Are turkeys hard to raise? Should you raise turkeys? Raising and caring for turkeys, butchering, processing and cooking turkey.
Are you interested in raising turkeys in your backyard or on your farm? If so, you’re in the right place!
I’ve put together all of the basic information that you need to know to get started raising turkeys.
This is a sponsored post. This post was made possible by Hoover’s Hatchery. They supplied us with chickens and turkeys in exchange for this post. As always, I’ll never recommend a service or product that I don’t love or use myself.
Should you raise turkeys?
Many homesteaders and backyard farmers find themselves asking what they should or shouldn’t be raising at some point.
Raising turkeys is similar to raising chickens. There are some small differences of course, but hopefully by the end of this post you’ll know if turkeys are right for you or not.
Are turkeys hard to raise?
Turkeys aren’t any harder to raise than meat chickens in my opinion. The difference is in their personalities, the amount of food they consume and the space they need.
If you’ve successfully raised meat chickens or even egg chickens, you should be able to raise turkeys.
How much does it cost to raise turkeys?
It will cost about $6-12.00 per day-old turkey poult (chick). Turkeys don’t lay as many eggs as chickens and therefore the supply of turkey chicks is usually tight, making them more expensive than day old chicken chicks.
The rest of the cost of raising them is up to you.
If you plan to feed them out, you can expect to go through several bags of feed, which can be anywhere from $15-20 per 50 pound bag.
You can expect to raise turkeys for somewhere around $1.20 per pound. This will depend more on the type of turkey you raise, the feed you give them and whether they are pasture raised or not.
Broad breasted breeds usually grow faster and can reach harvest weight in about three and a half months. Heritage breeds will take closer to 5 or 6 months to reach harvest size.
Can you raise chickens and turkeys together?
Yes, you can raise chickens and turkeys together. There are a few things that you’ll need to know about raising them together though.
When you research raising turkeys, you’ve probably come across the disease called blackhead. Blackhead is a disease that is carried by both chickens and turkeys.
Chickens can carry the disease and never have an issue with it. In turkeys, blackhead can be fatal.
Chickens that carry blackhead can pass it on to turkeys and it can create huge problems for your turkey flock. With that being said, blackhead is a regional disease and not all birds will carry it. You can contact the local extension office or veterinarian clinic to find out if blackhead is in your region or not.
You will want to put them in different brooding spaces for a couple of reasons.
- Chicks are much more dominant and active than turkey poults. They can be bossy to the turkeys and can push them around, causing injury.
- Poults and chicks should be raised on different feeds. Poults require a higher protein than most chicks and therefore should be raised on a higher protein crumble.
Pros of Raising Turkeys
There are many reasons why you might want to raise turkeys. I’ve listed my three favorite things about raising turkeys here.
They are cleaner than chickens
Turkeys don’t scratch nonstop like chickens do. Chickens will scratch through bedding and feed during all hours of the day.
This can lead to a huge mess in the coop or brooder.
Chicks are bad about scratching bedding and feed, getting the two mixed up and messy. They will also think nothing of scratching bedding into the waterers, making a huge, smelly mess.
Turkeys don’t scratch around like chickens, so the bedding, feed and water all stay in place and much cleaner than if chickens were around.
Turkey meat is delicious
Turkey meat is versatile and super delicious.
You can enjoy smoked turkey legs, fried turkey breast or whole turkey. Our favorite ways to cook a whole turkey are fried or smoked. Both leave the meat tender and juicy and have a nice crispy skin.
You can also grind the meat up into ground turkey. Ground turkey is a healthy alternative to ground beef and it can be cooked and seasoned to go into any dish that ground beef, venison or chicken would go into.
Use the bones and organs to create a rich stock that can be used in place of store bought chicken stock. You can also make excellent gravy for meals with turkey stock.
Turkeys have big personalities
Turkeys can be more fun to keep than chickens.
Turkeys are curious, friendly and very social. They’re much more interested in you and what you’re doing than chickens are.
They will follow you around and can act almost dog-like. This can make it harder when it comes time to process them, but it is quite entertaining.
They are also very gentle for their size, making them good pets and projects for small kids.
Cons of Raising Turkeys
I have to mention the cons of raising turkeys since I mentioned the pros. There isn’t much negative about raising turkeys, but I thought you should be aware of the cons that turkeys can come with.
Young poults are delicate
Turkey poults are quite delicate compared to chicks. This may seem odd considering they are often larger than chicks.
They are much more sensitive to the environment around them.
