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 an unique personality all their own. I love watching them run and play with the chickens, “swim” with the ducks, and take dust baths. 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.
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.
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.
Most turkeys are raised for meat, and they will grow rapidly.
This makes the type of feed 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.
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 in 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.
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 “gooble” sound as a beginning mating call. 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.
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 more 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.
On 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.
Here’s to successful turkey raising! BE SURE TO PIN THIS TO YOUR FAVORITE BOARD FOR LATER!