When it comes to raising livestock, some people, including your author here, are just mad about poultry. I love the versatility of birds considering they can provide eggs and meat, along with useful fertilizer.
They’re also a lot easier to handle and require a lot less room than other animals. But if you want bigger birds than chickens, and especially if you want a ton of meat, turkeys are the way to go.
There are a lot of similarities between chickens and turkeys when it comes to raising them, but lots of differences too as you might imagine.
If you’ve ever had questions about raising turkeys, you’ve come to the right place, because today I’m bringing you a guide that will tell you everything you need to know.
What are Turkeys Raised For?
Turkeys are popular farm animals that have been raised for centuries for their rich, flavorful meat, and other products.
They are a great addition to any homestead or farm, offering a range of benefits for their owners, including a fun and rewarding hobby, sustainable meat source, eggs and even a potential source of income.
Turkeys are raised primarily for their meat, which is prized for its tender texture and rich flavor.
These birds grow quickly and can reach a weight of up to 20 lbs (9 kgs) or more in just a few months, making them an efficient and cost-effective source of protein.
Whether roasted, smoked, or grilled, turkey is a staple of every Thanksgiving, and is also a delicious option for everyday cooking.
In addition to meat and eggs, turkeys can also offer other products such as feathers, and even manure, which can be used to fertilize crops and gardens.
This makes them an excellent choice for homesteaders and beginning farmers who are looking for a low-maintenance animal to add to their operation.
What are the Pros and Cons of Turkeys?
Like all livestock species, and even compared to other poultry, turkeys have their own pros and cons:
Pros Of Raising Turkeys
Efficient Source of Meat
Turkeys grow relatively quickly for their overall size, and can reach maturity in just a few months, making them an excellent source of protein for a homestead or farm.
Turkeys can be used for meat or other products like eggs and feathers, helping to create a more sustainable and diverse operation.
These birds are well-adapted to a variety of climates and can thrive in less-than-ideal conditions, making them a good choice for beginning farmers or those with limited resources.
Turkeys don’t require a lot of specialized equipment or care, and can be relatively easy to raise as long as they have access to basic shelter, water, and food.
Cons Of Raising Turkeys
Turkeys can be very noisy birds, especially during mating season. This can be a problem for those with close neighbors or those who are easily disturbed by loud noises.
Risk of Disease
Turkeys can be highly susceptible to certain diseases, such as avian influenza and blackhead disease, which can be difficult to treat and can cause significant losses.
They can catch some of the worst ones from chickens and other birds!
Male turkeys, or toms, can be aggressive and territorial. Considering how large and powerful these birds are, this can make them difficult to handle and pose a potential safety risk. Plenty of interaction can curb this, however.
Turkeys are messy birds, generating a lot of waste and requiring regular cleaning of their living quarters compared to ducks and chickens.
Slow to Mature
Although they grow quickly relative to other farm animals, it can still take many months for turkeys to reach true maturity, so a long-term commitment is needed to raise them to market size.
Choose the Right Breed
Though nowhere near as numerous as chicken breeds, there are still a variety of domestic turkey breeds, each with their own unique characteristics and advantages.
The most popular commercial breeds include Broad Breasted White, Standard Bronze, and Narragansett.
Broad Breasted White turkeys are the most widely used type for commercial production, thanks in part to their rapid growth rate and high meat yield.
They grow quickly and are typically ready for market in about 16 weeks. These birds have all-white feathers, making them easily identifiable, as well as a broad breastbone which makes them suitable for larger-scale operations.
Standard Bronze turkeys are one of the oldest domesticated breeds, having been developed in Europe by crossbreeding multiple wild species.
This breed is smaller than the Broad Breasted White but is also highly efficient when it comes to converting feed into bodyweight.
These birds have deep bronze or copper colored plumage which can be quite striking.
Narragansett turkeys are another popular breed that originated in Rhode Island and New England during colonial times.
These birds have long tail feathers and black bars on their legs that distinguish them from other types of domestic turkeys.
They tend to be slower growing than other breeds but still produce a good amount of meat per bird, making them an attractive choice for smaller scale farms or homesteads.
How Much Space Do Turkeys Need?
Turkeys need much more room than chickens, and preferably a spacious enclosure that allows them to move around and engage in natural behaviors, such as foraging and dust bathing.
The amount of space they need depends on the breed and number of birds, but generally speaking, one turkey requires at least 25 square feet (2 square meters) per bird, though some can tolerate less space for a shorter time.
The outdoor area should include a grassy yard with enough room for all of the birds to spread out without crowding one another.
It should also include shaded areas, dirt patches or mulch for dust bathing, as well as roosts and other places to perch.
Food and Water
What Do Turkeys Eat?
Domestic turkeys have a simple yet varied diet that includes a variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables.
They enjoy foods such as oats, corn, wheat, and barley as well as fresh fruits like apples and berries. Vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, and squash are also popular with turkeys.
It’s important to supplement their diet with calcium sources like oyster or clam shells, or poultry grit.
Protein sources such as mealworms, small fish or chopped-up eggs should also be provided occasionally to guarantee a balanced nutritional intake.
How Much Food Do Turkeys Need Daily?
How much food a turkey needs depends on its age and size. A mature adult (20+ weeks old) will eat up to 1-2 lbs (500 grams to 1 kilogram) of feed per day, while younger birds may need half that amount or less.
