Turkeys are a fun addition to a homestead. We’ve talked a bit about them in general, but let’s look more in detail at what is involved with raising turkeys.
When you first get turkey poults, they will either be yellow, brown, or a brownish red, depending on breed. Once full grown, the yellow poults will have white feathers. These breeds include Broad Breasted White and Beltsville. The other breeds will grow up to have gorgeous red, gold, or brown feathers. My favorite to look at is the Broad Breasted Bronze for that reason. These are bred to be so large, though, that they are unable to fertilize eggs and hatch poults on their own.
Getting Started with Turkey Poults
To get started, 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.
Feed is important. Most turkeys are raised for meat, and they will grow rapidly. 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. I use what is known in our area as “broiler maker,” or “meat maker.” It’s a high protein feed. It will be marked as 21% protein at places like Big R, or Tractor Supply.
When they are smaller, we try to give them their own space, away from bigger birds. Once they are bigger, though, ours generally will mingle in with the chickens during the day and free range. At night, just like other poultry, they like to roost. They would often go into the coop with the chickens at night when they were younger and smaller. Now that they are too big to fit through the coop opening, they stay outside at all times.
At 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. This is to impress the ladies. They will make an almost “barky” sound as a beginning mating call. The hens will respond with their own “barky” sound. Toms will also generally be larger, and will fill out faster than hens.
Options for Processing
When the turkeys are about 4 months old, you will want to start considering butchering. Many of the common domesticated breeds, especially ones labeled ‘broad breasted” are not able to live much longer, due to their rapid growth. If you need help finding a local processor, word of mouth is best. Next, you can ask your local county extension office (4H) or even the yellow pages. When you take them in, if it’s your first time with that place, be sure to inspect it before hand. Check for cleanliness of equipment, a large cooler, a hand sink stocked with soap and towels, and ask how they process the birds. If you are comfortable with everything, make your appointment.
When the birds are growing, their feathers obviously come from out of their skin. There are pinholes where the feathers grow, and if the turkey is a white feathered breed, you won’t be able to notice the pin holes when processed. The darker feathered breeds will leave 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.
We really enjoy having turkeys on our homestead. Just like anything else you might consider, do some research, talk to people who are experienced, and see if raising turkeys is something you can add to your own ventures.