know how experienced farmers deal with that. I'd be really interested in reading more on the subject of raising truly free-range heritage turkeys, not just to slaughter but through many years of sustainable breeding.
     
  4. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    The only turkey book I have is Storeys guide to raising turkeys, mostly covers husbandry. I have learned most of my knowledge of their behavior by my own observations.

    You are going to be shocked by your heritage turkeys behavior. They will be more rambunctious than your BB, and can hop and fly up pretty high. We have invested some time and money to build a large run attached to their shed. My turkeys would be everywhere and on everything, which drives me crazy, they are like kids with ADD. Turkeys will chose to roost outside if given the choice. I like mine locked up in their run, we do have a roost outside that some sleep on. We do let them out to free range.

    Their shed has sand for scooping droppings daily, 2x4 roosts, 4 up, and I keep their ration in there.

    What you have seen with their nests is what they do. That's another reason I keep mine penned, they find grassy spots to lay so I can find the eggs. They are sneaky, and will change nest locations after a while.

    I started with 17 poults too, weeded out some toms, hatched and raised some poults over the years and have 15 currently.

    You have seen how they fight between each other, mine will often chase my chickens so I keep them separately. You are in for an adventure. Which varieties did you choose?
     
  5. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    Your hens should be fine if the low girl on the totem pole doesn't get injured (BBB's can have a leg go bad without too much stress), in which case the others might finish her off (not common in adults/more common in flock of confined juveniles). As you are planning on heritage, then breeding pen (one tom/one hen), secure, covered nesting location are really necessary. Lightweight tarps, angled on T-posts serve well as light wt. cover. A roll of cheap, black, 2ft. wide garden fabric & some UV resistant cable ties to attach lengths of fabric to fencing can be useful, particularly for breeding (ones that aren't in the pen won't see the breeders and out-of-sight is out-of-mind and will cut down on aggression by the "lonely" boys, after deed is done).

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/850999/turkey-books

    *rules regarding editing of older (years ago) threads prevent my updating link to the video "my life as a turkey" (no longer available through either BBC/PBS - So, if interested:
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2016
  6. elcarchick

    elcarchick Out Of The Brooder

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    Thanks for your responses! I am keeping an eye on mine to make sure that they don't really injure each other, since both chickens and turkeys tend to always want to finish up a weak and bleeding bird. Fortunately, they have enough space to get away from each other, so I have not had any real issues, and when I had some minor issues I would separate an injured bird.

    I've picked a combination of Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts and Midget Whites. I want to see which ones I like the best. This year I was really overwhelmed by the size and fragility of BBB's. When my tom's health gave out suddenly, and he had to be slaughtered asap, or I was risking to lose all his meat, he was at least 50lbs of live weight, and I was alone, my hubby was on a business trip. Considering that I am just over 100lbs myself, this was quite an experience, both emotionally and physically. This is why I wanted to try Midget Whites, quite a bit more manageable lol. They are supposed to be good layers too, and we love turkey eggs. I've read good things about Bourbon reds (meat taste) and Narragansetts (calm personalities). Other than that, I don't know much about them. I've read all I could find online, which is not much at all. I hope I'll get at least one breeding pair of each, and all extra toms will go in the freezer.

    My chickens have their own coop and run, and I usually let them out completely in the afternoon. We have about 5 acres of fenced in wooded area. My turkeys are in a makeshift shelter of tarps and 2X4s for the night, and I usually let them out after feeding them in the morning, so they are used to roaming wherever they please, but they mostly just hang around the house waiting for me. They do get aggressive to chickens, particularly to roosters and I'd see them fighting, but since they are not confined when they all get together, I haven't seen any serious issues. Chicken hens would simply get away if a turkey goes after them, they are a lot faster. My roos like to stand their ground, and they would quite often win, unless turkeys gang up and go 2-3 against one rooster.

    I hope I am not trying to bite off more than I can chew, getting myself into heritage turkeys, but in this one year with turkeys, in spite of just a few of them being a lot more pain and trouble than over 40 laying chickens and over 30 broilers that I had last year combined, I really fell in love with them and want to give it another try. With the BBB's I was left wanting for more, both in their appearance, their sustainability, etc. BBB's are sweet birds, but they can't even mate, and their health deteriorates fast once they reach a certain weight. It's been less than a year, and we had to urgently slaughter a tom (he attempted to mate on a few occasions but his attempts were pretty pathetic because of his size), and another hen before him because she was barely able to walk, in spite of pretty small rations of feed and mostly free ranging.
     
  7. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    You'll probably need to keep only one tom of each variety and be prepared to sell the excess (or send to freezer camp). Be prepared for much flight during the first couple of months (car scratched/taunting you from roof - spray `em with hose). The heritage can be a bit of a handful if not trained. However, they are, in general, as easy going as the BBB's - but, oh, so much faster - sometimes... [​IMG]
     
  8. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    I really like my bourbon reds, I haven't tried the midget white get and the Narragansett I had were both toms and because aggressive so they were butchered.

    Sounds like you understand turkey behavior pretty well already, yours are just fatter and slower than the heritage. You will enjoy them, especially after you figure out what's best for you as far as how to keep them. They do calm down a bit after the first year and can be nice calm birds after that. Though they still will chase chickens. I'm excited for you.
     
  9. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    Our turks remain, several generations on, completely fearful of our chooks. Order of precedence, I've observed, has a lot to do with which species takes the backyard con. Our chicks were raised with BBB poults. Only one BBB survived (all three developed spraddle leg at two weeks). The lame BBB thought it was a chicken and did its best to keep up. The BBB had to be put down, a week before the BS/RP poults arrived, as it had flown off the back deck and the landing wasn't pretty (couldn't stand back up). So, the roo and the girls knew turkeys and took no guff (smallest Gold Sex Link hen would walk right up to a Slate jake, throw out her hen hackles, growl and rush the jake - and away the jake went).

    So, turkey hens with poults keep their distance from the chooks and this is learned behavior that is passed on; the poults that, having grown into toms see the roo approach and off they go to less threatening territory.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2016
  10. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    I've had chickens longer than turkeys, my turkeys are just more rowdy than yours.
     

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