A Guide to Turkey Farming
With turkey still on everybody’s mind, it should come as no surprise that this is the time of year that many consider rearing their own backyard turkeys. Raising turkeys can be a rewarding, although timely, endeavor, and the colorful personalities possessed by turkeys make them a particularly fun bird to raise. Their universal appeal extends throughout the country, and at one point Ben Franklin even wanted the turkey to be considered as the national bird. In a letter to his daughter he wrote, “He [the turkey] is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” While the turkey lacks the majesty of the bald eagle, and probably isn’t what most Americans would want as a representative, it is a bird of cultural significance and one that many are capable of successfully raising.
So let’s start by identifying what makes a person a good candidate for rearing turkeys, and then we’ll go over some of the basics and discuss the often human-like demeanor that turkeys have become known to display.
Is raising turkeys a good choice for you?
Deciding to raise turkeys is certainly a big decision, and it is one that takes a lot of thought. First of all, they require plenty of time and attention, so if your schedule is already tight, turkeys probably aren’t a good fit. Everyday turkeys will have to be provided feed and water, and regular cleaning will also be necessary. If you plan on using them for meat, slaughtering and processing the birds can also be a lengthy process.
Space will also be a necessity, and if you have chickens, turkeys will have to be raised separately, due to the fact that chicks grow quicker, they can spread disease, have different feeding requirements and, eventually, turkeys become bigger. A dozen poults, which are young turkeys, will need a space that is about 10’ wide by 10’ long, and this space will have to be expanded as they grow. Turkeys are best off with as much space as possible, and a dozen grown turkeys will need a pen that is a minimum of 75’ long by 75’ wide.
Expense is also a major concern, especially for first time owners. There is equipment that will need to be purchased, which includes housing, pens, feeders, waterers and the poults themselves cost money. It’s always a good idea to start small initially, so you don’t get in over your head.
Finally, is it even legal to raise turkeys in your city, town or village? Many municipalities have laws against raising turkeys or have required permits, so be sure to check before you get too involved.
If you’ve determined that raising turkeys is something that can fit into your schedule, it’s time to consider the basics. For those that want to raise them for meat, turkeys will need at the very least – and often times more – three and a half months to mature. Those that want them in time for Thanksgiving generally start in June. Turkeys require a brooder that is similar to the ones used by chickens. You’ll need a dry container that is kept in a safe space. In the bottom of the container there should be a bed of wood chips, and a heat lamp should be suspended over the container. Make sure there is an area in the container where the heat isn’t as concentrated. This will give the poults an opportunity to get away from the heat if they become too hot.
Initially, poults should be kept in an area with a temperature between 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature should be decreased by five degrees each week until they have feathered out. This is just a general rule, and you’ll have to adjust the temperature based on the poults behavior. If they are crowding around the heat source, turn the heat up, and if you notice them trying to get away from the heat, turn it down.
Poults learn how to eat and drink from their mother, and since you’ve taken on this role, the job will fall on you. Poults will usually be able to eat on their own; they just may need to be pointed towards their food source. To teach them how to drink simply – and carefully – dip their beaks in water. This will have to be done a couple of times, but they usually pick this up pretty quickly.
Food and water should be available at all times, and at first, they will need a feed that is high in protein to support their rapid growth. Feed that is about 28 percent protein is a good place to start, and after two months or so, the protein content can be reduced to 20 percent to 22 percent. At about three and a half months they can be given feed that is 18 percent to 20 percent, and at this time, they can also start to forage if there is enough room. Turkeys should also be fed cracked grains to support their digestive process.
The Familiar Psychology of Turkeys
Those that choose to raise backyard turkeys should be aware that it is easy to become attached, and this can make the slaughtering process particularly difficult. It’s scary how similar turkeys can be to humans, and their social traits, both positive and negative, are found endearing by many. Turkeys possess a wide range of sounds, like clucks and gobbles, and they’re always looking to communicate. They have a desire to be heard, and will often follow other turkeys, animals or humans displaying their various communication skills. Their need for social interaction is often times fueled by their propensity towards loneliness. They always want to be around somebody, and this is clearly displayed when they think they’re being separated. Many turkeys will become frantic if they believe they are being removed from their group, and this can make work difficult at times.
Turkeys also go through a period where they act like teenagers. They’ll become louder than usual, and will just have a general air of obnoxiousness. They will get rough with the others to establish their superiority, and they’ll also constantly seek attention. This kind of behavior will usually end after sometime, and they will return to their normal demeanor.
These are just the basics of raising turkeys and there’s plenty more to explore with raising turkeys. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and we’ll get back to you.