Compared to other meats, turkey is relatively lean and nutritious. While often the meat of choice on Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey is a versatile meat that can be eaten any time of the year.
Choosing a breed
Most turkey breeds will mature between 14-22 weeks of age. In order to have them ready by the holidays, you will need to purchase birds early in July. Heritage breeds will take a bit longer, 25-30 weeks, so those birds would need to be purchased in late May or early June.
Turkey poults can be purchased through different hatcheries and are typically a few days old when they arrive to the purchaser. Starting with your end goals in mind is a good strategy to help you determine what breed you should purchase. Each breed will vary in the length of time it takes for the bird to mature and the final weight on mature birds. Turkeys should be kept in groups of at least three to six birds.
Care & Management: Turkey poults are raised very similarly to chickens.
They will need to be kept in a brooder for the first six weeks and can then be transferred into a coop setting. Poults needs to be raised in a warm, draft-free environment because they are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first 10 days of life. In the brooding area the temperature should be started at 100°F, measured two inches above the floor (that is, at the level of the poult). Reduce the temperature 5°F each week. A red infrared heat lamp is best to supply the heat needed. The bulb should be suspended at least 18 in. above the floor. The height of the bulb can be adjusted as the temperature needs to change.
A brooder guard should be used during the first week or two. The brooder guards keep the poults near heat, feed, and water. A typical brooder guard is 18″ tall. Poults startle easily, causing them to crowd on top of each other. Rounding all the corners of the brooding area with a brooder guard reduces the likelihood of a corner pileup.
Turkeys will need a larger area to grow than chicks due to their size, and size requirements will increase as the turkey grows. The following is the amount of coop space per turkey that will be needed:
- 0-8 weeks: 2-2.5 square feet per turkey
- 8-16 weeks: 3-4 square feet per turkey
- 16-20 weeks: 5-8 square feet per turkey
- 20 weeks to market weight: 6-10 square feet per turkey
Wood shavings are the best litter for turkeys. Do not use sawdust because poults may eat it and have digestive problems. The purpose of the litter is to absorb moisture and insulate poults from the cold floor. Any wet litter should be removed and replaced with fresh litter. Do not use newspapers or other slick materials on top of the litter. The paper will become slippery and can cause leg problems.
Turkeys also require different diets during different growth stages. They need a diet very high in protein so that they can grow and gain muscle quickly. Generally, a 30% protein diet is fed as a starter feed from 0-8 weeks of age. After that, birds can be dropped down to a 20% protein grower formula until they achieve market weight. Turkeys must have access to clean, fresh water at all times as well.
A small number of turkeys can be raised in a relatively small area, but you need to adhere to the local zoning laws and ordinances in order to raise, process, and sell turkeys. Whether the turkeys are for home consumption or for sale, you must make plans for processing, whether that is through home processing or custom processing.
Turkeys are sold at a price per pound. In order to determine what you need to charge per pound, consider the following:
- Purchase price of poults
- Feed costs
- Harvesting costs
- Marketing costs
- Other expenses—bedding, supplies, etc.
Determining your input costs will help you set a fair price so that your costs are covered.
Raising turkeys can be a fun and rewarding opportunity for youth and adults. You not only to have a great meal during the holidays (or anytime throughout the year) but the chance to build upon 4-H poultry experience.
Don’t forget, if you do not want to grow and process your own birds, you can use Harvest Connection to find farms who have local products and foods that would be perfect for the holidays (or anytime throughout the year). Hop on Harvest Connection to find farms close to you,!
Below you will learn about Grab Farm, who is just one of many farms found on Harvest Connection ready to serve you.
Phone: (518) 810-9500 & Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have questions about raising turkeys (or other meat birds) or Harvest Connection, reach out to Kayela at email@example.com!
Happy Thanksgiving from CCE of Rensselaer County!