I recently decided to try to add to my skill set by doing something I had not tried before. Raising birds from eggs. I have included raising animals as part of my long term survival plan for TEOTWAWKI. And in my usual fashion I needed to try it first to feel comfortable in listing it as a skill to be used if the situation arose.
There are many reasons that would require the need to hatch birds from eggs. Even if you have your flock already, what would happen if they were to become sick and die leaving you with just eggs? Or if a fox got into the henhouse (literally) and ate all your adult birds. Or a neighbor barters with you for some eggs but doesn’t have enough adult birds to spare. I even thought about the wild birds and wondered if I were to find a nest with duck or goose eggs would I have the skills to utilize these resources.
With my limited knowledge on the subject my first stop was a few internet searches to get some basic information on supplies. What I found was the need for an incubator. This is a container that is made to maintain a steady temperature and humidity for the hatching eggs. This can be as simple as a converted cooler for a few dozen eggs, or as elaborate as a large commercial incubator to handle hundreds or thousands. With preparedness in mind I found plans for converting an old refrigerator into a suitable incubator. (There are many plans available on a variety of web sites for you to choose which might fit your needs) I also came across a commercially available incubator call the “Hovabator”. I was impressed with this model and decided to order it as the cost was minimal and included all the needed parts including a thermometer. When it was delivered I was pleased and impressed with the incubator as well as the detailed instructions and helpful hints. This unit uses standard household 110 volt power however it requires very little power and I did run it for a few days on a deep cycle marine battery hooked to a 750 watt power inverter. After three days there was almost no power loss shown on my volt meter. I would estimate that the battery would easily run this incubator for two weeks before needing to be swapped for a charged battery. However I did set it up in my garage with an average summer time temperature of around 88 degrees, so it required less heating than if running during a cooler season. The instructions suggested a temperature of 100-101 degrees for most species of game birds. Once I had the incubator set up, I ran it for a few weeks to check the reliability. After the initial trial it was now time to pick my eggs.
For my first shot at hatching I wanted to pick a species that would be common for my area but would also be something that I may come across in the wild. And of course cost would be a consideration as well. I first thought quail eggs would be interesting, but they are such a small bird that a large number would be needed to use as a food source. I finally decided on the Eastern Wild Turkey. We have a great population of these game birds on our hunting lease and I thought with their size that the food value would be high. I searched for a company that could supply me with a dozen eggs for the first hatch. I located several breeders but chose B&D Game Farm , based on their informative web site.
I would like to recommend this farm and their quality products. I ordered a dozen eggs online for less than I could buy two frozen turkeys at the grocery store. I did have to wait an extra week for delivery as one of the owners explained over the phone that their wild turkey flock had slowed down on their laying and that a lot of people had been ordering this breed from them. Once the eggs arrived I was pleased to see all the additional information that came along with these eggs. Including a detailed hatching booklet with specific care instructions.
Now it was time to begin the incubation. The eggs were placed in the incubator at 100 degrees. I also added approximately ½ cup of water to the bottom of the tray to keep the humidity high enough. Suggested humidity is 50% up until the last few days where a slight increase is desirable. Water was added every three to four days as needed. Each egg was placed on the tray and was marked with an “X” on one side and an “O” on the other using a #2 pencil. The instructions for the turkey eggs recommended turning the eggs 2-5 times per day and the X’s and O’s would help me to keep track of which side was up. I would recommend at this point that if you do want to hatch a large quantity that you invest in an automatic turner for your incubator. Turning the eggs by hand everyday was fun the first few days and after that become a chore I would pass on to the kids.
The turkeys hatched in 28 days. There are many birds that will hatch sooner and a few that will take longer, but most will be between 14-30 days. Chickens are 21 days, and quail are 14 days. It is best to find out what your chosen breed will be because it is recommended that you stop turning them 2-3 days before they hatch.
Small cracks and then small holes began appearing the morning of the 28th day. The turkeys were trying to get out. Unfortunately the kids wanted to try to help them and we lost one to slippery fingers. Another helpful hint: Do not try to help the chicks by breaking their eggs. They will do fine by themselves if the chicks are healthy. Out of the dozen eggs we lost one to a cracking early on and another to clumsiness and three did not hatch at all, but considering this to be my first try I felt good to have eight out of twelve successfully hatch out. For the poults (turkey chicks) it is okay to leave them in the incubator for up to 24 hours after hatching for them to stay warm and dry off, but then they need to be moved to a brooder or a warmed enclosure. Again with summer temperatures in the south being on the warm side I used a cardboard box and hung a light bulb placed 15” over the box for warmth at night. You may need to have a more elaborate set up in the winter months or in a cooler climate.
Feeding and watering is a simple process and commercially available feed or “scratch” is very inexpensive and available at any “feed and seed” store. Although it appears to be a mix of crushed grains with corn being the main ingredient. An older gentlemen at the feed store mentioned he used to take two handfuls of corn to one handful of wheat and grind until almost a powder when he was feeding his chicks. For those of you who require more technical information a meat bird is recommended to have a diet of at least 18-25% protein base to help it reach its full weight. The feeding trays and water trays should be very shallow as the birds will peck and get it all over themselves [or drown] if given to them in deep trays.
I lost two more birds in the first week but after that they have been growing nicely. I expect them to be full size in another 4-6 months. I have shot wild turkeys upwards of twenty pounds and with these birds being farm raised I hope they will be at least that weight.
I constructed a pen using hardware cloth nailed to poles. It is four feet high and approximately 20’x10’. I also added an old shrub and a three sided wooden box to help give them some protection for inside the enclosure. Right now a few handfuls of feed thrown in the enclosure is about all that is needed and of course a water tray. I do plan on raking out the enclosure each week and laying some straw or sawdust in the bottom.
This experiment has taught me several things. The most important of which is the confidence and basic techniques of raising birds for food in a TEOTWAWKI situation. I plan on doing several more test runs of a variety of birds. My wife has mentioned she would like a few peacocks to add color to our yard. But I’m thinking maybe a few guinea hens or regular laying hens for the next batch. At the very least we will end up with a few chicken dinners and eggs to go with the venison sausage that I made last fall.