These were taken in June. The birds are larger, especially the turkeys and a few of the broilers. A couple of the broilers in this series are pushing 5 months of age and are as big as a good sized capon. It’s not surprising that they are cockerels. I’ll be slaughtering them after everyone gets finished with the withdrawl for the coccidia treament. I’m very interested in seeing just how big the older broilers dress out as and if they are as tender as I think they will be. It’d be nice to be able to raise a pastured bird that could sub for a capon, as I don’t know how to caponize, don’t want to learn how, and don’t want to pay someone else to do it. Plus it’d be nice to just be able to start out with all the same batch of chicks, and let some go long in grow out. It’ll simplify everything, and keep costs down.

broiler and turkey poults

A cornish cross broiler and the turkey poults around the water pan.

You can see in this pic how much bigger the broiler is than the turkeys, even though he’s only about a month older. This pic was taken a month or so ago. The turkeys are bigger, and so is the broiler.

broiler

"I think I stepped in something...." Easy to do out here with so many birds running around.

The grass is really showing the fertilizer. Harold was worried that we wouldn’t have much grass this year in the back yard because of the birds trampling it over the winter. He needn’t have worried. The grass this year has been heavy and lush due to the chicken manure and a cool, wet spring/early summer.

The noble Cornish Cross broiler, foundation of the meat chicken industry.

I’ve been running the broilers with the laying hens. In reading about pastured poultry, which just about everyone seems to be growing in chicken tractors, I’ve heard a lot about these birds being dim, not moving much, etc. They also have problems associated with rapid growth caused by genetics geared to rapid feed conversion (incredibly fast growth) and perhaps the high protein feed given these birds in the form of grower finisher.

I’ve been feeding them the same 16% layer pellets that the layers are on, and running them loose with the layers encourages them to be very active. The broilers are every bit as active as the layers and layer pullets, foraging, resting, running hither and yon and even occasionally a short flight. My goal is to allow the birds to mature slower while developing heavier bone and a richer flavor. I’ll see how successful my experiment is when I slaughter all of them the first week of August.

Young turkey poults foraging. These birds were around 2 1/2 months old.

Young turkey poult approx. 2 1/2 months old.

The turkeys are constantly foraging. While the chickens treat the layer pellets as their regular food and bugs, grass and other greens as a snack, the turkeys see the forage as their regular food and the layer pellets as a snack.

These are bronze turkeys, not the broad breasted bronze, but a different kind of bronze. The breed began as a cross between a naragansett turkey and the eastern wild turkey. They are the tamest turkeys I’ve ever worked with. I used to breed the big Rio Grande wild turkeys, the largest north american wild turkey if I remember right. Those birds tamed down and were easy to work with, but nothing like these birds. I started out with 10 poults and wound up with 4 – 3 hens and one tom. I lost two the first week I had them and the rest were lost to predators. Hopefully these will make it through the winter and be breeding next year. If they do, I’ll be incubating eggs and will be able to offer turkeys to the CSA members.

These and the wild turkeys have a very different carcass than what you’re probably used to at the store. Commercial turkeys are bred, like commercial meat chickens, for an abundance of breast meat. While these birds do have a fair ammount of breast meat (lets face it, they have to in order to fly), the carcasses are more like a giant pheasant when dressed out. An additional advantage to the slighter frame on these birds is that they can breed naturally, no need for artificial insemination or collecting of the toms, which I don’t know how to do, nor want to know how to do. My philosophy on animal reproduction is that they should be able to do that themselves. I’ve never been a big fan of AI, for any breed or species.

Hmm, we just know there's a way in to that cat food!

One night I ran across a ‘possum in the back yard. The critter was out foraging. At the time we were loosing both chickens and turkeys to predators. One bird we lost to a raptor, the rest to ground predators. I didn’t think the ‘possum was responsible (if you’d seen it you’d know what I’m talking about), but we were also loosing eggs and the ‘possum would be responsible for that. I went and set up the live trap and baited it with a can of cat food. I keep these small cans in the pantry for JD, they’re his paycheck for coming in at night.

I never did catch the ‘possum, but these three hens were just sure they could get the cat food without actually going in the trap. I’ve innadvertently trapped chickens before, and perhaps one or two of these girls were the ones I’ve trapped before.

Moose's Nemisis - the Golden Laced Wyandot rooster

We have a big White Rock rooster named Moose. He used to be the dominant roo out here. He wasn’t nasty about it or anything, he was just the dominant roo. If one of the hens was being harassed by one of the other roos, she’d start squawking and Moose would come to the rescue. He’d either block the other roo or knock the roo off the hen and give chase for 5′-10′ and then drop it. Or the hen would run over to him and duck behind him, which would stop the other roo from chasing.

One evening, I didn’t see Moose in the coop with the hens. I looked around the barn and found him in the loafing shed. He’d been in a fight, I suspicioned it was with one or more of the other roos who finally worked up the nerve to challenge the old boy. The other bird(s) won and Moose’s comb was bloodied pretty badly and his eye was swollen shut. I picked him up and put him in the kennel so he’d be safe and could heal up. I kept him in the kennel for a couple weeks, during which time his body healed, but I think his spirit was broken on that day. Moose hasn’t been the same since. He doesn’t hold his tail feathers up very often, just when the occasional hens comes over to say hi. He does a little better now that the turkeys are usually roosting with him in the kennel. Moose has long since been released from the kennel, and is able to roam free, only being locked up at night with the turkeys to keep them safe from the night predators. But he doesn’t court the hens much any more and seems depressed most of the time.

Moose and this roo are the only two I have right now for the hens. I’ve sold the rest. This bird will take off after Moose, who just will not defend himself, and I’ve always wondered if this is the one who knocked the king off his throne. He’s a proud bird, as was Moose. Moose is pretty good at staying out of sight when this roo’s around, and when I do see that the roo’s spied Moose and he heads toward the old boy, I intercept him and send him off in a different direction, keeping an eye on him for a bit to make sure he doesn’t do a U-turn and have another go at him when I leave.

So often I hear people say than animals have no feelings, no emotion. After 35+ years of working with, observing and training a wide variety of animals, both domesticated and captive/tame wild, I would have to say that not only do they have emotions, but that’s the primary driving force in most of their behavior. Be it fear, pride, anger, other types of aggression, joy, or sorrow, so much of what animals do is driven by emotion. What other explanation for the proud carriage of the stallion trying to impress the mares or the battle royal for territory, food, protection of young or the herd? What explanation for the panicked flight from danger?

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