The saying “What starts right, ends right” holds true when it comes to raising turkeys. The better start you give your poults, the better the chance of raising them with very few, if any, problems.
Before getting turkeys, make sure you know what type of turkey you want to get. You will need to decide if you want a turkey for food or if you want a turkey for a pet, to roam the yard, to breed and sell or even perhaps to eat in the future. BYC turkey lovers can help you decide what breed turkey you want. Regardless of your reasons for wanting turkeys, there are a few things that you will need to know about turkeys before your turkeys arrive at their new home. Here is a quick introduction guide on raising turkey poults with some tips from our members to help make it a pleasant, hassle free experience for you:
Before you get turkeys, you will want to contact your local Ag department to ask them about Blackhead and to see if Blackhead is popular in your area. The answer to that question will determine if you want to house your poults/turkeys with your chicks/chickens.
Buy your poults from a reliable source (an NPIP-certified hatchery), or a reputable breeder to guarantee good quality, healthy birds. A good place to start your search would be the Other Poultry – Birds & Hatching Eggs BST section.
YOUR POULTS AT HOME – BROODERS
Clean and disinfect brooders and housing facilities before getting your poults. Make sure you scrub and disinfect the walls, floor and all equipment used for your poults. Feeders and waterers can be soaked in a household bleach solution to kill germs. Also make sure you dry out the brooder/pen thoroughly before putting down bedding. Old towels or paper towels can be used as bedding for young poults. **Avoid using newspaper as the slippery surface can cause injuries and/or foot and leg problems.** After 3 weeks most farmers switch the bedding to wood shavings, or clean sand.
Brooder space is not a huge factor when raising turkeys, but with that being said, make sure you provide adequate floor space as well as access to feeders and waterers. Recommended space (average across species per bird) is:
Once the poults have arrived, it’s important they are kept warm. Turkey poults are very sensitive to cold. Check the brooder at least 24 hours before the poults arrive and adjust to 95 to 98 degrees F at two to three inches above the litter surface for the first two weeks. Decrease temperature ±5 degrees F each week after, until it reaches 70 degrees F, and maintain this temperature until extra heat is no longer needed (usually at around 6 to 8 weeks of age). Make sure the heat source is placed so the poults can decide where they are comfortable, i.e. have a warm space and a cooler space available in the brooder for them.
FEEDING AND WATERING YOUR POULTS
Turkey poults are particularly prone to “starving out,” which means that some poults will get pushed away from the feeder or hang back at feeding time and will actually starve to death despite food being available. Keep an eye on them for the first few days to make sure they all eat enough. When you first get your poults, dip their beaks in the water and food. This will help them find the food and water the first couple of days. As poults they are clumsy and can drown in their waterer, but adding pebbles or marbles to the water for the first week or two helps prevent this.
The best feed for turkey poults is fresh, clean turkey starter, or if none is available at your local feedstore, a game bird starter. A well stocked feedstore will offer a choice between medicated and non-medicated starter. Poults do well on either and choosing a starter us up to personal choice. Poults will do best on a starter with minimum 28% protein for the first few weeks. There are different opinions and feeding methods regarding protein levels in feed and when to reduce the levels. Here is one guide for raising and “fattening” turkeys from hatched to market, or slaughter age:
Make sure the poults have adequate, fresh, clean water available at all times. *Newborns get chilled easily and should due given water at room temperature.* Molasses is a great thing to have in a young poult or chick water for the first week of their life. Not only is a natural laxative for them to help prevent pasty butt, but it also has sugar for energy and is high in calories. It helps get the poults off to a good start. Some poultry keepers recommend adding a vitamin supplement to their drink water for the first week as well, but this is optional.
If you ARE seeing that your poults are eating and still dieing, you may want to look at problems with temps, surroundings (bedding, chemicals/poison present) and possible diseases. You may also want to check the expiration date on your feed to make sure that the feed is not expired, spoiled or molded. Check the bottom and/or middle of your feed bag and see if your brown crumbles have a greenish/grey color tint to it. If so, the feed is molded and has probably already killed your poults or will kill your poults. If this is the case, you need to IMMEDIATELY remove any feed from their feeders. Clean out their brooder and make sure that no feed has remained on the brooder floor. Contact the place where you purchased the feed to let them know and to request a refund. You will have to replace your feed. If your poults have been ingested molded feed you will need to get this mixture ready and available for them to drink (1/4 cup of molasses with 1 gallon of water). This should help the molded feed problem. You may also want to try activated charcoal. This can be found at a health food store. They sell it in gelatin capsules. You will need to make about 1/2 cup of mash which would be oatmeal or cream of wheat. You must open 4 activated charcoal capsules and mix into the feed. If your poults are too weak to eat, you will need to feed them VERY SLOWLY with a syringe or eyedropper, so that they do not choke.
