Raising and Losing Turkeys

The last time I wrote about the turkeys was when we first got them in the mail. A lot has happened since then. We started out with an order of 15 to split among friends. One became weak after the first 24 hours, though, and even though we gave him some sugar water hoping to perk him up he ended up dying the second day.

14 turkeys. We kept four, we gave four to another friend, and two other friends got three each. Ours were three Narragansetts and one gorgeous Bourbon Red.

They were SO much fun to watch! And they were way friendlier and sweeter than chickens are. Ours did really well initially. Fortunately, a friend gave me a heads-up that turkeys need higher protein than baby chicks do or they’ll die. So we fed them Chick Starter (NOT Chick Starter/Grower), which has 24% protein. Two of our friends fed their turkeys Chick Starter/Grower, which has much lower protein, and two out of three of their turkeys died and they were each left with only one turkey.

We kept our babies inside in a large plastic tote under a heat lamp for several weeks. One day I noticed that one of the turkeys was strutting his stuff around another poult, like we’ve seen the roosters do to the hens, and we figured he must be a tom. We all cracked up at such a little guy acting so big and bad!

He was my favorite. I could put my hand down in front of him, and he’d climb in and sit down on my palm for as long as I’d let him stay there.

When they fully feathered out and didn’t huddle underneath the light anymore, we took the lamp out. At this point we figured they were probably ready to enjoy some grass beneath their feet, so we took them outside and let them roam in a movable pen.

As soon as they touched the ground for the first time, all four of them laid down on their sides in the dirt. I smiled with pleasure, “Oh look, they love it! They’re taking a dirt bath like the chickens!”

Little did I know.

In reality, the sudden temperature change from air conditioning to almost 90* was too much for them to handle. And even though I put shade over them, and gave them plenty of water, one died later that day.

It was my favorite tom.

I was so, so sad. In hind sight, I was so dumb.

I couldn’t figure it out. Why’d he die? I noticed that their water container had been knocked over, and I assumed maybe he died from thirst. Can turkeys die from thirst in a matter of hours? I brought the remaining three inside again for the night.

The next day, I took our three lively turkeys back outside to enjoy some fresh air. I put them in a shady place in the yard, and went about my day. A few hours later I went to check on them and noticed that their pen was now in full sun. And in horror I discovered another dead turkey. This time the water was still full, and I confirmed that it was the heat that had done them in.

We were more careful after that. We only had two left! But they were getting big, and really starting to stink in the house. I decided to put them back outside during the day, but I’d be more careful to keep them in full shade the whole time.

Unfortunately, even that wasn’t good enough. We lost the beautiful Bourbon Red (the light colored one in the photo) a few days later to the heat. Even in the shade she still got too hot.

I called my other friend to check on her four turkey babies. I couldn’t believe it when her daughter told me that three of theirs had died from the heat as well!

Man! What were we supposed to do?! We couldn’t keep them in the house forever.

With only one left we had to be really careful. I still took him outside, but only for like an hour or two, and then I brought him back into the laundry room. He made a lot of noise though, so at night he slept in the closed up greenhouse.

Finally we decided that it was just time to build a permanent place for him outdoors. So, three days ago Jerry rigged a fence around our old goat shed (which is in the cool woods) and we moved the turkey in. We stuck the two guineas in with him (or her?) so he wouldn’t be lonely. They did fine the first two days. That is, until this morning.

When I went out to check on them earlier today, the turkey and the guineas were nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere, calling for them. And then I spotted it… a scattering of grey feathers, and a hole under the fence. A fox must have done it. Dang it!

I found one of the guineas a little while later, hanging out around the chicken coop. And I held out hope that maybe the turkey would miraculously show up. But it hasn’t. We’re out of luck.

We’ve decided that baby turkeys are just too much trouble. And at $10 each, they aren’t a cheap loss. I vow to no longer scoff at Craigslist ads asking $50 for a grown turkey. It just might be worth it if it’s one that can breed.

I’m so bummed out. Poor turkeys. I really loved having them.

Have you ever tried raising turkeys? How’d it go for you? Any tips on what I should have done differently?

29 thoughts on “Raising and Losing Turkeys”

  1. We have had no luck with our Turkeys either. We started with 6 and I have one left.
    This is our first time with turkeys and I have a question which may sound supid, but the turkey seems lonely when we leave him/her alone. It follows is around and we love him, but feel so bad when he’s crying out for us. There are chickens and ducks but hangs out with us or alone. Can he die of loneliness? Should we get him more?
    Would appreciate any suggestions.

    • i would highly reccomend it. because any time i separate mine the other one goes and lies down and is super loud

  2. I raise Chocolate Heritage turkeys. The first time I ordered them I lost one right away but the rest survived. I took them out each day to forage for an hour or so then back in the house. Now I just let the adults set, hatch and raise the poults and I don’t sell them till the momma’s start sending them off. About day three after they hatch I throw a piece of watermelon proportionate to the size of the clutch. That stimulates eating and a natural sugar boost to get them going. I do understand and I’m sorry for your loss, they are a wonderful creature and I enjoy watching them walking around the farm.

