Looking to learn more about raising turkeys? We break down the key components needed to make sure your flock gets off to a good start.
Shelter – Coops or some form of shelter are needed for turkeys. Not only will it help keep them warm in the colder months, but it can protect them from predators at night. Young turkeys (called poults) need to be contained until they are aware of their environment and can recognize where their food and water sources are. Turkeys do fly, so it is essential they learn boundaries before they are able to fly (typically 4-5 weeks). Make sure there is enough bedding to nest in. Wood shavings work the best, as turkeys will eat sawdust, which can cause digestion issues. Avoid materials that can turn slippery when wet so the birds can keep their footing. Clean and replace bedding frequently.
Heat – Poults need heat in order to survive. The first 10 days of life they are unable to regulate body temperature. Poults will huddle together under heat lamps, which can occasionally cause smothering. To prevent this, it is best to have a few different lamps spread out so they can congregate in smaller groups. Poults may need heat lamps for up to 6 weeks depending on the season. Full grown turkeys are able to withstand winter temperatures with a proper shelter.
Feed – There are several different levels of feed depending on the age of your turkeys. Poults will have a starter feed and graduate into regular feed. Birds raised for their meat will be on a special protein/growth feed to help fill out.
Vitamin Deficiency and malnutrition are fairly common in turkeys. It is imperative to be sure you are feeding the proper feed for their stage, and supplement if you feel they are lacking something. Keep an eye out for any lethargic or sick looking animals. Turkeys are also easily susceptible to coccidiosis (an intestinal disease) and blackhead disease (parasite infection). Feeds are available with medication to prevent both of these issues from occurring.
Water – Fresh water needs to be available for birds at all times. In the winter months, make sure there is a system set up so the water supply does not freeze. As the birds grow, raise the level of the waterers to match their height.
The breed of turkey you choose to raise will affect how soon it can be butchered. Want to be ready in time for Thanksgiving next year? Heritage breed turkeys typically get butchered at 28 weeks. Broad breasted turkeys can be butchered sooner at 18 weeks. These are times suggested for optimum growth or size of the turkey. Need to know how much turkey your bird will give you? Turkeys typically end up between a third and half of the butchered weight. A lot of the water will evaporate with the cooking process, and the bones make up a lot of the difference.
“About Turkeys.” MSPCA Angell
“A Guide for Raising Turkeys.” Off The Grid News
Danko, Tom. “Raising Turkeys.” University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
Hoffman, Beth. “Stop! Buy a Smaller Turkey.” Forbes
Jacob, Dr. Jacquie. “Raising Meat Turkeys in Small or Backyard Flocks.” Extension.org
“Poultry Butchering Ages.” Alittleaboutalot.com