As a new poult owner, you may want to feed “treats” to your poults. Most people want to give their turkeys worms from the yard. I caution you about feeding worms (earthworms) to poults. Worms carry parasites which in turn can kill your poults. If you want to feed treats, you may try feeding them fresh fruits and veggies cut up into small pieces. You may also try giving them a boiled egg and yogurt.
If you feed worms to your poults, you may be posting the next day asking for help because you have a sick poult or your poults or dying. Take my advice and do not let them get a hold to an earthworm . This is coming from an experienced bird owner who had a pea fowl that was 3 months old and died. Necropsy from LSU Vet Medical School indicated that my pea DIED from ingesting an earthworm that was infected with parasites. BEWARE – A lesson learned
Turkeys can take up to 3 months to fully develop their immune systems, so it is therefor best to avoid introducing clumps of grass, or soil from outside to the brooder while the poults are young.
By the time your turkey poults are 8-10 weeks old you can get ready to move them outside. You will now have to determine what you are going to house them in. You will also need to decide if you want to clip their wings or not. Clipped wings will keep them from flying over your fence, but the same time, they will not be able to fly away from any predators… Most turkeys are great flyers and can easily clear a 5 foot fence.
If you have predators in your area a secure coop is recommended for housing your turkey flock.
Being around them (poults), allows you to get closer when and catch them when it’s time to butcher. But you can get attacked to them it you spend to much time with them.
For the first timer raising Great White or Big Breasted Bronze can be difficult because the first 7 to 10 weeks is critical. They will also have the highest loss rate of any other breed.
Although for heritage type turkeys it recommended to butcher at 30 weeks of age. You can butcher sooner or later depending on how big you want the birds.
When you do decide to pick a breed to raise you need to consider how big of a turkey you want at butcher time. If you want a 26 to 45 pound turkey then a Great white or BB bronze is what you want. But in our case we have never purchased a turkey larger then 18 pounds from the store. So when we decided to raise some Great Whites and BB bronze it was not the smart of a decition on our part. Since they don’t fit whole in our smoker and and they barely fit into our largest baking pans. They take up to three times the space to store in the freezer whole.
A midget White will make a nice 8 to 12 pound turkey the does not take up a lot of space in the freezer. Where a Great White or BB bronze that was butcher at 22 weeks came in around 26 pounds and takes up a whole shelf in an upright freezer.
How you will cook the turkey? slow cooking methods like baking, broiling, smoking fat helps a lot with the taste and texture of the bird. So for these methods you look for a bred that will be the correct size at around the recommended time for butcher.
If you plan to fry a turkey, then you can butcher early and use one of the larger breeds.
Because more fat means a greaser bird when frying. Larger bird means more meat, but larger chest cavity so to big and it won’t fit the fryer or casue the oil to over flow.
Generally speaking you will be getting a straight run from the hatchery so you won’t be able to pick and choose between a smaller female or larger male. Also since Heritage breeds are no longer bred for consistancy the finished size will very some what. So don’t be suprised when you butcher there is several pounds difference in the same breed. Also be aware that if you order from a Hatchery they have a minum number you can purchase is usually around 15 or so.
Have your housing ready before ahead of time. We started off with 2 105 qt plastic containers for 16 Turkeys, that lasted about a week. We moved them to some larger brooders we streached that to about another 4 weeks, but that was to long. Then we had to move them to some larger indoor pens, because I didn’t have anything ready outside.
You must be careful not to get to attached to them, because it can be really easy. Since it a small flock it not like you are raising the on a commercial bases where you have hunderds of birds. So it’s really easy to get attached to them, which makes butchering a lot harder to do. since we are down to our last 6 all of ours now have nick names, and two of them I can tell we are getting attached to. We can agonizing if we will keep these to over the winter as a breeding pair or not.