  3. So far, just as bad or worse. I picked up my baby turkeys Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday when I went to check on them one was dead and another wasn’t looking so good. My husband did the morning chores and the other had died. I just went out a half hour ago and found a third one dead. Down to two and one is not looking great. What is the secret?? I have raised, ducks, chicks and quinea hens and never lost one. Maybe I have been lucky? Knock wood. I was thinking about Geese. Are they any easier. It is quite the BUMMER.

  4. I am glad I found this thread, I thought we were doing something wrong. We got ours mail order, first one died within 24 hours. Then a few days later, same thing. Today another died. I’ve raised guinea keets, ducklings and chicks, but didn’t have them keeling over so fast! Too bad we don’t have dog food anymore.

    So far we’ve lost three, but the day isn’t over yet! Seems like they aren’t too interested in eating either (bad sign?). Some of them are perky-ish, but most seem ‘sleepy’, if that makes sense. I’m so bummed as well, so far it’s over 30 bucks not including shipping down the drain. We’ve got 13 poults left out of 16 and they aren’t even two weeks old yet.

    Do turkeys raised by their own mothers do better? We got Naragansets and Broad breasted bronze (standard). From what the hatchery said, the Naragansets make the best mothers. Hopefully we’ll have enough survive so they can reproduce for next year. Geez!

  5. Hi Kendra, Did you end up having any live? We only have a hen. Do you have a tom? Come and see her at Miracle Farm Homestead. She thinks she is a cross between a dog and a cat. Blessings Hope

      • I felt the same way when my dog killed one of my baby πŸ¦ƒ. So silly, how could I be so silly to let that happen. He (my dog) really thought they were toys, he knows now they weren’t but too late. I took the rest (4 remaining and 4 beautiful chicks)to the Humane Society and gave a big donation. I feel awful 😒

  6. Kendra,
    I’ve been a subscriber for a couple years and really enjoy your blog. I just linked to this post in answer to a reader comment about raising turkeys. My post she commented on is about a newbies perspective on raising and butchering meat chickens, Do You Have the Guts To Butcher a Chicken

  7. Hi Kendra

    Sorry you have lost your birds, it is very sad to hear of expensive losses. Just a few thoughts to add to the other excellent suggestions if I may.
    A lot of the commercial breeds sold as day olds and upwards are for shed rearing, you know the kind, the vast soul less places many of us hate. The white fast growing breeds ( the names differ over here so I will stick to type ) are really a shed breed needing high protein diet to grow quickly. They give a dry, white meat.
    The darker coloured breeds are nearer genetically to your wild bird, that is what we would term a slow grower, a darker, moister and more gamier meat. Still shed reared for some, but free range for most and command a much higher price.
    It is always worth remembering that like commercial chicken and duck breeds, that rearing conditions are controlled. Humidity, temperature and feed ratio, even light is increased to encourage feeding, hence fast growth. To try and raise the commercial white in traditional and more humane conditions hits problems straight away. The conditions frankly do not seem to suit the “type”, I have noticed this with different birds over the years and avoid buying them as chicks for this very reason.
    Finally, and a possible alternative with less heartache, have you considered raising larger breeds of chicken for table use? I think I remember back in our FB days mentioning this. The larger Brahma and Orpington types can put on excellent weight. They are easy to rear and finish, seem less fussier than turkey or guinea fowl. Also in their last few months will fatten nicely on clipped maize if kept on grass, I have managed to get them to around 7 to 8 lbs in a good year.
    Just a suggestion as always! I do so enjoy reading what other folks find successful or not as the case maybe.

    God bless

  8. Why wouldn’t you do it in reverse? bring them in in the heat of the day take them out at night. We do that with baby rabbits watch the temp anytime over 100 in they come until evening. the Bucks and Does get water filled frozen Mountain Dew bottles to cuddle instead.

    My 84 year old aunt says turkeys can’t be on the ground – must be in a raised pen.

  9. So sorry to heat about your loss. I know that the main goal is to raise them for a food source but you can’t help but go attached to them. Our first set of turkey chicks all died or ran away (aka we able to escape through the fence to never return). Our second go of turkey raising we had bought 6 week turkeys from a friend needless to say their alive.

    I’m wondering if the temp change from going from inside to outside helped contribute to it. We’ve raised lots of chickens from eggs and there some “batches” that we just have lots of casualites with. Perhaps the hatchery unknowingly sold sick turkeys. Just a thought since your friends turkeys didnt fair as well either.

    Sorry again for your loss πŸ™

  10. This is my first year I have order birds by mail, I usually bought what was local on craigslist but I wanted something more “exotic” well everything I bought by mail died. I live in FL and learned there is a reason most everyone has the same breeds. I thought you fed turkeys game starter?

