How to Raise Turkeys

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Look at Me (Photo credit: whiteoakart)

Turkeys can be a fun, profitable addition to a small farm or homestead. They are usually raised formeat, although some people like to keep a tom (a mature male turkey) around as a pet. Before you decide to add turkeys to your farm, here are the basics on raising them the right way.

Should You Raise Turkeys?

This is definitely the first question to ask yourself. Are turkeys right for your farm? If you’ve raisedchickens for eggs or meat, turkeys are similar – but they require a bit more babying, especially aspoults (young turkeys). They are also very social with humans, much more so than chickens, so you’ll need to be willing to spend some time with your birds every day.

Choosing a Breed

Broad-breasted Whites are the “modern” eating turkey, similar to the ones you find in the supermarket (but even this breed, raised on pasture on a small farm, will taste far more flavorful than the supermarket variety). Standard Bronze and White Holland varieties are also popular breeds for meat production. Broad-Breasted Bronzes and Whites are not actual breeds, just a non-standardized commercial strain used for meat, while White Hollands and Standard Bronzes are recognized breeds. Heritage turkeys include Bourbon Reds and Narragansetts, which are striking, medium-sized birds that excel at foraging and pest control. Royal Palm turkeys grow to a smaller finished size of roughly ten to sixteen pounds and are beautiful, different-looking birds.

Raising Turkeys From Poults

Typically, you will be starting with day-old turkeys in the spring, called poults. You will need to set up a brooder area (link) just like you would for chickens. There are lots of do-it-yourself ideas for brooder areas, from a feeding trough to a kiddie pool. Just like starting chicks, you will need to keep the brooder area between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week, then slowly lower the temp by raising the lamps, cooling it by 5 degrees each week. Many of the same places that sell chicks also sell turkey poults.

Housing and Fencing Turkeys

Many farmers let their turkeys live outside on range in a large fenced pen with a movable roost assembly, much like a movable chicken coop. The best range for turkeys is short grass, four to six inches long. Red clover and Kentucky bluegrass are especially good grasses to have on the range. For a flock of a dozen turkeys, plan to build a pen of roughly 75 feet square, or one-eighth acre. Make sure your fence is secure from coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and even bears – all of whom would love a free-range turkey dinner. Woven wire fencing is a great choice, as is electrified poultry netting.

Keep the pasture fresh by moving the portable roost to clean ground weekly. You can also rotate the location of feeders and waterers to prevent manure buildup.

Feeding and Watering Turkeys

For a dozen turkeys, you’ll need at least 2 gallons of water every day, so consider an automatic waterer connected to your outdoor water spigot. A four-foot-long waterer will suffice for 12 birds. Many turkey farmers build a wooden range feeder with a little roof on top to hold the feed. A feeder that holds about 100 pounds of feed is a good size for 12 turkeys, as by the time they near maturity they will each eat a pound of feed a day.

Preventing Turkey Problems and Diseases

Learning how to prevent health problems before they arise – with clean pasture, movable roosts, and fresh, clean water and food – is the easiest way to handle raising turkeys. Still, sometimes things happen and you’ll need to know how to take care of them. Give turkeys enough roosting space and pasture. Make sure to raise them separately from chickens. Ensure your turkey house has good ventilation. And protect your turkeys from predators.

Processing the Turkeys on the Farm

If you’re keeping turkeys for meat, the time will come to slaughter and process them. The steps are much the same as slaughtering chickens. You will simply need a bigger killing cone and make sure the scalding pot is big enough for your largest turkey.

If you want to try to breed your own turkeys, keep one tom for every 10 hens. In the spring, your turkey flock will naturally expand. If you end up with extras, you can sell “trios” – a tom and two hens – to other local farmers and homesteaders.

I hope you have enjoyed, Do you raise turkeys on your homestead? what are your experiences with them? let’s hear your feedback by posting a comment below.

Until Next Time

11 thoughts on “How to Raise Turkeys

  1. Great article! We raise 2 turkeys each year, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. They were the first homegrown meat we ever raised and learned how to butcher. Turkeys are so fun because they love to follow you around and visit with you as you work outside. We plan to get 2 this year, but are just having a hard time finding a place to buy them. The feed stores don’t seem interested in getting them in for some reason this year and we don’t want to have to meet a minimum order to have some shipped from a hatchery since we only want 2. Hopefully we’ll find some this year!

  2. I’m looking to raise turkeys as I already raise meat chickens. Is there a different feed for the poults and for growing then to adulthood? What percentage protein feed? Thanks

    1. For Poults that are 4 to 6 weeks you want 26% protein. You can decrease the protein intake after that like down to 22% at 10 to 12 weeks. After 12 weeks it can go down to 16% but do not go below that.

  3. Will turkeys destroy your garden like a chicken will? We just started with chickens but they aren’t free ranging just yet. Wondering how strong of a fence i’ll need to build around my garden if turkeys love veggies as much as chickens.
    Thanks for the wonderful info.

    1. From my experience yes they can destroy your garden, especially the greens. If you are going to fence them out make sure that you use woven wire fencing at least 4 foot in height. Turkeys can and will fly, so you might be better off clipping their wings, just make real sure that you have a good place for them roost and protect them since they cannot fly after you do.

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