Raising Turkeys at Home

Beautiful and helpful in controlling pests, turkeys are easy to raise and fun to watch. Plus by raising turkeys at home, you'll have farm-fresh turkey for holiday meals.

| October/November 2001

Turkeys first came here to Locust Grove Farm in southern Ohio in 1991. After a year of living without animals I announced, "Fences or not, I am going to get some livestock." My wife, Linda, said I could if I wanted, but she was much too busy to participate. About a month later my livestock — baby chickens — was delivered. But she took one look at those tiny baby birds, and I could tell from the expression on her face I was out of the chicken picture. So I ordered some day-old turkey poults and decided to try raising turkeys at home. That's how my love affair with these beautiful, friendly birds of many colors began. After my first taste of flavorful, farm-fresh, roasted turkey, I knew I would never go back to bland commercial birds again.

Growing Gobblers

Raising a few friendly, handsome turkeys for your family's use is both fun and worthwhile. If you raise them to eat, you'll have a much more wholesome and flavorful turkey than anything you could buy at the supermarket. Several of the old "heritage" breeds are still available, as well as the "modern" Broad-breasted Whites.

Heritage poultry specialist Glenn Drowns of Sand Hill Preservation Center in Calamus, Iowa, says the Traditional Bronze and White Holland varieties are well suited for small flocks of under 20, particularly for consumption, and that Narragansetts and Bourbon Reds are beautiful medium-size birds better suited to foraging and pest control. I also recommend the striking white-and-black Royal Palm for those desiring a smaller (10- to 16-pound) turkey.

Frank Reese, a long-time turkey aficionado and breeder from Good Shepherd Ranch in Lindsborg, Kan., also suggests the Standard Bronze and White Holland varieties for meat production. He adds that his Sadie Lloyd strain of Bourbon Reds is an excellent all-around choice and mothers very well — no need to worry that chicks won't be looked after. Other good "setters," according to Reese, are the Black Spanish and small strains of the Narragansett.

If you want to raise turkeys to sell, my personal favorite is a medium-size strain of the Broad-breasted Bronze. However, this bird has only been available recently from private breeders because of a temporary outbreak of a slow-spreading, chronic respiratory disease in commercial breeder flocks. This fast-growing modern bird has the abundance of breast meat that U.S. consumers have come to expect. A Broad-breasted Bronze usually has two to four times the amount of breast meat as a wild turkey. A Bronze generally will reach a dressed weight of 16 to 25 pounds in about 24 weeks, the standard time required to raise a high quality turkey. It could take a heritage bird up to two years to reach this weight, and some never will. This time period is important because turkeys don't add fat until 22 weeks. Fat is where much of the flavor is, so you want a good layer under the skin to self-baste the bird as it cooks.

Getting Started Raising Turkeys

The easiest and least expensive way to get started with turkeys is to buy day-old turkeys in the spring. (Baby turkeys are called poults.) Before your birds arrive, you will want to set up a brooder area. At Locust Grove Farm we brood our poults in a children's wading pool — yep, that's right. We line it with about 1 inch of wood shavings and hang one or two infrared heat lamps to keep the birds warm. It is very important to keep your birds warm and dry, and the round design of the pool will keep the birds from piling in a corner and smothering each other. The temperature at floor level for the first week should be between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit; after the first week raise the lamps to reduce the floor temperature by 5 degrees each week.

7/13/2016 12:54:07 PM

Hi! I'm new to the Mother Earth news community and have a few reality questions regarding the total costs estimate you are looking at spending on starting a turkey farm! Maybe a ballpark figure? Also, any tips on starting that you would go back and do differently if you had the chance? THANK YOU!

10/6/2015 1:49:35 AM

I read this http://turkeyview.blogspot.com/2015/10/strutting-tom-running-hen.html?m=1 If looks tricky for me. How do I then get regular fertilised eggs for my customers

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