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Repost: A Lesson onTurkey Eggs

get a lot of questions about turkey eggs. How do they taste? Why can't I find them in stores? How many eggs do turkeys lay?

First, just relatively, here are the sizes of the eggs we see on the farm. We don't raise guineas anymore, but here are the comparable sizes of some eggs. Guineas and Chickens take 21 days to hatch. Turkeys take 28. The shells are thicker, so they are harder to candle. Ducks, well it depends on the breed. We won't get into that, since we are talking turkey today. Even though their eggs are not that much bigger than a chickens', the shells are MUCH thicker! I made hard boiled turkey eggs once and cut my fingers trying to peel them. For an egg that doesn't really taste any different than a chicken egg, is nutritionally similar - but has a much thicker, and harder to break shell, it's not commercially viable as a product. The thick shell makes sense, mama has to be able to sit on these to hatch them, without breaking them! So be careful mixing your turkeys and chickens in the same coop - mama turkey might sit on some chicken eggs, and she'll break them.

So folks often ask me if I sell turkey poults or turkey eggs, and the answer is no. I still haven't hit the ceiling on raising turkeys for meat production for Thanksgiving. So I need to hatch all the eggs I can (so I don't sell them as eggs) and I need all the babies I hatch to grow into meat birds for the fall.

Turkeys lay very sporadically, and they are very picky about where they lay. We lost some hens every year because they wander into a neighbor's field to lay eggs in a big clump of grass or some bushes. If they are outside our fence line, our dogs can't protect them. They get eaten by coyotes, and their eggs get taken by anything from owls to snakes to foxes. They only start laying right around the start of spring, and they'll quit laying by July. Very unlike chickens, who can lay year round. Turkeys are very much driven by biology, they only want to lay when it makes the most sense to hatch their babies and raise them.

We usually incubate all their eggs. It allows us some control over the process, it ensures the eggs are safe (doubt a coyote is going to get into my house and unlatch my incubator...) AND it keeps those ladies laying for their whole season. If a mama stops to hatch, she also stops laying. We have had some mamas wander off and hide in our raspberry bushes and successfully hatch some babies. We even let this nice lady keep her brood, until a few of them disappeared. She wasn't protecting them from predators, so we had to take her babes away and raise them in the brooder. We just haven't seen these turkeys be as bright about where to hatch and how to raise their babies.

Having baby poults outside with their mama, they are ripe for being picked off by airborne predators, which are very difficult to stop. They can also get themselves into trouble. So we'd love to have a mama raise her own babies (we had a chicken do it once, and it was so wonderful). But if the babies don't survive, it isn't worth it.

So turkeys have a short laying season, which doesn't make them ripe for egg production to sell. We only get a limited time for them to lay, and we need to hatch those babies. Also, compared to a chicken - to purchase baby poults from a hatchery for heritage turkeys, they can cost $9/poult or MORE. Baby chicks, depending on the breed, can cost $1-$4/each. So turkey poults are way more valuable than turkey eggs for food.

Another big difference is that meat chickens take 8-10 weeks to get to size. We raise multiple batches of meat birds throughout the year, filling our freezer several times. Turkeys take much longer. Double breasted turkeys take 14 weeks to get to full size. So, yeah, we could have turkey available in summer if we raised double breasted birds in the early spring. However, these guys don't breed naturally, so it's not what I am talking about here.

Heritage breeds take 28 weeks to get to full size. That's more than 6 months my friend. So let's do the math, they don't even start to lay until late march, early April. 28 weeks later, we are looking at mid-October before they are ready. Now do we see why turkey is so popular at Thanksgiving?

The biggest trick has been keeping them home, and keeping them laying in their own coop. Because they would rather do THIS, than go where I want them to go!