Raising Turkeys on the Homestead

Getting started with turkeys is a fun adventure.

We have raised our own for 5 years now, and regret nothing. They are amazing birds, with a unique personality all their own. I love watching them run and play with the chickens, “swim” with the ducks, and take dust baths.

a Royal Palm tom
a Royal Palm tom

We have also had them run up to us to be petted and lay down on our feet to get fed. It’s hard NOT to love them.

What Breed of Turkey Should I Raise?

When it comes to raising turkeys, there are a number of different breeds to choose from.

Different breeds of turkeys have different needs in terms of housing, food, and care, so it’s important to select the right breed for your situation.

The most popular turkey breeds include:

  • Bourbon Red
  • Narragansett
  • Bronze
  • Midget White
  • Blue Slate
Blue Slate turkey hen fighting with reflection
Blue Slate turkey hen fighting with reflection

However, each breed has its own unique set of characteristics, so it’s important to choose the right one for your needs.

If you’re looking for a breed that is known for its excellent meat quality, then the Bourbon Red is a good option.

If you’re looking for a breed that is hardy and easy to care for, then the Narragansett is a good choice.

Broad-Breasted White is another option. This breed is hardy and adaptable, and it grows quickly to reach a weight of 20 pounds or more.

The Broad-Breasted White turkey is also resistant to disease, making it a low-maintenance option for beginning farmers. If you’re looking for a delicious Thanksgiving feast, the Broad-Breasted White turkey is the perfect choice.

And if you’re looking for a breed with beautiful plumage, then the Bronze turkey is a good option. Ultimately, the best turkey breed for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Although there are many different breeds of turkeys, my favorite is the broad breasted white.

This is typically the type you will find in the grocery stores, as their feathers will not leave pin marks and they have a great tasting meat.

Other popular breeds include Broad Breasted Bronze and Beltsville. They have distinct feather colors and patterns, making them a beautiful addition to your yard.

Heritage Breed vs. Commercial Breeds

When it comes to turkeys, there are two main types of breeds: heritage and commercial.

Heritage breeds are the original breeds of turkeys that were brought to the Americas by early settlers. These turkeys are typically smaller in size and have slower growth rates than commercial breeds.

Commercial breeds, on the other hand, have been specifically bred for rapid growth and large size.

While commercial turkeys are widely available, many people prefer the taste and quality of heritage-breed turkeys.

Heritage-breed turkeys also tend to be more hardy and adaptable than their commercial counterparts.

When choosing a turkey, it’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences. If you’re looking for a bird with great flavor, heritage breed is probably the way to go.

However, if you need a bird that will be ready for slaughter quickly, a commercial breed may be a better option.

how to grow turkeys on pasture: brooder tips, shelter, fencing, and feeding

How to Get Started Raising Turkeys

In this post, we’ll outline what you need to do to get started and provide some tips on raising healthy and happy turkeys. Read on to learn more!

What Equipment Do You Need to Raise Turkeys?

To get started, you will need the same things you would need for chicks.

You will need food, water, a brooder and a heat lamp.

The heat lamp needs to be about 18 inches high to keep the heat at around 105 for the first few days, then raised by an inch or two every 4-5 days after that.

They will feather out more quickly than chickens and won’t need the heat as long. The waterer is the same type you would use for chicks. I often add pennies or dimes to the water to draw the poults to drink more.

Turkeys don’t always learn where the water is right away, and the shiny objects will cause them to “peck” more and figure it out.

Raising Turkey Poults

If you’re thinking about raising turkey poults, there are a few things you need to know. First of all, you’ll need to purchase a brooder.

This is a special enclosure that will keep your poults warm and protected from predators. You’ll also need to provide a heat source, such as a heat lamp.

Once your poults are in the brooder, you’ll need to provide them with food and water.

turkey poults in brooder
turkey poults in brooder

Turkey poults require a high-protein diet, so you’ll need to purchase a special turkey feed. You should also provide them with fresh water at all times.

As your poults grow, they’ll need more space, so you’ll need to gradually increase the size of their enclosure.

With proper care, your turkey poults will soon be ready to join the rest of the flock.

Feed and Water for Turkeys

Most turkeys are raised for meat, and they will grow rapidly.

What you feed your turkeys is important, and we choose to feed the “broiler maker” available at our local feed mill. It’s a high protein feed. I have found it marked as 21% protein at places like Big R, or Tractor Supply.

We raise the broad-breasted Whites and Bronze, and they go from poult to full sized — weighing in at 25-30 lbs — in 4 months. We use the lower protein feed their entire lives, knowing it may take a bit longer to get to weight.

