The summer is half over, school is about to start back, and I am finally doing this post. Yeah, I’m slack 🙂 Life has been a whirlwind, it seems like the days go by so quickly and so much happens in both your own life and friends lives, and something like a blog that is only around to help share information and help others gets put by the way-side. Amazingly enough (to me anyhow) it seems like you guys are still reading these little blurbs of small-time farm life and experiences, so here goes…
Blue Slate Turkeys…. They are a heritage breed of turkey and very rare today, and I have noticed breeding so far is more focused on just producing them rather than selecting the finest and breeding them for vigor and size along with good temperament. They are considered a small to medium sized turkey breed; ours remind me of lightweight Jersey Giant chickens… which means you might be better off with the chickens. They are very pretty with their slate grey colored plumage, which can vary from lavender to darker grey, and even white and black pop up. The color is caused by a genetic mutation and there are two color genes that account for the color, one dominant and the other recessive, thus a bit of unpredictability.
Two friends and I went in together and each bought 8 poults this spring. We wanted a turkey that could reproduce on its own and forage and be a bit larger than chickens we have for laying. A couple of us have found that these are rather dumb birds that take some learning curves as they learn to stay safe from the elements. One friend had hers outside on the ground with her chickens from about 6 weeks on. She lost 2 birds, but after that the others have grown well. Hers are the largest and healthiest of the bunch between the three of us, and they forage well and stay close to home. The tom is very protective of the property and turns bright red and fluffs up for visitors. They are very social with the family and roost on their front porch.
Another friend has all 8 of hers still. They were kept caged and handled daily, put out on new grass patches every day and protected from the elements. They have been moved to an old chicken coop and slowly allowed some freedom. They are doing well enough, but not nearly as large as the first friends.We have narrowed down protein levels as being the issue. The cage-free turkeys at the first friends are eating tons of bugs and worms, where the others were not.
Mine are also small and under-developed. I put them out to free range as soon as they were feathered out but promptly lost 2 to the elements. They refused to go under any shelter when it rained and got too cold. I had a third one go down and found her wet and shivering, so I lured them all back into shelter and closed them up. They stayed alive and grew decent on the feed, but not like the first friends. They are not inclined to actually eat vegetation, but they can fly like you wouldn’t believe and love to roost on top of barns and houses. I recently made an outdoor run with roosts for my birds (covered with wire so they don’t fly off) and they are doing much better. They are growing faster and getting more color and there are lots of bugs since they are down at the edge of the swamp. They love the outdoor roosts and have learned to go inside to escape the rain. I am hoping that soon I can train them to come back to that space and give them free range time as I want to train them to be self-sufficient. However, I can’t afford to lose any more, so I need to at least get some fertilized eggs to do another hatch before I release them. Eventually I will select carefully for strong birds with good sense and personality and actually try to breed these birds and improve the genetics I have. I have no idea what range of genetics my friends and I have among our birds, but I am hoping for enough to not create an inbreeding situation.
To summarize our experience, the blue slate turkey is truly an efficient forager, though a bit flighty. They eat way less than even small chickens when confined but need a high-protein feed or maggots fed to them if you want them to grow well. They need outdoor space to reach sexual maturity and to be healthy and happy, and air space to spread their wings and play if confined. They are rather slow learners but can become fairly attached to people which can be an annoyance when they join you up at the house every night. The ones we got from the hatchery are not going to be as big as advertised, it will take some selective breeding to achieve that. All said, I think I would have preferred a heritage bronze turkey and may eventually order some of them depending on how breeding efforts go. I am not counting on these birds to actually hatch and raise any poults since they seem a little “dense”. If your goal is to help keep a lovely heritage bird around and are willing to breed selectively this may be a good choice, but don’t expect to get these and have Thanksgiving turkey for a huge family; a large breed of chicken would be a better choice.