Getting to Work

The turkeys are getting to work. Yesterday afternoon, the kids helped me move the the turkey poults (now about three weeks old) from the brooder to a pasture pen. With the kids poking at the poults from one end of the brooder, it was easy for me to grab each bird and get them all into a cardboard box for transport.

The final count, after all brooder deaths: 10 Bourbon Reds and 8 Broad Breasted Bronze poults still alive. Not great, but enough. Hopefully we won’t lose too many more before Thanksgiving. I think the high brooder death rate was due to a sudden and unexpected drop in temperature, and I didn’t have a large enough heat lamp in there at the time. Once I realized how cold it had gotten, and the poults were dropping like flies, I installed the bigger heat lamp and the deaths ceased.

All 18 poults, plus a couple of stray ducklings, are now ensconced in a pasture pen and are ready to get to work. The pen is 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, with solid plywood walls on two sides and chicken wire mesh on the other two sides, with barbed wire woven in to discourage predators. The top is made of scrap sheet metal. Inside, the birds have a five gallon watering can and a pan of food.

The beauty of these pastured poultry pens, inspired by Joel Salatin, is that they allow the birds to be moved to fresh forage every day. Right now, the poults are so little that we’ll leave the pen in place for several days between moves. There, they’ll chomp down all the weeds inside the pen. Once they’ve decimated that area, and the pen moves, they’ll get to work clearing the next 6′ x 8′ space. And so on, across the property they’ll go, clearing weeds and getting moved off their droppings to fresh clean forage every day. If the pen gets too crowded (and it will, when the birds are fully grown), we’ll split some of them off to another pen.

The vineyard has several of these pens in it, just waiting for turkeys and chickens. Once filled with birds, we’ll run those pens up and down the aisles of the vineyard. It’s a wonderful system: the birds clear the weeds, eat bugs, and then provide the vineyard with fertilizer. It’s “ecology” at its very finest.

2 thoughts on “Getting to Work

  1. Your blog is one of my daily reads — thank you! How do you move the turkey pen? Must you remove the poults each time? Is it a multi-person job? Thanks!

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  2. The pen is quite easy to move, and all the birds stay in it. I must remove the waterer, and the feed pan. I then grasp the narrow end of the pen, and slowly drag it forward. Hopefully, the birds walk along with the pen (my kids follow the pen and kick at any stragglers before the pen hits them — the birds get the hang of it quickly, especially once they figure out they’re about to get fresh grass).Once the pen has traveled exactly one pen length, I put the waterer and feed pan back in and replace the loose portion of lid.Our pens are so easy to move because they’re small. Joel Salatin, the guru of pastured poultry, uses significantly larger pens. Those larger pens need a wheeled dolly device to help move them.

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