In Hollywood when two beings complete each other it makes for a great movie. On the farm it is just one of those small dramas that makes you smile at the way the world works. This week we experienced one such drama.
We raise several hundred turkey poults a year and have seen various hatching problems over the years. One that is particularly frustrating to me is the scenario where a poult hatches normally but then its legs keep extending – as if pushing – to such a degree that it can neither stand nor walk. I have a theory that this issue is caused by improper hatching – if a poult does not expend enough energy “pushing” to open the shell of its egg then the muscles still instinctively feel they need to push and thus they extend the legs to the point of hyper-extension. These poults just roll around the hatcher or scoot themselves along like a surfer on a boogie board. I have been able to get a few to recover with “therapy” – holding their legs in place and letting them push with all their might until exhausted. It takes a lot of time and the success rate is very low. Even those that seem to recover are later prone to joint displacement and lameness.
This week we had just such a poult hatch in the incubator. As I contemplated whether or not I should attempt therapy (and risk the heartache of later having to put down a poult that I would become attached to) I remembered the Bourbon hen in my front yard. This hen had made her nest in our yard close enough to the front door that any attack from a racoon would immediately alert the house dogs and thus us – so I left her to hatch her eggs. Sadly, while this hen had the dedication needed to hatch poults the quality of her eggs was poor and they were constantly breaking and killing the poults inside. After the last three eggs were crushed under her weight I contemplated removing her from the nest and locking her up to get her over her broodiness. But she was so dedicated to hatching (even though she no longer had eggs) that I had let her be.
A thought arose – what if I put this poult under the hen? The rough ground might provide more traction for his feet. And pushing “up” into the fluff of a hen’s down would provide the necessary resistence and “therapy” as long as he could remain standing upright. On the downside he might roll out from under the hen and freeze or be taken by a crow. Or the hen might crush him if she was not careful. I decided the little guy was probably not going to make it anyways so this would be his best shot. He would at least get to spend a night under his “Mom” hen secure in her warm feathers, listening to her voice as she spoke to him, and responding with his soft poult peeps. And maybe it would give the hen a bit of joy if only for a short time. So when evening fell I put him under the hen – getting bitten quite painfully by the hen for my efforts.
The next morning I almost dread looking under the hen. To my surprise the little poult was upright and seemed to be doing very well. I left food and water within the little families’ reach and left them be. For two days the hen stayed on her nest caring for that poult. She did not leave – she had food and water but no “bathroom facilities” – not quite sure how she did it! She stuck her ground when my two young peacocks attacked her and tried to steal the poult for their supper. She put up with curious cats, careless dogs, and chickens stealing her food. All through it the little poult looked stronger and more alive. Finally I saw him walking around normally as he went to get a drink of water and I knew it was time to move the family.
I put the hen and her poult in a coop where another hen was raising her brood. Despite the other hen’s six turkey poults and twenty young pheasants (who are the same color and size of turkey poults right now) the Bourbon hen can immediately recognize “her poult”. And he recognizes her. They eat together, drink together, and hang out to one side of the coop together. They sleep in a corner of the coop way away from the other birds. They are affectionate and so content with eachother. He needed a Mom and she needed a baby – they have eachother and they are happy.