Turkeys are also slower moving and less likely to run or defend themselves than chickens. Because of this, they can get trampled or injured when they are with a large number of chickens.
Turkeys need lots of space
Turkeys are just plain bigger than chickens. Because of this, everything about housing and feeding them should be bigger.
Chicks can be brooded in a large plastic tote or an old livestock water trough. Turkey poults require a small shed or even a barn to brood in.
They will do the best when they have room to move around.
Turkeys eat a lot
Turkeys will need more feed to fuel their larger bodies than chicks will.
Not only will they need more feed, but their feed should have more protein in it than feed for chicks.
Aim for a 28% protein feed to start out your poults, and then when they are about 6 weeks, drop them to a 21% grower and then after 12 weeks, drop them to an 18% feed.
Choosing a breed of turkey
There are several options for breeds. You’ll want to choose one that will fit your farm and the end product that you want.
Do you care about how your turkey will look?
This is important when choosing a breed. Most of the turkey that is sold in grocery stores comes from white turkeys.
White is a popular color for meat turkeys because if there are small feathers left behind on the carcass, it’s not as noticeable as dark feathers.
If you want a more traditional looking turkey, then you’ll want to consider a heritage breed. You can find gorgeous turkeys that come in shades of browns, black and cream.
Breeding naturally or artificially
This is really important if you’re interested in breeding turkeys.
Heritage breeds will be able to mate naturally. Most commercial-style breeds will need to be artificially inseminated.
There are many breeds of turkeys to pick from.
Keep in mind the size of the adult turkeys, how long it takes them to reach harvest size and whether they can breed naturally or not.
In order to be considered a heritage breed, turkeys must meet the following criteria:
- Must be able to mate naturally.
- Have a long productive outdoor lifespan (hens 5-7 years, toms 3-5 years)
- Slower growth rate
Choose heritage breeds if you want to start a flock of your own. They take longer to grow than commercial style breeds, but they are more flavorful and will be productive for much longer.
The heritage breeds of turkey include:
Beltsville Small White
The Beltsville Small White turkey was created in the 1940’s. Prior to the Beltsville Small White, families had to purchase large turkeys.
The consumer demand for smaller turkeys led to the creation of the breed. The birds would mature with hens weighing about 10 pounds and toms around 17.
The turkeys could fit easily into smaller refrigerators and could be consumed by smaller families.
The breed almost faced extinction when the demand for larger, broad-breasted breeds took over the market.
Beltsville Small White turkeys are rare today but there are efforts being made to bring the breed back to meet new consumer interests.
The Black turkey was developed from Mexican turkeys that were exported to Europe in the 1500s. The Black breed, sometimes called the ‘Spanish black’, was developed for a couple of centuries and then reintroduced into the U.S.
Once back in the U.S., the Black was bred with Eastern American turkeys.
The breed has deep, black feathers with a greenish tinge. The skin is white.
Toms mature at about 23 pounds and hens at about 14 pounds.
The Royal Palm is a very attractive breed. They are a smaller breed, with hens maturing at 10 pounds and toms maturing at 16 pounds.
The feathers of the Royal Palm are white and black, indicating the various breeds that were combined to produce the Royal Palm.
The saddle is deep metallic black. The tail is solid white with each feather having one band of black. Many of the feathers are white with black edging.
The Royal Palm isn’t raised primarily for meat unlike most of the other turkey breeds. They are raised for exhibition and as family pets. They also make good turkeys for small family farms.
The White Holland is a solid white breed of turkey that has been extremely influential in many U.S. breeds.
The White Holland isn’t as large as the Bronze turkey, but it is still a respectable size. Hens mature at 16 pounds and toms can weigh in at 25 pounds.
White Holland carcasses clean up better than many dark colored breeds.
White Hollands are often referred to as Large Whites today as the White Holland breed was absorbed by the Large White, broad breasted variety.
These large red and white birds were developed in Kentucky and were named for Bourbon County in Kentucky where they were developed.
Bourbon Reds have deep red body feathers with white wings and tail feathers.
Hens mature at 14 pounds and toms reach 23 pounds.
The Bronze turkey has been the most popular turkey variety in the U.S. It results from crosses between European turkeys and wild American turkeys.
This created a larger turkey than native breeds and much more docile turkey as well.
Feathers are bronze colored, with a coppery, metallic sheen. Tail feathers and saddle feathers have bands of white.
Toms mature at 25 pounds and hens at 16 pounds.
This breed of turkey is very attractive and boasts black, grey, tan and white feathers.