  11. This is our 3rd year raising turkeys and I can vouch for the fact that they are NOT as easy to raise as chickens. The first year we raised 2 BBB and they did great. Our 2nd year we raised 1 BBB and it died around 14wks old. This year we started off with a Burbon Red and it died less than 48 hours after we brought it home. I then purchased 2 more BBB and they have been so hardy (knock on wood!) They are both now about 12wks old.
    A few things I have learned about turkeys:
    1. Heat is hard on them. (As you have obviously learned.) Maybe getting them early in the year, since hertiage breed turkeys take longer to get to butcher weight anyway, is a good idea so that when they do start to make the transition to outside, it’s not as severe.
    2. NEVER raise a turkey alone. I don’t know if it’s that they are dumb (beacuse they are) or a compaionship thing but they do not do well solo. We raised a chick that was born the same day as the turkeys with them, so they are a little pair of three. Since the chicken is smarter as well, it can show the trukeys the ropes. πŸ™‚
    3. Always have pro-biotics or electrolytes on hand to give to birds that even start to look poorly.
    4. Find a cheap source to get turkeys. I have purchased BBB poults for as much as $9.50 and our Bourbon Red was $15. Then I found a feed store that sells BBB for only $2 a poult. I went and bought them THE DAY that they arrived from the hatchery. Then, if you do lose one, it’s not as large of a loss.
    Hope that some of that helps!

  12. Kendra,

    I’m sorry you had such trouble with your turkeys. In my case, I was expecting trouble with our four Blue Slate and Bourbon Red turkeys and they have turned out to be hardy little suckers.

    They had to go outside in the middle of our 100 degree plus heat wave simply because at seven weeks of age they were too big and stinky to be in the house any longer. I put them in our newly completed duck house with an attached run. I made sure they had an area of shade and water at all times. On the 110 degree days, I went outside and spritzed them off a bit with cool water (they love water, unlike my chickens), but otherwise gave them no special care.

    They are thriving and are HUGE. Here’s a link to my last blog post about them. They’ve grown quite a bit more since then.


    I have no idea why I’ve had such good luck with turkeys. I was truly expecting the worst because I have heard from multiple sources just how fragile they are.

  13. I’m so sorry to hear that you lost all of your turkeys. That is a very hard loss to take. And I understand completely how attached you were to them. They have so much more personality than chickens.

    I am raising turkeys for the first time this year and have been surprised at how well they have done. I have lost 1 out of 17…so far. Don’t want to jinx it by thinking I’m out of the woods at 3+ weeks.

    I am planning to write more about my experience with the turkeys on my blog in the coming weeks. Hope you can stop by for a virtual visit.

    Once again, my condolences on your loss. Raising livestock can be so rewarding, and so painful at times too.

    Oh…I was wondering what the outdoor temps were like in your area when you lost the little ones to the heat?

  14. My turkey came home from the neighbors barn with 10 babies in tow. I caught all of them up and put them in a brooder box, as we have cats and a red fox has been lurking around. I only have 1 left. All the other times we have had babies, the hens would bring home 1 or 2 and they did fine. I have decided that the next round of babies, I am going to let the hen raise them. If the wild turkeys can keep their babies safe, I will let my bronze try her “hand” at it. We had a flock of wild turkeys come up the other day in the pasture with all of their babies. We think one of the hens is one we hatched in our incubator. She has stayed close for a couple of years now.

  15. Kendra so sorry to hear about your turkeys. I started out 2 months ago with 18, I sold 2, One morning I found 1 dead(no clues) Then One day I put them out into a larger pen. I left for a couple hours and when I came back one was dancing all over one I don’t know if he killed it or he was mourning it. Then the other night a coon got inside the coop and took one(I was lucky he didn’t clean house)The coop is now very secure but I’m down to 14.

    As for the feed, for two months I’ve been feeding them flock raiser, they did fine on the chick starter. The last few weeks they’ve been starving, they’ve been eating $25 worth of feed a week. Today I went to a small family owned feed store and they told me they needed more protein, they actually had turkey feed. Don’t know what tomorrow will bring but keeping my fingers crossed. One thing for sure there not cheap to raise, but very much enjoy them. I had someone stop and take pictures the other day because I was mowing the lawn and they were following me back and fourth on the lawn.

    Over all it’s been interesting.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. We love turkeys and, if not for them, we would not be able to grow our market garden since we don’t use chemicals and are overrun by grasshoppers otherwise. Our poults go into the garden with a “nanny” when they are 6-8 weeks old and start bug patrol.

    We’ve raised Midget White turkeys for years now and I can’t recommend them enough for their foraging, broodiness, calm nature, winter-hardiness and intelligence. If you get over you loss and want to take another run at turkeys you might want to try this breed.


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