What Do You Feed Baby Turkeys?

Baby turkeys, or poults, need to eat a lot of food when they first hatch. In the wild, they would spend their days searching for food with their mother.

However, in a brood, they need to be given a diet that will help them grow healthy and strong. One of the best foods for poults is starter feed.

This is a specially formulated feed that contains all the nutrients that poults need to grow. It is also important to offer poults grit. This helps them to digest their food properly and can also provide essential minerals.

Poults should also have access to fresh water at all times. By providing poults with a healthy diet, you can help them to thrive in their new home.

Housing Turkeys

When raising turkeys, it’s important to provide them with a shelter that will protect them from the elements and predators.

The shelter should be large enough for the turkeys to move around comfortably, and it should have plenty of ventilation to prevent the birds from getting too hot.

The roof should be pitched so that rain and snow will run off, and the walls should be sturdy enough to keep out predators.

Turkeys also like to roost, so the shelter should have a raised platform where they can perch. There are many different types of shelters that can be used for raising turkeys, so choose one that will best meet the needs of your birds.

Obviously, when they are smaller, we try to give them their own space, away from bigger birds.

This is the same as any chick or baby. Once they are bigger, though, ours generally will mingle with the chickens during the day and free range, and will roost with them at night.

They would often go into the coop with the chickens at night when they were younger and smaller. When they get too big to get into the coop, they often just find a spot in the duck barn with them.

girl petting turkeys
girl petting turkeys

How to Sex and Breed Turkeys

By around 2 months of age, you will be able to tell definitely which ones are hens (girls) and which ones are toms (boys).

The toms will begin to puff up on a regular basis. Their faces will get a dark red and purple, and their tail feathers and wing weathers will fan out, to impress the ladies. They will make their “gobble” sound as a beginning mating call.

The easiest way to tell a male turkey from a female is by looking at their tails.

Males have long, fanned tails with colorful feathers, while females have shorter tails with duller feathers. Another way to tell the difference is by listening to their calls.

Males make a loud, gobbling sound, while females make a softer clicking noise. If you’re still not sure, then you can always wait until they mate. The males will mount the females and attempt to mate.

The toms will often grow faster and become larger than the hens. In my personal experience, hens are usually friendlier than the toms as well.

Breeding turkeys is relatively easy, if this is something you’re interested in. If you are, choose heritage breed turkeys and allow the hens and toms to mate.

Once the eggs are laid, incubate them for 28 days before transferring them to a brooding box.

After 8 weeks, the young turkeys will be ready to go out on their own. With a little patience and care, you can successfully sex and breed turkeys of your own.

Turkey Health Issues to Watch Out For

Just like any other animal, turkeys can experience health problems.

Some of the most common turkey health issues include:

  • Newcastle disease,
  • avian influenza,
  • and salmonella

Newcastle disease is a virus that affects the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems of turkeys.

Symptoms include sneezing, wheezing, and greenish diarrhea. Avian influenza is another virus that can affect turkeys. Symptoms include lethargy, decreased appetite, and respiratory distress.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause food poisoning in humans. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

Our Turkey Is SICK!!! [Caring For Sick Poultry]

Turkeys can also experience other health problems such as worms, lice, and mites. A big issue with turkeys is blackhead, which is something I’ll address in a bit more detail below.

In any event, it is important to watch for these health issues and to seek medical attention if your turkey shows any signs of illness.

Can You Raise Turkeys and Chickens Together?

For many people, raising chickens and turkeys together is the perfect way to get the best of both worlds. Not only do they provide a reliable source of eggs and meat, but they also make excellent companions.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to raise these two different types of poultry together. One of the most important considerations is housing.

Chickens and turkeys have different needs when it comes to space, so it’s important to make sure that they have enough room to roam.

Additionally, turkeys can be aggressive towards chickens and vice versa (ironically so, given that turkeys are so much larger than chicks!), so it’s important to monitor their interactions and keep an eye out for any potential problems.

Feed is another issue, since turkeys require more protein than chicks. Chicks getting into turkey’s food (and vice versa) can be problematic. Blackhead is another potential problem, albeit one that’s avoidable.

With a little bit of planning and preparation, raising chickens and turkeys together can be a rewarding experience.

Narragansett tom doing the sexy dance
Narragansett tom doing the sexy dance

Pros and Cons of Raising Turkeys

Turkeys are a popular choice for many homesteaders, but they are not without their challenges.

One of the biggest issues with turkeys is that they can be aggressive, especially the males. This can make it difficult to keep them well-socialized, and they may need to be isolated from other animals.

Another challenge is that turkeys are notoriously messy birds, and their large droppings can quickly foul a coop or run.

