Breeding, Hatching, and Brooding Turkeys

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Preparing for and pampering poults.

Story and photos by Jennifer Sartell

IDEALLY, I WANTED OUR HEN TO HATCH OUT a brood of turkeys and raise them herself. But in the past two springs, our turkey hens have proven to be lacking in the maternal instinct department.

This year, I was determined to hatch some turkey poults, even if it meant using an incubator. I’ve been calling them our “backup” eggs because, in the past, our turkey hens have been spotty with their nesting habits and have failed to hatch out any poults. The ironic thing is, this year, we’ve decided to hatch some of our own, and it seems like our hens are more diligent than ever. So we might end up with a lot of turkeys!

Throughout this process, many people have asked questions about hatching turkeys, and I’ve picked up a common theme from reader comments that there isn’t a lot of information out there on breeding and hatching turkeys. This makes sense as most of the turkeys in the U.S. are artificially inseminated in factory farms. Backyard turkey rearing hasn’t caught on as well as chickens. Some reasons for that might be that turkeys need more space to raise, they’re harder to find (you don’t see them for sale at every feed store in the spring), and they’re not usually raised for egg production.

Raising Turkeys

Turkeys are a different kind of commitment than chickens. While they do lay edible eggs, turkeys haven’t been bred generation after generation to produce eggs the way domesticated chickens have. In my experience, turkeys will lay really heavily throughout the spring, and then production sort of dwindles throughout the summer and into fall. We decided to incubate turkey eggs in much the same way that we hatch out chicks. So, if you’re familiar with that process you should do great with turkeys.

Turkey Breeding

We started with nine turkeys from our original flock. That year, we processed five, leaving the biggest and best-looking tom and four of our best-looking hens. These are our breeding stock.

To help you select your breeding pair, learn about what your breed should look like. Visit poultry shows and study the first-place winners. Sometimes, the judges leave comments on the cages which can be very insightful. Otherwise, choose the most healthy and vibrant pair from your stock.

Laying and Egg Fertility

Our turkey hens started laying their second spring. They were about 10 months to a year when we first started seeing eggs. We raise heritage Black Spanish turkeys. It takes these heritage breeds a little longer to fully mature.

Turkey eggs each have 10.8 grams of protein and 933 milligrams of cholesterol. For some people that’s a lot of cholesterol, but if used judiciously, turkey eggs are delicious and make for unique dishes.

Our birds breed naturally, without the use of artificial insemination. Once the hen is laying, there’s a good chance that your male is old enough to start doing his part. Our turkeys are very discrete, and I rarely see them mate but try to get a visual of the deed being done. Make sure they’ve worked things out and that the male has mastered his form. Sometimes things can be clumsy in the beginning, and you want a secure mating pattern to ensure fertile eggs.

After the hen is mated, she’ll lay fertile eggs for up to 10 days. The further out from the conception date, the lower the chance of fertility. If your tom is mating with your hens regularly, then eggs can be collected with consistent fertility.

Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle eggs as the oils in your skin can block the invisible pores on the outside of the eggshell. Keep the nesting box clean so you have a better chance of collecting clean eggs. Clean eggs hatch better because debris blocks the pores of an egg, and it can also be a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, especially in a warm, moist incubator. If your egg is soiled and you don’t have the option to swap it for a clean one, let the area dry and then brush off what you can with a dry, stiff bristle brush.

Eggs should be collected daily and stored pointed-end-down in temperatures between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A cool, dry place like a basement works well. Once you have a nice clutch collected, the eggs can go into the incubator at the same time. This works best because you can treat all the eggs with the same processes as incubation progresses, and all your poults will hatch on roughly the same day.

The Specifics of Hatching

Turkeys incubate for 28 days at 100.5 degrees F. We used our Brinsea Mini Advanced incubator which would technically hold seven eggs, but it would be tight, especially after they hatched. We set five eggs and three were fertile.