It’s important to provide plenty of feed throughout the day, as turkeys are grazers by nature and enjoy nibbling on small amounts of food throughout.
Also consider this when determining feed costs: turkeys eat a whole lot more food than chickens or ducks, and they need more protein than geese since they are more muscular as a rule!
How Do Turkeys Like to Drink?
Turkeys also need access to clean drinking water at all times.
A large and sturdy gravity-fed trough is ideal for turkeys to drink from, as this will help ensure that they always have plenty of water on demand, and it will also resist being knocked over. It’s also capable of serving large numbers of birds at once.
Smaller turkeys, or poults, can drink from a nipple waterer when they are young, but as they grow larger and more active, they should also switch to the trough.
Avoid large, open containers: Turkeys enjoy taking baths in shallow water if given the opportunity!
All water sources should be cleaned and changed daily in order to prevent the onset of disease between birds.
Do Turkeys Need to Free-Range?
Generally yes. Turkeys need grass at the minimum to free-range on, and this is in keeping with their general need for space in order to thrive.
Free-ranging also gives them access to grit, and insects which can provide a source of protein.
When allowing turkeys to free range, it’s important to ensure they have access to a shady area so they can rest during hot weather.
You should also keep an eye on your flock while they are out roaming, as predators like coyotes can be a danger.
However, only the largest birds of prey will target mature, adult turkeys, and toms put up a heck of a fight.
What Kind of Shelter Do Turkeys Need?
Domestic turkeys are much larger birds than chickens and so require much more room than chickens to live comfortably.
The best option for sheltering domestic turkeys is a small barn with adequate space for walking and standing (if you allow them to come and go freely.
For only a few turkeys an extra large coop might be adequate. Roosts should be sturdy, wide, easily accessible and relatively low to the ground.
Nesting boxes must also be much larger, around 2 ½ feet squared.
If the turkeys are not allowed to free-range, they will also require a run which should be enclosed with, at least, 5 foot fences because, despite their bulky appearance, most domestic turkeys can fly very well over short distances.
Large and heavy domestic turkeys don’t fly so well, but cannot be trusted! Ideally, the run should have an upper netting or cover to keep the turkeys from flying away or being carried attacked by predators.
How Do Turkeys Get Along with Other Animals?
It varies. Although you’ll find no end to anecdotal stories in person and on the internet.
Generally, you can expect mature turkeys to get along fine with chickens and ducks (assuming there is plenty of room and no resource pressure) and also with geese, although the size parity might cause some issues.
However, dogs are predators known to cause stress to turkeys and cats may see poults especially as potential prey, so it’s best to keep them separated. Don’t turn your back regardless.
Pigs cannot be trusted not to kill turkeys. Larger animals like cows and horses might get along with them okay, but the risk of an accidental injury is high.
Common Turkey Health Problems and Diseases,
Turkeys are generally considered very hardy birds, but they can still develop health issues if their care is not optimal.
Common turkey health issues include Fowl Pox, Chlamydiosis, Blackhead disease and Avian Flu.
Fowl Pox is a viral infection that causes lesions on the face and comb of the bird, while Avian Flu is a deadly virus spread through contact with wild waterfowl and poultry; both of these require veterinary treatment to cure.
Chlamydiosis is another bacterial infection, typically found in turkeys with weak immune systems; it’s spread by respiratory secretions and feathers from other infected birds.
Blackhead Disease is one of the worst diseases for turkeys, caused by a protozoan parasite; it can be fatal if left untreated.
Other more minor health issues include Avian Gastric Yeast overgrowth which can cause problems with digestion, as well as nutritional deficiencies caused by poor diet or lack of access to sunlight in winter months.
It’s important to practice regular biosecurity protocols such as:
- Keeping your flock away from wild birds
- Providing them with a balanced diet,
- Offering ample space for each bird to prosper
- Cleaning up any messes quickly.
Turkeys are shockingly fast! If you’ve ever watched them gingerly, slowly, almost sedately strut around you might be surprised to learn that some leaner domestic turkeys can run at speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour (40 kmh).
Pretty athletic performance from what looks to be a large and chubby bird. This speed can make them difficult to contain (or get away from!) if they escape an enclosure.
This is another good reason why all of your enclosures must be escape proof: you’ll have little chance of catching a turkey if it gets out, unless you’re an Olympic sprinter!
Yes, they can, and most fly well if they don’t get too fat! All turkeys, including domestic ones, are capable of flight, though they rarely fly very high.
Turkeys typically fly up to the height of a tall tree or lower, but they can fly faster than 55 mph.
Pretty impressive! Wild turkeys are capable of longer sustained flight, however, and can travel several miles in search of food.
Domestic breeds tend to be much heavier than wild birds, and this can make them less likely to fly and more prone to injury dropping to ground level.
Even so, they will easily hop fences, so be prepared to clip wings to keep them in place.
Turkeys are much like chickens in this regard: they take dust baths! Unlike a chicken, a turkey will raise a huge cloud when dust bathing, and so they need a lot more dust in their bathing area.
You can use the same kind of materials that you would use for chickens, including sand, wood ash, and sifted dirt.
Keep in mind that turkeys need a wider and deeper bath than chickens as they are larger birds.
It’s important to make sure that the dust bathing area is clean and free from droppings, as this will help prevent the onset of disease and parasites.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.