Poults are extremely susceptible to weather and predators in the first four weeks after they hatch. If they make it past that point, the production is considered a success. It’s important for enough young turkeys to be produced that offset the annual loss, so populations remain sustainable.
Copulation or breeding must first take place for hens to produce fertile eggs.
The timing of breeding is determined by the female turkey and researchers are now learning that physical conditioning may have a greater influence on reproduction. Reserachers believe a hen is not suited to take on the rigors of nesting unless physically in a condition to do so. Therefore, poor conditioning caused by poor nutrition can be blamed for late nesting.
It takes hens about two weeks to lay a full complement of nine to 13 eggs. Hens will only visit the nesting site long enough to deposit her egg for the day. The rest of her time will be spent elsewhere feeding and roosting.
At the end of the laying period, incubation starts. During this time, the hen puts herself in danger to stay on the nest day and night for about 28 days. She needs to bulk up prior to nesting and may take a brief recess period around mid-day to feed on protein-packed insects.
Before hatching, nests are in danger of foxes, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, crows, hogs, dogs and some snakes. After hatching, avian predators, such as hawks and owls also threaten poult lives.
Various studies indicate 10 to 40 percent of nests successfully hatch. Then, only about 25 percent of hatching poults will make it beyond four weeks.
The good news is despite huge predation losses each year. Most areas seem to produce enough surviving young to replenish annual losses. Excluding weather events beyond man’s control, improving brood and nesting habitats can increase the number of young that survive each year.