Turkeys are awesome feathered friends to have around. With the spectacular display by a tom fanning his tail feathers, with the sagging snood over the beak and the powerful male chauvinist strut, you can’t stop watching the boy. so, what do you need when raising turkeys?
Whether they are meant for meat, pets or a project meant to generate income, these birds are a thumb up for me. During summer, turkeys are bought by curious enthusiasts and those with a passion for them.
On thanksgiving, turkeys top the list with the demand sky rocketing. Suppose you have several ready for the market, how would you feel smiling all the way to the bank?
Before venturing into turkey keeping, you need to have a bit of knowledge to help you have a better understanding on what lays ahead of you.
I have also answered some commonly asked questions about raising turkeys.
Are turkeys hard to raise?
Although turkeys differ from chickens, they are not as hard to raise but require more energy raising them from poults than it is with the chicks.
How long does it take to raise?
It depends on if they are raised for meat or eggs. From 16 to 22 weeks turkeys are mature and ready for market but it will depend with your customers preferences.
Baby turkeys (poults) require to be supplemented with heat as they are not able to regulate their own body temperature. Brooding is an important stage of these young ones and will determine growth success and the mortality rate.
Buy quality poults from certified hatcheries like McMurray and be ready to begin your turkey rearing journey. Brooding temperatures for turkeys are 100 degrees F with the infrared bulb being recommended as the best heat source for baby turkeys.
Suspend or fix the infrared bulb 18 inches from the ground hanging from the ceiling. Reduce the amount of heat 5 degrees F each week until the birds are fully feathered. This will harden off your poults and make them adapt to the normal room temperatures.
After 6 to 8 weeks old, they are ready to move to the turkey coop.
Always make sure the brooder temperatures are optimal by checking the behavior of your poults. If they are huddled together under the heat source, chances are it is cold for them and the amount of heat needs to be raised.
If you find them scattered far away from the heat source to the corners, you better reduce the amount of heat as it is hot for them.
When the brooder temperature is optimum, baby turkeys are evenly scattered in the brooder feeding or resting normally and they look happy.
The choice of beddings you make should be very accurate. Any material used as bedding for your poults should be free from dust, draft free and should not be very fine like saw dust as they can easily swallow it and cause health problems or even death.
Straw and pine shavings are recommended. For me I prefer straw as it has good qualities. (You can check my article straw vs. hay as bedding on this web to know more about straw).
Poults are very sensitive to dust as it can cause serious respiratory problems. Molds and any other foreign growth that can be brought about by dampness can easily result in death as they offer ideal environment pathogen growth.
Ensure the bedding is three to four inches thick to keep the cold off especially to those who are using rooms or coops that have a concrete floor. Avoid newspapers on the floor as they easily became slippery and can cause leg problems.
Food and water
Unlike chicks, poults require a feed that has a high protein content of 28% to 30 %. They have a higher vitamins and mineral requirements so; make sure your feed has enough of these.
Poults need to be taught where the feeds are as they are known to be slow learners. Use colored marbles or aluminum foils rounded into balls and put them in their feeding troughs.
Poults are attracted to bright colors and this will help them locate food sources easily.
For the adult turkeys, game bird feed can work well for them because it has high protein. They eat a wide variety of forages and kitchen scrap too.
Letting your turkeys venture out to free range on their own is an excellent idea as they will get extra protein intake from the backyard.
Here they will get a chance to collect a wide range of insects and forage on various green matters like grass and garden weeds to supplement on their diet.
Within a few weeks, poults are big and have long necks and legs and they need the feeding troughs to be raised a little bit to make sure they are comfortable feeding.
It is advisable you provide your baby turkeys with grit to help in their digestion. They also have gizzards like their close cousins chickens. Do not feed turkeys spoilt or moldy food. These kinds of food can cause poisoning and death.
They require fresh and clean drinking water. Unlike ducks, turkeys do not spill and soil their drinking water. You can use large plastic bowls to put water for the big adult turkeys.
For the young ones, use shallow water troughs or cup drinkers. They will prevent them from drowning and getting chilled as it can result to death.
A coop is the ideal shelter for your turkeys. It should be big enough bearing in mind the physical size of the turkeys. It should be well ventilated, draft free and well secured to keep out predators. This will give your birds’ maximum comfort they need.
Turkeys like the Black Spanish raised on free range. You have to be cautious because there are predators that can strike easily without being noticed.
For the case of young turkeys that have come out of the brooder, hawks are a serious threat. These tiny ones are not heavy and big enough to scare them away.
Provide perches because turkeys roost unlike ducks that spend the night on the beddings. Turkeys raised for the meat like the Broad Breasted White are not to be provided with roosting bars. Roost bars can cause bruising and breast blisters.
Just like chicken, turkeys require nesting boxes to lay eggs and brood them. When free ranged, hens will sometimes hide their nests in bushes. They will always disappear and resurface in the morning during feeding time.
Be very careful on this as nesting out on the wild makes them exposed to predators. Carefully stalk the hen in the evening and find out where they are nesting outside in the bush.
Once you find out, go get her along with any eggs you find. Bring her home and get her a place to nest on.
Normally fertile eggs are incubated for 28 days and successfully hatch into poults. My turkeys prefer nesting under the granary because it is raised several inches above the ground.
In the coop they are denied peace by my chickens. They cover their eggs with beddings as they scratch the ground.
Sometimes, lack of know how or keeping a flock just for the sake can lead to serious losses. Birds share diseases and are often vaccinated to prevent outbreaks.
My house neighbor’s a forest and wild guineas pay my flock a visit. They sometimes bring in new diseases unexpectedly. This has forced me to lock my flock up in a fenced enclosure to keep of an invited guest. Such measures ensure they are secure.
Blackhead or histomoniasis is a disease that attacks poultry like chicken and can easily be transmitted to turkeys. This killer disease is associated with roundworms and can wipe away an entire flock.
Quarantine the sick birds to prevent further spread of diseases. To those farms that receive visitors, reduce the number of people coming in. If they have to come, provide a foot bath so that they cannot bring in new infections with them.
Do not share cages as they can be a loop hole for disease transmissions. Remember to get rid of any sick birds completely after they attend animal shows. There is a likelihood they acquired infections from there and can transmit them to others.
Control mites and lice by spraying and dusting your turkeys together with their coops. Use the right chemicals or small amounts of diatomaceous earth as advised by your vet. (Check my article. Is diatomaceous Earth good for chickens?)
Don’t forget to vaccinate your turkeys whenever there is a disease outbreak. This will ensure safety of your flock.
Butchering turkeys is not different from chickens. You can prepare a turkey dish in your desired way and make a nice meal for the ones you love.
Pros of raising turkeys
- Turkeys are a good source of profit. You can sell poults, eggs and also the mature birds to make a profit.
- They are a good source of protein. Turkey meat and eggs are a good source of protein and make yummy delicacies. It will also makes a very nice stalk that will leave you salivating and wanting more.
- Turkey droppings are a good source of manure and make a good fertilizer for your garden.
- Turkeys are spectacular birds to keep as pets. Toms make various elegance displays making them fun to watch. They are known to provide therapy to people suffering from PTSD.