However, turkeys can also be a rewarding addition to the homestead. They are relatively easy to care for, and they provide a nutritious source of meat.

Is Raising Turkeys On A Small Homestead Really Worth It?

Are Turkeys Hard to Raise?

Turkeys are notoriously difficult to raise – at least for beginners.

They need a lot of space, and they require special care and attention. Turkeys are also very susceptible to disease, and they can be easily killed by predators. In addition, turkeys are very messy, and they often make a mess of their coop.

Turkeys are fragile creatures, and it is not uncommon for newly hatched turkeys to die within the first few days of life.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to turkey mortality, including lack of proper nutrition, lack of water, and exposure to predators or bad weather.

As a result, it is important to carefully consider all of these factors before deciding to raise turkeys. However, if you are willing to put in the extra effort, raising turkeys can be a rewarding experience.

They need plenty of space (at least 25 square feet) to roam and plenty of fresh, clean water.

They also need a consistent supply of food, including a balanced diet of grain, protein, and greens. Second, turkeys are social creatures and do best when they live in small flocks.

As such, it’s important to provide them with perches and other places to roost. Finally, turkeys are susceptible to a number of diseases, so it’s important to keep their living area clean and free of debris.

Blackhead is a disease that affects turkeys, and can be deadly if left untreated. The disease is caused by an organism called Avian gastric brooder virus, which is found in the environment, such as in dirt and dust.

Once the virus enters the turkey’s body, it attacks the liver, causing it to become enlarged and filled with fluid. Chickens can also transmit this disease, hence the potential issues with shared living environments.

The disease can also cause anemia, weight loss, and death. Turkeys that are infected with blackheads usually have a dull appearance and may act lethargic.

If you suspect that your turkey has a blackhead, it’s important to take it to a veterinarian for treatment. There is no cure for blackheads, but early diagnosis and treatment can help to improve the turkey’s chances of survival.

Not only will you have the satisfaction of producing your own food, but you will also get to enjoy the company of these interesting and amusing birds.

What Do Baby Turkeys Need to Survive?

A baby turkey, or chick, needs care and sustenance to grow into a healthy adult bird. For the first few weeks of life, chicks need a warm, clean environment with plenty of food and water.

They also need to be protected from predators. Once they are a little older, chicks can begin to venture outside, but they still need access to food, water, and shelter.

Are Baby Turkeys Hard to Raise?

Though they may be small, baby turkeys require a lot of care and attention. They need to be kept warm and dry, and their food and water must be regularly changed. In addition, baby turkeys are very susceptible to disease, so they must be vaccinated early on.

As a result, raising baby turkeys can be a challenging undertaking, even for experienced farmers. However, the rewards of watching them grow and thrive can make it all worth it.

Baby turkeys are notoriously playful creatures, and their curious nature often leads them into trouble.

As they get older, they will become more independent and will no longer require such close supervision. But in the meantime, farmers need to be prepared for early mornings and long nights caring for their charges.

What About Raising Wild Turkeys?

Raising wild turkeys can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it does require some special care and attention.

Wild turkeys are native to North America, and they are adapted to life in the wild. As a result, they can be more difficult to care for than domestic turkeys.

However, with a little knowledge and effort, you can successfully raise wild turkeys. Wild turkeys need plenty of space to roam, so they should be provided with a large enclosure.

They also require a diet of bugs and insects, which can be supplemented with commercial turkey feed. In addition, water should be available at all times.

In essence, raising wild turkeys is no different than raising a domestic turkey breed, with one exception – these birds are wild, so they’re more prone to flightiness.

This is something you might find in domestic turkey breeds as well, but you’ll likely find that the tendency to take to the skies is higher in wild birds. You’ll want to have an enclosed run, in most cases.

By meeting these basic needs, you will give your wild turkeys the best chance of survival.

Treating a Sick or Dying Turkey

By following these simple steps, you can help your turkey feel better in no time!

What Are the Signs of a Sick Turkey?

A sick turkey is usually easy to spot. If you notice that a turkey is lethargic or has lost its appetite, it is likely sick.

Other signs of illness include diarrhea, watery eyes, and sneezing. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to isolate the affected turkey from the rest of the flock.

This will help to prevent the spread of disease. You should also consult a veterinarian as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. By taking these steps, you can help keep your turkey flock healthy and happy.

How Do You Help a Sick Baby Turkey?

Baby turkeys, or poults, are susceptible to a range of illnesses, many of which can be fatal if left untreated. Some common signs that a poult is sick include lethargy, poor appetite, and diarrhea.