The Narragansett has been breed for maternal traits like good mothering, egg quality, natural breeding and early maturation.
Toms mature at 23 pounds and hens at 14 pounds.
The Slate turkey variety actually refers to a color, not a breed. The slate color is due to a genetic mutation that leads to the smoky gray coloring.
Slate turkeys can also be called Lavender or Blue turkey.
Some Slate turkeys can have brown edges to their feathers but this is considered a defect and is undesired.
Toms mature at 23 pounds and hens at 14 pounds.
Chocolate turkeys are named for their chocolate colored feathers. These are not usually pure anymore. The chocolate breed was very popular before the Civil War.
The chocolate turkeys today usually have some influence from Narragansett, Bronze and Bourbon Red turkeys. The color results from a combination of black and brown genes.
Chocolate turkeys reach massive sizes with toms maturing at 33 pounds and hens at 18 pounds.
The Jersey Buff turkey is named for the reddish buff colored feathers. This breed isn’t super popular, partially because of the difficulty of breeding to the color standard.
It’s hard to breed Jersey Buffs with even buff coloring. It’s also hard to breed males and females that are the same color, especially since the females tend to lighten with age.
The breed dresses a clean carcass though. Toms mature at about 21 pounds and hens weigh in at around 12 pounds.
The Midget White turkey is the smallest breed of turkey. The breed weighs in at 13 pounds for toms and 8 pounds for hens.
These turkeys have broad breasts for their size and look like miniatures of the larger broad-breasted breeds.
Midget Whites are known to be excellent breeders and overly friendly. They are solid white in color.
It’s interesting to note that this breed is a distinct variety but is not recognized by the American Poultry Association as a breed.
Broad Breasted Turkey Breeds
Broad-breasted turkeys are the most commonly raised turkeys for meat.
Broad-breasted varieties cannot fly and have rapid growth rates. If you’re serious about packing your freezer with high-quality and homegrown turkey, then broad-breasted turkeys are probably the best fit for you.
Getting Started Raising Turkeys
Raising turkeys is so much fun! They’re really personable, more so than chickens.
If you’re ready to start raising turkeys, there are a few things that you should have in mind before you order poults.
When should I start raising Thanksgiving turkeys?
Many people want to raise turkeys to have fresh, home raised meat in time for the holidays.
If you want to raise turkeys that will be ready to harvest before Thanksgiving, then you’ll want to start them in June.
Broad-breasted turkeys will reach harvest size in about 16-22 weeks. Heritage breeds take a little longer and will reach harvest weight at about 25-30 weeks.
Simply mark your calendar and then work backwards, depending on the type of turkey that you’ll be raising.
How big do turkeys grow?
This depends on the breed that you buy.
Midget turkeys can be mature at as little as 10 pounds while some larger breeds can reach weights of up to 30 pounds.
Broad-breasted breeds tend to be more top-heavy birds while heritage breeds are more upright in appearance.
Raising turkeys in the city
It is possible to raise turkeys in the city!
You’ll want to check with your local authorities and make sure that raising them in the city limits is legal in your city.
You might be surprised to learn that raising turkeys in the city is often allowed as long as you aren’t raising toms. Hens are pretty quiet and therefore don’t interrupt neighbors as much as toms.
Buying or Hatching Baby Turkey?
Should you buy turkey poults or should you hatch eggs?
Many of the heritage breeds will breed and produce poults just fine without your help. If you want to incubate heritage turkey eggs, you can do that also.
The broad-breasted breeds usually cannot breed on their own and require artificial insemination to mate successfully. If you’re not feeling up to AI your turkeys, then you can always purchase poults from a reputable hatchery.
How long does it take poults to hatch?
It takes turkey eggs 28 days to hatch.
Eggs are turned by the mother once a day. If you’re incubating eggs, then you’ll need to turn the eggs yourself once a day for 28 days.
Poults can leave the nest within 12-24 hours after hatching.
Raising Wild Turkeys from Eggs
It is very possible to raise wild turkeys from eggs. Wild turkeys lay their eggs in late March.
They will lay about 9-12 eggs per clutch. Just like with other turkeys, it takes about 28 days for the eggs to hatch.
Poults will be able to leave the nest 12-24 hours after hatching.
Raising Turkeys from Poults
Ready to raise turkeys from poults?
If you’ve raised baby chicks before, then you’ll be glad to hear that there isn’t much of a learning curve when it comes to raising poults.
Much of the equipment and ideas are the same, just larger for a larger bird.
Caring for Turkey Poults
If you’re shipping turkey poults or hatching eggs, you should be able to estimate an approximate date when your poults will arrive.
