So you are thinking about raising turkey, but don’t know where to start? We’re going to teach you everything we know about raising turkeys and keeping them on your farm. Turkeys make wonderful additions to your flock, their regal appearance is a show stopper on the lawn when friends or family come over and they are an amazing experience to raise.
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The Beginner’s Guide To Raising Turkey
Turkeys are a big addition to your homestead and magnificent creatures! But are they right for your farm?
Is Raising Turkey Right For You?
Are turkeys right for your farm? All in all, they aren’t that much different than chickens- except much larger. Here are some things to consider before choosing to raise turkeys.
- Space: Turkeys are much larger than chickens so they will require bigger housing, with larger doors for them to access it.
- They will need a secure run to protect them from predators.
- Turkeys need quality feed.
- Ground-level nesting boxes.
- Depending on the breed of turkey you choose they may be able to fly, so you will need to account for this in the design of your pen or clip their wings.
- Turkeys will also need roosting bars.
Read more about if raising turkeys right for you in this wonderful article from our friend Amy over at Cattle Upon A Hill
Cons To Raising Turkeys
- Turkey poults are delicate – turkey poults are sensitive to slight changes like drafts, dampness, and temperature changes. They are also slower moving which means that they don’t run as fast when it comes to getting away from danger. Often chicks can bully them away from the feeder, so it’s best to raise them separately from chicks (and off the ground, their poop can be extremely toxic to them).
- Turkeys will need a lot of space – unlike chickens they can’t be housed in cute little houses, they will need a shed or other large shed or small barn that they can get into.
- Turkeys eat more than chickens – because they are bigger birds they require more feed than chickens do.
Pros To Raising Turkeys
Just in case those things have you worried about your dreams of keeping turkeys, here are some pros to raising turkeys on your farm:
- Turkeys are incredibly docile birds, that are fun to raise, and beautiful addition to your flock.
- Turkeys are cleaner to keep.
- Homegrown turkeys taste amazing and are a wonderful way to provide meat for your family.
- Turkeys have wonderful personalities that make raising turkeys a pleasure.
- Turkeys are gentle and incredibly loyal.
- Eggs- yep turkeys lay eggs and they are huge!
Breeds Of Turkey For Your Farm Or Homestead
Some common breeds of turkey for your homestead:
This was the original market bird predating the Broad Breasted White. These birds’ coppery color gives them the very “traditional” Thanksgiving look. This breed has two strains: the heritage variety and the commercial (Broad Breasted Bronze) variety. Their strength and hardiness make them a versatile backyard choice.
- size (pounds): toms, 36; hens, 20
- does well in: confinement and partial outdoors
These attractive red-and-white birds add a pop of color to the flock. They are medium size in the turkey world and are recognized for their flavorful meat.
- Size (pounds): toms, 33; hens, 18
- Soes well in: pasture, partial outdoors and confinement
Broad Breasted White
This is today’s commercial breed of choice. These birds are the largest and fastest-growing breed.
- Size (pounds): toms, 36; hens, 20
- Does well in: confinement
If you would rather avoid these fast-growing hybrid breeds here are some heritage breeds that you can raise:
This breed adds a touch of elegance to any backyard. These birds are considerably smaller and slower maturing than the other breeds but are excellent at foraging. These birds are light enough to fly and roost.
- size (pounds): toms, 16; hens, 10
- does well in: partial outdoors or pasture
This is another medium breed of distinct coloration that comes in a variety of shades from gray to blue. The Slate is also known for its robust immunity, general hardiness, and flavor.
- size (pounds): toms, 33; hens, 18
- does well in: pasture, outdoors, and partial confinement
Many heritage breeds are in danger of extinction because backyard keepers aren’t raising turkeys like they were in the past. So raising turkey breeds like: Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Royal Palm, Narragansett, and Blue Slate keep these beautiful breeds around. *Heritage breeds, unlike the hybrids, can fly, and we mean FLY.*
Is Raising Turkeys Hard?
Raising turkeys is not hard, but they do differ a bit from chickens when it comes to what they need to thrive. Raising poults (baby turkeys) is more time and energy-intensive than raising chickens from chicks.
How To Raise Turkeys
If you have ever raised a chicken, you have a general idea of how to raise turkeys. I promise they may seem really intimidating, but once you get the hang of it they aren’t difficult.
Caring For Turkeys Poults
Congratulations! You’ve decided that raising turkeys are for you! The first part of raising turkeys is deciding which breed you want to raise, we went through some of the breeds above. Here at Rosevine Cottage, we’ve raised quite a few different breeds including Broad breasted white, Bronze, and royal palm, and honestly, we loved them all.
You can buy turkey poults locally at your feed store in the spring (or a local farmer that has the breed you are looking for), make sure you get at least two. Turkeys like chickens and ducks don’t do good by themselves and may even die. They need a companion to keep them company.
Brooding turkey poults is a lot like raising chicks, just like chicks they will need:
- heat source.
- pine shavings or straw.
- feeder & waterer.
- A secure place to house them that is free from drafts (remember if you are raising heritage turkeys to raise them off of the ground and in a cage where the poop can fall through).
- roosting bar (optional but may be helpful to begin teaching them to roost).
Do Turkeys Need A Nesting Box
Yes, turkeys will need a ground-level nesting box if you keep your turkey hens to an egg-laying age or breeding pairs.
Can You Raise Turkeys And Chickens Together?
Yes, and no… It’s best not to raise them together as babies because chicks can easily bully turkey poults away from the food and even injure them. When they are older you can raise turkeys and chickens together however you need to be mindful of if your area is known to have blackhead. In some areas of the country, there is a disease called blackhead that your chicken flock can carry without any outward symptoms. Your chickens can give this to young turkeys and the turkeys will die from it. Contact your local extension to see if blackhead is in your area before you set up a mixed flock.
What To Feed Turkeys
Turkeys are really fast-growing birds that demand high nutrition and protein to meet their growth and development needs from the start. An initial good starter is at least 28 percent protein and, if possible, medicated against coccidiosis—especially if you intend to raise your birds outdoors. This is a small step of insurance to prevent deadly coccidiosis. This disease, caused by protozoa, can wipe out young animals fast and is hard to treat.
Feed your adult turkeys a turkey-specific feed ration. A generic poultry mix or broiler chicken feed does not meet the recommended protein requirements. Keeping birds on the higher protein starter for longer is an option if you want to put weight on faster. Just remember to use only nonmedicated feeds as your birds near the market weight. According to the USDA, to put on weight, larger turkey breeds consume about 1 1⁄2 pounds of feed a day for toms and 0.8 pounds for hens. For medium breeds, that is 1 1⁄4 pounds per tom and 0.6 pounds per hen, and for the smallest breeds, it’s 3⁄4 pounds per tom and 1⁄2 pound per hen.
If you plan to allow your turkeys to forage make sure you give them access to turkey-sized grit with their feed.
Can You Free Range Turkeys?
Absolutely! Just like with chickens you can pasture raise your turkeys. The free-ranging can give the birds access to natural vitamins and nutrients they need. But it isn’t enough nutrients to sustain them properly so make sure they still have access to grain.
How Long Does It Take To Raise Turkeys?
It will take a hen turkey 16 weeks to mature completely, and average 8 lbs (3.6 kg) to 16 lbs (7.2 kg) in weight. A tom turkey will take approximately 19 weeks to mature and will weigh between 16 lbs (7.2 kg) and 24 lbs (10.8 kg). Larger tom turkeys may weigh up to 40 lbs (18.1 kg) but they will take a few more weeks to mature.
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