If you suspect that your poult is ill, the first step is to isolate it from the rest of the flock. This will help to prevent the spread of disease.

Next, consult a veterinarian who can provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

Depending on the illness, treatment may involve antibiotics, dietary supplements, or other interventions. With prompt treatment, most sick poults will make a full recovery.

If your turkey is sick and you are worried about it dying, you might be wondering if you can give it antibiotics.

Antibiotics are a common medication given to turkeys to prevent and treat bacterial diseases. Some common antibiotics used in turkeys include penicillin, ampicillin, and tetracyclines.

Antibiotics are usually given to turkeys through their drinking water. Water medicated with antibiotics is safe for turkeys to consume and will help to prevent and treat bacterial diseases.

It is important to contact a veterinarian before giving antibiotics to turkeys, as some antibiotics are not effective against certain bacteria.

Additionally, it is important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions on how to properly administer the medication.

Butchering Turkeys

When the turkeys are about 4 months old, you will want to start considering butchering.

Due to the rapid growth of the common domestic breeds, many of them just can’t live longer than that. During the heat of summer, they are also opt to “faint” or die just from the heat.

Butchering them yourself is the same as chicken, “they are just bigger is all”. Or you can take them into a local processor to get it done for you. If you get attached to your birds, like I seem to do, then that’s usually a good idea.

One thing to remember with the darker feathered breeds is that they will leave some black marks where their feathers come out.

There is nothing wrong with the bird; it’s just the feather color. It did take a moment to get over this for me the first time, but they cook and taste the same. When cooked, you won’t notice them at all.

Can You Make Money Raising Turkeys?

While most people purchase their turkeys from the grocery store, some choose to raise their own. But can you actually make money raising turkeys?

The answer depends on a few factors, including the type of turkey you raise and the market conditions for poultry.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of turkeys: heritage and commodity. Heritage turkeys are bred for specific characteristics and can sell for upwards of $100 per bird.

Commodity turkeys, on the other hand, are mass-produced for supermarkets and typically sell for around $20 per bird. If you want to make money raising turkeys, your best bet is to focus on heritage birds.

These birds fetch a higher price because they are considered a premium product.

Raising Turkeys For Profit

In addition, the market for heritage turkeys is growing at a faster rate than the overall poultry market. According to the National Turkey Federation, sales of heritage turkeys have increased by double digits in recent years.

Of course, you’ll want to take into account your expenses and have a detailed list of everything it will cost to raise turkeys before you determine whether this is an endeavor that will make you any money.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you raise turkeys for eggs?

While chickens are the go-to bird for egg production, turkeys can also be a good choice for backyard farmers.

Turkeys are larger than chickens, so they require more space. However, they also lay more eggs and produce meat that is lower in cholesterol.

When can I start raising turkeys for Thanksgiving?

It’s never too early to start planning for Thanksgiving! It takes approximately 16 weeks for a turkey to reach slaughter weight, so you’ll need to start raising your birds in early August.

How much space do I need to raise turkeys?

The general rule of thumb is that each turkey needs about 10 square feet of space indoors. Outside, they need at least 25 square feet of space per bird.

Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in raising your own turkeys for meat, it’s important to learn the basics about caring for them.

By following the tips we’ve provided, you should be able to successfully raise healthy and happy turkeys that will provide you with delicious Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

What other questions do you have about turkey care? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

5 thoughts on “Raising Turkeys on the Homestead”

  1. Do you start the chicks on 21% protein? Everything I’ve read says to start them on 28% for the first two months, which I can only get in 50lbs bags (too much for two poults I’m guessing). I want to raise some this year but I don’t want to cause leg problems from improper feeding. I was hoping to get away with a 23% feed their whole lives.

    1. Heather Harris

      Yes, most people recommend that you start and even keep them on the higher protein. This helps to build the meat faster. We feed them the lower protein, 21% their entire lives, knowing that it may take another month to build their meat to butcher weight.

  2. Hi Heather,

    How in the world do you keep your turkeys from getting Blackhead (Histomoniasis) from your chickens? We tried raising 15 poults free-range, along with our chickens, and they all died of Blackhead at around a month old.

    Are your turkeys resistant? Where do you purchase them from? I would LOVE to try raising turkey again.

    1. Heather Harris

      I have raised turkeys with the chickens for 10 years and have NEVER had blackhead disease once. We put them together as poults/chicks from day 1, however. We usually purchase them locally from our farm supply store or the 4H club.

  3. I have raised chickens for a few years. We just bought a few more chicks and a few baby turkeys. My question is do you add Apple Cider Vinegar to the turkeys water? I have always added it to my chicks water. But I am not sure of it’s safe for turkeys.

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