Momma turkey disappeared on us a few weeks ago. We looked high and low for her, suspecting she figured out how to escape her new home. I found her, quietly sitting in the corner of the yard. Our newly constructed poultry yard was quite dense with undergrowth and she easily blended in. As I approached her, she reacted by hissing and puffing up her feathers, a sure sign that we have a broody momma turkey.
What does Broody Mean?
“Broody” refers to a hen who wants to sit to incubate a clutch of eggs. All types of birds can be referred to as broody: chickens, turkeys, ducks, or other type of poultry. Broody behavior by birds typically includes the momma bird puffing up their feathers to look larger, they hiss or make threatening sounds and if the predator persists, they will defend the nest. Momma Turkey displays this broody behavior beautifully in this short clip.
One of our chickens can be counted on for her broody behavior, she gets broody several times a year. We have several times put her to work, by giving her eggs to hatch. We often give her turkey eggs as we do not have a rooster to supply fertile chicken eggs, we have a healthy supply of fertile turkey eggs on hand. You can see an image of her with one of her “fosters” in this post.
Realities of Homestead Life
That first evening after we discovered Momma turkey sitting, she returned to the coop to roost. She had a nice clutch of eggs, eight eggs. She had obviously found this quiet spot early on and was preparing to sit. Returning to the roost is common, especially in the early parts of incubation. Turkeys lay one egg a day, typically, so it had taken her at least 8 days to build her clutch of eggs. She was still in the egg-laying phase of clutch building and had not fully committed to incubation.
Unfortunately, that evening, a predator found momma turkey’s clutch of eggs and took all but two. I say took because there were no broken shells, just missing eggs. A variety of predators can do so: snakes, opossums, raccoons. We also discovered a pile of feathers in the main yard but could account for all the chickens. I was disappointed to lose all the eggs, but thankful that momma turkey had not been lost too.
While we mindfully build our cages to prevent predators, we took the opportunity to beef up the coop. During construction, we bury fencing under the ground that lines the fences lines on both the inside and outside of the coops. This prevents predators from being able to dig under the enclosure. We looked for any weaknesses that needed additional fortification. Philip also took the opportunity to reduce the undergrowth in the newly constructed chicken yard. While the birds enjoy foraging for bugs in the leaves, they are not likely to dig up vines and tree seedlings. The brush was creating cover for any approaching predators that would prevent the chickens and turkeys from being aware of their approach.
Philip also set two traps to trap any predators. A raccoon can easily decimate a flock of chickens in one evening. They typically attack the rooster or tom turkey first, likely because the males try to defend their hens. After that they can go on a killing spree, just killing the birds, not even eating them.
Persistent Momma Turkey
Brood momma turkey remained persistent to build her clutch of eggs. Each day she laid another egg in that same spot. Turkeys do not build a nest like some birds. Turkeys typically dig a shallow hole in the dirt. Nothing fancy at all. As a result, their eggs typically have sand stuck to them. Eggs are wet when first laid and that sand dries onto the shell.
Now I am also persistent, so each evening, I would gather up Broody Momma turkey’s egg and I moved it to a safer spot inside the coop. I picked a nice spot that was fortified on the outside. A predator would not easily just reach through to grab her, a typical approach for raccoons. The spot I choose was sheltered behind a pallet. I dug a little hole for her and each evening, added the egg.
On the final day I collected the egg, Momma turkey had returned to sit and was again displaying broody behavior. This time, I picked up her egg and scooped her up too. I carried her back to the coop, showed her the clutch of eggs I had rescued for her and tried to show her this delightful location I had chosen for her. She was not buying it at all. The next day Momma turkey returned to sitting at the exact spot she had chosen.
Who Won the Battle of Wills?
I’m sure you knew, but I begrudgingly relented. I gathered the clutch of eggs and as she hissed at me, I carefully stuck the 7 eggs I had gathered under her. Ok, momma, here ya go…. Let’s hope the predator doesn’t return.
The next morning, I ran out to check her first thing to make sure she survived the night. All is well, broody momma is sitting her post.
Baby turkeys are called poults. It takes approximately 28 days for turkey eggs to hatch. Some hens will continue to lay for awhile and so the eggs may hatch out over several days.
Turkeys are not typically very good mothers. So many homesteaders opt to hatch the eggs in an incubator to increase the hatch rates. This has been our strategy as well. We have done several groups of turkeys in the incubator. Read more about them. We have also allowed the hens to do all the incubation and take the poults as soon as we find them. Especially in cages where there are multiple birds, the poults can easily get squished by their own mothers. One year, we had a group of three hens all sit together on a huge mound of eggs they had hidden. These poults are even more vulnerable to being crushed.
Broody Momma turkey began sitting full time on her eggs on May 21st. As of the day of this writing, we are on day 7 of the incubation period. She still has just 7 eggs. I so hope this story ends with an adorable group of fuzzy new poults. As with anything in homestead life, we set them up for success the best we can, provide them with the best care and pray. I’d feel better if she was sitting on her eggs in the coop, but she has chosen her spot. I cannot wait to see how she does, I love spring, new life all around.
I’ll pace over here on the outside of the fence, checking her frequently over the next few weeks. Best of luck Momma!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.