Food & Drink

Some baby turkeys are gone, long before Thanksgiving

We have had a heck of a time with turkeys this year. There is a common saying that turkeys come into the world looking for a place to die.

We got 80 baby turkeys on June 26, a mix of 60 broad-breasted bronze hens and 20 heritage-breed Bourbon Reds. I ordered 80 turkeys in the hope of raising 60 to maturity.

We expect a 15 to 20 percent loss because we do not use medicated feed. And personally, I don't feel that makes a difference.

We lost a few, as expected. I got home from the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market two days after the babies arrived and it was hot, around 99 degrees, so I unplugged the two heat lamps.

Usually, I take a long nap on Saturday afternoons after the market, but this Saturday, I was delivering bales of oat straw to a neighbor.

A black storm blew up and the temperature dropped into the low 70s. By the time I got back, around 7:30 p.m., the 3-day-old turkeys had piled up along the walls of the brooder. I plugged the heat lamps back in and shooed them underneath.

I went to check around 9 p.m. and they had piled up in a dark corner of the brooder, where four had smothered. I thought I had fixed the problem, but when my wife, Jenifer, checked them Sunday morning, 20 more had smothered.

We lost half of the June batch, 40 turkeys worth $200, within three days.

I immediately ordered the only turkeys available, 50 white tom turkeys, which arrived a couple of weeks ago.

When Jenifer went to pick up the day-old turkeys at the post office that morning, eight of the 50 were dead in the box. Another nine died later that day.

We have been getting chickens and turkeys via the U.S. Postal Service for years and have never had the problem we experienced this year. And it's not the post office's fault.

It is an odd feeling to raise turkeys and try to keep them alive for the first couple weeks of their lives, only to kill them for Thanksgiving.