When they are still inside the egg shell and during the first six months of their lives, everything wants to eat young turkeys. To survive this dangerous time, they need two things: protection from predators and good nutrition.
“Bugs, bugs, bugs and hiding places,” explained Dr. Allan Houston, professor of wildlife at the University of Tennessee. “If poults don’t have lots of protein from bugs their first six weeks they cannot make feather follicles and won’t survive. Find plants that hide babies and hold bugs, and you will have fast-growing healthy baby turkeys.”
The plants on this list are excellent choices to bring hens to your property to nest and raise their broods. Many give the moms protection while setting and later also protect the poults from the snatch and grab of overhead raptors and ground-dwelling carnivores. Several of these plants are probably already growing on your land, others may have to be planted and encouraged.
- Warm season grasses and forbs: These plants are most important when hens are setting and during the poults’ first dangerous days until they can fly. A good mix of plants like big and little bluestem make for safer nesting, poult protection and are a draw for insects. These grasses do well in food plots, on power or pipeline cuts, and in other open areas.
- Ragweed: During early summer, the ragweeds are a major bug draw. The large number of seeds ragweed drops each fall contain the highest amount of useful protein of any grain — wild or domestic. If you and the people around you can stand the sniffling and sneezing caused by this allergy-causing plant, ragweed seed can be bought and planted around food plots. Giant ragweed plants can grow more than 15 feet tall, so they are also good nesting and poult cover.
- Alfalfa: Especially in the west, alfalfa plots are a big draw for hens and their broods. Bugs are usually found in alfalfa fields, and the tender buds, leaves and shoots add plant protein to the diet of growing birds.
- Partridge peas and other vetches: Midsummer to early fall, larger patches of these plants produce enough seeds to feed even the biggest brood.
- Oaks, pines, beech, dogwood and other mast-producing trees: By fall, the poults have grown feathers and are strong fliers. They no longer require as much animal protein and increasingly consume more plant-based foods. Acorns, black cherry, persimmon and other fall tree fruits become much more important. These trees also provide them roosts high above night predators.
Planting or encouraging these type plants can provide poults with the necessary surroundings for not only survival, but a healthy beginning.