145: Get started with raising turkeys
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Do you want to get started with raising turkeys? Here are answers to some questions you might have. If you have any others, feel free to put them in the comments and I’ll add my answer to this article!
Before I get started with raising turkeys, what breed of turkey should I order?
That depends what your purpose is. Before you get started with raising turkeys, decide whether you want a heritage bird or a commercial bird. Do you want to keep a breeding pair and overwinter your birds, or do you simply want to raise out and butcher turkeys for Thanksgiving and then start over with (buy) new poults in the spring?
At our farm we currently raise Broad Breasted White and/or Bronze. These birds grow out in approximately 20 weeks. In that time, our birds generally dress out at 18-24 pounds. (Dressed weight means butchered—no feathers, no innards—and ready for the oven.) Broad Breasteds are bred to be meaty, and are equivalent to the Cornish Cross birds of the chicken world. They aren’t meant to be kept for breeding, they’re meant to grow out quickly for your table.
Heritage breeds, like Bourbon Red, Narragansett, or Royal Palm, are a slower growing bird and, even at full grown, won’t generally be as big as a Broad Breasted type. But heritage breeds can mate and reproduce naturally, so If you’re looking to hatch your own turkey eggs (either in an incubator or under a mama), a heritage pair is what you will need. Heritage breed turkeys also like to roost, and they can fly, so keep that in mind when you get started raising turkeys.
When should I order turkey poults?
When you get started with raising turkeys and are ready to choose your breed and place your order, remember to do the math for when you plan to butcher. A broad breasted poult that you’re wanting to grow out for Thanksgiving should be ordered by June—unless you’re wanting to butcher a smaller bird.
How to set up a turkey brooder when raising turkeys
To get started with raising turkeys correctly, your poults will need a brooder to stay warm, dry, and safe. We use heat lamps at our farm, well-secured to the ceiling so they cannot be knocked off. The temp in the brooder when the turkey poults arrive should be approximately 95 degrees. Most folks say to raise the heat lamp every week (thereby lowering the temp of the brooder 5 degrees every week) until the chicks are completely feathered out, at which point you can turn the lamps off. We aren’t this technical, and have found the heat lamps can be raised/turned off much sooner. Then again, this will completely depend on your set up!
You can generally tell if young poultry are cold if they are constantly huddling under the heat lamp. If they are pressing to the sides of the brooder, they are too hot. If they are hanging out and running around, that means the temp is good.
The kind of brooder you use will depend on your set up and how many turkey poults you raise. You can use a plastic rubbermaid tote, a stock tank, etc. We have a corner of our coop that we section off as a brooder, and then as the poults grow, we remove the brooder walls and give them full run of their very large coop.
What do turkey poults eat?
Depending on what’s available where you live, you can give your poults a turkey starter or other turkey feed. Although recommended, we don’t generally feed our poultry any special starter feeds. From start to finish, we feed our turkeys whatever our Cornish Cross meat birds are eating (a high protein feed, around 22% protein) as it’s what’s available locally in our small town. We’ve had no issues with raising our turkeys with this feed plan.
IMPORTANT! Teaching turkey poults to eat when raising turkeys
Turkey poults need to be taught how to eat and drink and reminded that’s a thing they need to do. Whereas I’ve never had to show ducks, chickens, or pheasants how to do this, it’s a must for turkeys. They’re adorable, but not necessarily the smartest birds. Dip their beak in water so they know what’s going on, make sure they are drinking. Remind them where the food is. Make sure they are eating. Turkey poults raised alone can sometimes starve even though there is food and water right there. If you’re playing mama turkey, make sure you check on them often, show them where the food and water is, and don’t give them so big of a space to run that they can stray too far from their heat source.
As you get started raising turkeys, remember: young turkey poults—especially those who are brand new—are adorable, but not super intelligent.
Can you raise turkey poults with baby chicks?
We order our turkey poults and Cornish Cross meat chicks to arrive at the same time so we can raise them together. Not only does this save space on our homestead, it also benefits the turkeys poults by having something around to teach them to eat and drink. It makes it a little easier to get started with raising turkeys!
Be aware that raising turkeys with chickens could possible put your turkeys at risk for Blackhead disease. You can read more about our choice to raise turkeys and chickens together here: Can You Raise Turkeys and Chickens Together?
Turkeys are one of my favorite animals to raise. They’re curious and inquisitive and generally very sweet. Do you want to get started with raising turkeys? Did I answer all your questions? If not, let me know in the comments!
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