You can candle your turkey eggs starting around day five or six. The shell of a turkey egg is pretty thick, and it can be difficult to see what’s going on. To candle, move into a dark room and hold a flashlight at the bottom of the egg so the light glows through. You should be able to see the hint of veins spreading across the eggshell. If you can’t see this, give the egg a few more days. I was certain one of our eggs was infertile, but after 2 weeks, it was progressing right along with the rest.

Hatch Prep

On day 26, stop rotating the eggs and double the humidity. On our Brinsea Mini Advanced, the eggs stop turning automatically and we add water to the second chamber in the center of the incubator. On this day, I also like to get our brooder ready. Get the feeders and waterers washed, and get the temperature regulated using a thermometer. You want it between 95 to 100 degrees F.

Newly hatched poults stay warm and dry out in a small incubator.

Hatching Begins

Our turkeys pipped on day 28. Right on schedule. Pipping is the first crack of the eggshell made from the inside with

the poult’s egg tooth. The egg tooth is a small, hard lump on the end of the beak that the turkey will use to break through the shell.

The pip is usually a pyramid-shaped break and from there, you want what is often called a zipper crack, where the poult breaks the shell apart, creating a division around the circumference of the egg. It will thrust against the two shell halves slowly opening up the shell.

Hatching takes hours, so be very patient. The chicks will make progress little by little followed by long periods of resting.

We helped separate some of the fibers after the membrane had dried and turned a tan/tight brown color. That way I knew that the poult had absorbed the blood/fluid from the veins that are in this layer.
Soon after, the poult unhinged that middle section and popped off the top of the shell.

Once a chick is hatched, I usually try to let them fluff out in the incubator, but the turkeys were slightly taller than chicks, and I felt like they were having some space issues, so I let them fluff out in the brooder. If you do this, make sure the temperature of your brooder is between 95 to 100 degrees F before you place the poults inside. Freshly hatched poults are damp and can catch a chill very easily. Move them quickly and surround the poult with your hands until you reach the brooder.

This last poult needed a bit of assistance. The inner membrane was shredded instead of torn like a zipper. This is most likely due to a humidity issue. Probably because we opened the incubator to get the first two poults out, we let out too much moisture.

Brooding Checklist

  • A turkey brooder is very similar to a chick brooder, so if you’ve ever set one up for chicks you’re ahead!
  • They need a safe, dry container.
  • Bedding: Pine chips work best.
  • A source of heat, like a heat lamp.
  • Thermometer.

Make sure the brooder has an area where the heat lamp isn’t as direct so they can move to this cooler space and regulate their temperature. This is also a good place to store the waterer so it doesn’t get too hot.

Raise the heat lamp each week to lower the temperature of the brooder by five degrees. This slowly weans them of that warmth until they feather out.

Food and Water

Poults learn how to eat and drink from their mother. So, for the first few days, you’ll have to be Mom in this department. Show the poults their water by carefully picking up the poult and dipping the tip of the beak in water. Repeat this a few times a day until the poult is eating and drinking on its own.

You’ll also need chick grit (available at feed stores), which is tiny gravel that helps a bird digest its food.

Buy a waterer designed for newborn poultry. For the first few days, you can add an electrolyte supplement to the water to give weak poults a boost.
Have food available at all times. Turkey poults really are easy to raise. They’re less messy than chicks (in my opinion) because they don’t tend to scratch and throw bedding everywhere. The water stays clean, and they’re gentle birds. Turkeys really are an amazing addition to our farm. I’m so blessed to have been able to experience these animals’ full circle of life. We’re back where we began with a second generation of turkey poults in the brooder

Jennifer Sartell is a caretaker of all the animals on her farm: milker, shearer, hoof trimmer, vaccine administer, animal midwife, ailment fixer, chin scratcher, hug giver, egg collector, chick and turkey hatcher, feeder, and waterer. She can drive a tractor, run a sickle bar blade, a rake, baler, plow, disk and seeder. Jennifer is a mad weeder, planter and gardener, honey harvester, maple tree tapper, hay bale stacker, stall cleaner, and fence fixer.

You can read about all of Jennifer’s activities on her blog or follow her on Facebook.

Originally published on the Community Chickens website and in the October/November 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine. Regularly vetted for accuracy.

Source link

Leave a Comment