12-24 hours before your poults arrive (or hatch), turn the brooder lights or lamps on. You want the entire brooder to be warm before the poults are put into it. Poults are fragile, so you don’t want the brooder still warming up when you put them in.
The brooder temperature for poults should start at 102-105°F. Lower the temperature each week by five degrees after the first two weeks.
You’ll be able to tell if your poults are too hot or cold by observing them. Poults that are too cold will huddle together under the light.
Poults that are too warm will be spaced out away from the lamp. Hot poults may pant or hold their wings slack in an attempt to cool off.
Housing for Turkey Poults
You can prepare a brooding area for your poults similar to what you would do for chicks.
Keep in mind that poults are larger and will need more space than chicks. They will also be able to jump out of the side of a brooder much sooner than chicks will.
Use the following space requirements to make sure that your poults have plenty of room:
- Poults up to 8 weeks: 2-2.5 sq. ft. per poult
- Poults 8-16 weeks: 3-4 sq. ft. per poult
- Poults 16-20 weeks: 5-8 sq. ft. per poult
- Turkeys 20+ weeks: 6-10 sq. ft. per bird
Free range space for birds over 8 weeks will help to ensure that they have plenty of room and can space out from one another.
Turkeys that are confined too close together will injure each other quickly. Remember, turkey poults are fragile!
You’ll want to heat the turkey poults with a heat lamp.
A standard 250 watt red heat lamp is sufficient. Add more depending on the number of poults that you have to make sure that the space is warm enough.
Feeding Turkey Poults
Turkeys poults each a lot of feed. They will grow much faster than chicks.
It’s important to feed poults the proper amount of protein and again, provide them with enough space.
Each poult should get 1 linear inch of space at the feeder. Increase this as the poults get larger and add feeders as needed.
Use the following feed types to provide the proper amount of protein to poults:
- Poults 0-6 weeks: 27-30% protein Game Bird Starter feed
- Poults 6-12 weeks: 21% protein grower feed
- Poults 12+ weeks: 18% protein finisher feed
Turkeys that will be kept around for breeding, show or as pets will require different feed.
Feeding adult turkeys can be costly if you plan on providing them with feed.
You can purchase pelleted feed for your adult turkeys. This is especially helpful for birds that you plan on breeding.
You can also free-range your turkeys to help lower the cost of feeding them.
Sprouted grains are another way that you can provide excellent nutrition to your adult turkeys without spending a ton of money.
What do turkeys eat?
In the wild, turkeys are omnivorous, similar to chickens.
Over half of their diet is made up of grasses and vegetation. They enjoy eating range grasses, or grasses that are about 4-6 inches in length.
Turkeys will also feast on berries, seeds and insects. They enjoy kitchen scraps like lettuce, corn and other vegetables.
Acorns are a staple in wild turkey diets, especially in the late fall and winter.
Raising Turkeys on Pasture
There is a common misconception that poultry, like turkeys and chickens, can be raised on ‘pasture’. While over half of the turkey’s diet naturally comes from grasses and vegetation, they also consume insects.
Insects provide them with the protein that they need to grow and fill out.
If you want to raise your turkeys on pasture, you can, just keep in mind that they will also be consuming insects that are living in that pasture grass.
If your turkeys don’t have access to insects, provide them with a feed that has adequate protein. You don’t want your turkeys to lack protein.
This could lead to cannibalistic turkey behavior, which could end up being costly.
Housing and Fencing for Turkeys
Once your turkey poults have outgrown their brooding area, you can move them outdoors. Turkeys love to be outside, despite what the weather may be.
An electric fence or poultry netting makes good fencing for turkeys. Most turkeys that are well fed will remain happily in the fenced area.
Adding a strand of electric wire will help to deter any predators that may come after your turkeys.
Can turkeys fly?
Yes and no. Most of the broad-breasted turkeys cannot fly because they simply weigh too much. Many of the heritage breeds can fly though.
You can prevent your turkeys from flying by trimming their primary feathers.
Poultry netting can also be used to create a top for your turkey enclosure.
How much space do turkeys need?
A large amount of turkeys will need a larger space. Raising turkeys for profit? About 200 turkeys requires 10 acres.
If you’re just raising turkey for yourself, then an area 75×75 ft. will suit up to 12 turkeys.
DIY Turkey Tractor
Everyone has seen a chicken tractor. It’s a moveable enclosure that houses chickens.
You can build the same thing for a small number of turkeys.
