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Turkeys – a “Most Noble” Bird
“…the Turkey is … a much more respectable Bird… though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack … who should presume to invade his Farm Yard…” – Benjamin Franklin on Turkeys
Raising turkeys on a homestead seems like it would be a great idea. If you’re comfortable with raising and slaughtering your own poultry, they definitely can be. Turkeys are much like chickens, though their size and feed requirements are much larger. Though easy to care for as adults, adding turkey chicks, also known as poults, can be tricky.
What Do Turkeys Need
In general, turkeys have the same needs as chickens. They need:
- Roosts (if you do not intend to grow commercially)
- A Coop
- Nesting Boxes
- 3-4 square feet of space per bird
- A high-protein feed
- Regular feature trimming
- Access to clean water
While these requirements are particularly difficult to achieve, you can’t skimp on them. Turkeys need these things to thrive and provide you with the quality, market-ready birds that will help fill your freezer.
Creating a Living Space for Raising Turkeys
When you’re pulling together the kind of living area that you want for your turkeys, think big. Turkeys are big birds and need a lot of space. For starters, you’ll want to put them in a shed or a barn at night as their coop so they have enough space. Adult turkeys need a minimum of 3 square feet per bird. Nesting boxes should be about this size as well so the hens are comfortable.
You also want to think about how many birds you intend to raise and whether you intend to market them on a commercial, or semi-commercial level. If you do, avoid giving them a place to roost. While they may prefer it, it can cause damage that will ruin the quality of the breast meat. This will affect the quality of the birds that you are selling.
Lastly, while you can raise adult chickens and adult turkeys in the same space, it’s best not to keep chicks and poults together. Turkey poults tend to be a little slower and are easily bossed about by chicks. This can affect their health, and since they are naturally more fragile as poults than chicks, you may lose all your poults before they shed their pin feathers!
Picking the Right Breeds for Raising Turkeys
As always, we heartily recommend considering heritage turkey breeds for your homestead. While they may take a little longer to reach market weight, they will be happier, healthier birds.
Our breed recommendations are:
This is a large turkey with toms getting up to a shocking 25 pounds in weight. Close to extinction, this is a turkey breed that is desperate for people willing to invest in improving flock numbers. White Hollands are a beautiful crisp white and generally early maturing birds.
Though their numbers are concerning, Standard Bronze turkeys are a common enough sight that they are not yet endangered. An excellent bird for a savvy homesteader to use to get into the niche organic market. This is a large turkey with a market weight of 25 pounds for toms and 16 pounds for hens. Their meat is known for its excellent flavor that rivals that of the Slate turkey.
A uniquely American bird that was started in the 1600s. It is an average-sized bird reaching a market weight of 23 pounds for toms and 14 for hens. A popular breed that is known for being calm and maternal with great egg production and excellent meat quality, the Narragansett is ideal for small family farms.
Another average-sized turkey, the Slate is known for the superior flavor of its meat. Though they can be a bit more difficult to breed due to a lack of consistency in the breed standard, they are slowly making a comeback because people love to have them on the dinner table.
Slightly smaller than the Standard Bronze, the Black turkey is an average-sized bird with good egg production and the ability to mate naturally. They are known for their calm disposition and rapid growth, as well as early maturation. This is a great bird with excellent foraging skills and is in need of farmers interested in continuing to build its reputation.
The smaller Royal Palm turkey is a beautiful addition to any homestead. An excellent forager, the Royal Palm is a threat to bugs that may harm your garden and prefers a diet with plenty of access to food from the outdoors. These turkeys are also known for taking wing and must be regularly clipped. Though toms top out at 16 pounds, this is a great choice for a homestead that is not looking for more than a few birds to stock their freezer.
Harvesting Your Turkeys
You raise your poults into turkeys and watch them flourish all summer. But when the fall starts to roll around, the thought of turning one into a holiday meal definitely starts to creep in. Turkeys need time to get to what is known as market weight. This is the weight that they will be properly developed and ready to slaughter. To get your turkeys to market weight, they must be fed a high-protein food and allowed to forage for the best flavor. You’ll want to start the high-protein food between four and six weeks and it should be about 22% protein. After that, the protein needs begin to taper off over the next few weeks until they are regularly eating a 16% protein feed around 12 weeks on. In general, you’ll need them to weigh between 14 and 22 weeks before they will be ready.