Friday, April 1, 2011

Two turkey hens lost to a cougar this week

Just a brief digression from my summary of the Premises of Pot Pies and Egg Money: This week we lost two of our four Midget White turkey hens to a cougar. The turkeys like to go a little ways out of the yard and lay their eggs in the thick stand of salal near the edge of the woods. For the past two years, they've always laid their eggs in one of two spots; this, along with their bright white coloring, made it easy to find them, and their eggs.

This year, things have changed. First, the hens have found three entirely new places to make their nests. We've finally located all of them, after literally hours of looking, but unfortunately in two cases, a cougar found the nests before we did. The pile of white feathers in the nest and the trail of more feathers leading to the edge of the canyon and down the steep slope make it clear what happened. (Although this is a smaller-sized turkey, even the hens are too large to be bothered by bobcats; even young cougars are much larger than bobcats.)

As distressing as it is to lose the hens, what added insult to injury was finding the remains of broken turkey eggs in the nests. We were hoping to find intact eggs that could be hatched under a broody hen . We've been keeping a close eye on the remaining hens, and collecting their eggs as quickly as possible. We've got only 7 so far. I'm going to set up one of the broody coops this afternoon and relocate a very broody chicken there to incubate the turkey eggs. The Midget White hens are very good broodies and mothers; however, since we only have two left, we want them to keep laying eggs for as long as possible (they quit laying once they go broody), so we'll use chickens to hatch the turkey eggs for now.

It's a bit disconcerting to think that an animal the size of a cougar (males can weigh up to 275 lbs) is coming so close during the day; the nests are all within less than 100 feet of the house. We've put up some temporary fencing in the area where the turkeys are nesting, and all has been quiet for the past couple of days. At this point, we're not even thinking about Thanksgiving; we're concerned about replenishing our breeding flock.

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