When designing a turkey tractor, you’ll want to build it larger than a chicken tractor. Use a turkey tractor to move turkeys around where you want them to clean up grassy areas.
They’ll also leave behind valuable manure that will fertilize the soil.
You’re not the only one that enjoys turkey meat. Fox, raccoons, weasels and neighborhood dogs are the most common threat to turkeys.
Predators will try to attack your turkeys, similar to how they would chickens. Turkeys are wired to protect themselves though.
They will roost in high places and in trees to avoid predators. If your turkeys don’t have trees to roost in, provide them a coop and close them up at night.
Can you raise turkeys and chickens together?
Yes, if you do it carefully.
Raise chicks and turkey poults separately. They have very different requirements when it comes to feed, space and heat. Chicks and turkey poults may not do well together as babies.
When they are older, it becomes a little easier. This is especially true if you plan on putting your birds on pasture.
Turkeys will prefer to roost outdoors while chickens like to be closed up in a coop.
When turkeys and chickens are living in the same area, you’ll notice that the turkeys will hang out with the turkeys and the chickens will hang out with the chickens. The phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’ holds true!
If you’re looking for a reason to keep turkeys and chickens separately, then the disease called blackhead is a perfect reason.
Both turkeys and chickens can carry the disease but it only makes turkeys sick. It can be fatal in turkey populations.
Preventing Turkey Problems and Diseases
Turkeys are pretty resistant to most disease and are generally healthy. The most fatal disease that turkeys can get is blackhead.
There are a few other diseases that turkeys can get but they aren’t as fatal and some have vaccines to prevent them.
Common Diseases in Turkeys
One of the most common diseases in turkeys is blackhead.
Blackhead disease is caused by the parasite Histomonas meleagridis. This protozoan parasite is spread through feces.
There are two ways that birds can pick up the parasite.
- Turkeys can ingest the feces from an infected bird.
- An intermediate host, like an earthworm, can consume the infected feces. The earthworm is then eaten by a turkey, passing the disease on to the turkey.
Once the protozoan is in the ground, it can survive for up to three years.
There is no cure for blackhead and it’s deadly for turkeys.
Once a bird in the flock has it, as much as 70-100% of the flock will die from it.
Is blackhead disease in my area?
You can find out from local veterinarians and extension agents where blackhead is.
Other Turkey Diseases
Turkeys have strong immune systems compared to other poultry.
The most common diseases include fowl cholera, fowl pox, fowl typhoid, mycoplasmosis and roundworm infections.
Vaccines are available for fowl cholera, Erysipelas, fowl pox, and other diseases.
Turkeys generally don’t have issues with Marek’s disease or infectious bronchitis.
Butchering and Processing Turkeys on the Farm
It’s simple to butcher your turkeys on your farm once they reach harvest weight.
- large kill cones
- a sharp knife
- a scalding tank
- table space
- garbage bags
Start by putting the turkey’s head through the kill cone. The cone can be nailed to a fence or a tree. The turkey’s body will rest inside of the cone and the head and neck should hang out.
Pull back the neck feathers and cut the vein on the side of the neck. Avoid cutting the esophagus or trachea.
The idea is to bleed the bird out and they will not bleed out properly if they suffocate first.
Once the bird has stopped bleeding and moving, grab it by the feet and place it into the hot water in the scalding tank. Hold it in there for 3-5 seconds and pull it out.
The feathers should slip off of the bird like butter. If they don’t, put the bird back into the hot water.
Remove the internal organs, being careful not to puncture any. If fecal matter gets onto the meat, trim the meat away.
Place the bird into plastic bags and move them into a refrigerator. They should rest in the fridge for 24-48 hours before freezing them.
Resting the bird allows the muscle tissue to become tender.
Final Thoughts about Raising Turkeys
Turkeys can be really enjoyable to raise.
There are beautiful breeds to pick from. You can really decorate your farm with Royal Palms or Bourbon Reds.
Turkeys are super friendly and curious. The poults grow fast and need plenty of the right feed to fuel their growing bodies.
Be careful raising them with chickens, especially if blackhead is in your area. Blackhead is usually fatal for turkeys, but turkeys have strong immune systems and don’t have trouble with most other diseases. Vaccinate your turkeys against some of the more common diseases.
House your turkeys appropriately. Make sure that they have plenty of space and roosting areas.
When it comes time to harvest turkeys, the process is the same as it would be for meat chickens. Turkeys are simply larger and will require larger equipment.
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Are you raising turkeys? What breeds of turkeys should you raise? How do you take care of turkeys? Let me know!