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Are you our mother?

PUBLISHED: 10:47 28 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:52 28 October 2014

The Light Sussex hen with the two turkey chicks she hatched

The Light Sussex hen with the two turkey chicks she hatched

Archant

Smallholder Andrew Rock, from Lincolnshire, tried an experiment - to use a chicken to hatch turkey chicks. He explains what happened...

Mum... why do you look so different to us?Mum... why do you look so different to us?

I keep a breeding trio of Norfolk Black turkeys and each year raise some chicks for Christmas. The laying season of my turkey hens is relatively short so to maximise the number of chicks and ensure a reliable hatch rate, I put the fertile eggs in an automatic incubator. This year however, the sudden demise of my turkey stag meant an emergency change to the normal routine.

Mr Turk, as he was rather unimaginatively known, had been ‘treading’ his hens for a few weeks before he suddenly dropped dead one afternoon. With no signs of being unwell or off a fight or struggle, I think he may have had a heart attack. The eggs being laid by the hens would continue to be fertile for some weeks so I quickly saved up enough to fill my incubator. I normally incubate a second batch of eggs after the first have hatched but that would not work this year as the eggs would no longer be fertile. I had often wondered whether a broody chicken could successfully hatch turkey eggs and decided to try one on a batch of six eggs.

A Light Sussex hen was given the important job and soon settled on her clutch of large, brown speckled eggs and seemed to be able to turn them without any problems. All was looking hopeful but turkey eggs take four weeks to hatch compared to three weeks for chicken eggs and I was therefore still concerned that the hen may give up on the eggs before they hatched. I was also worried that she would be surprised by the rather odd looking chicks she may hatch.

Three weeks passed without any problems and on the fourth week the eggs hatched. There were three chicks, the other three eggs were not fertile. One chick was abandoned soon after hatching, I’m not sure why. This left the hen with two healthy chicks to look after from six eggs. Not a very good hatch rate but it is useful to know that a broody hen can successfully incubate turkey eggs.

The two chicks are now four weeks old and already looking rather large and decidedly turkey like. Soon they will join my main flock of adult chickens and the turkey hens. I wonder if they will then have an idea who their true mother is.

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