Ever think about raising a turkey or two? You know, for a holiday meal?
Broad breasted turkeys are similar to what you find at the grocery store. The ‘broad breast’ meat makes them ideal for special feasts. Raised on our own land, knowing what they eat, how they are housed, and that they have a happy life is our goal for the two turkeys that we are raising.
First, a bit of history on this type of turkey. Bronze turkeys have been the most popular turkey variety for most of American history. Bronze turkeys originated as a cross between the domesticated turkeys that the European colonist brought to America AND the eastern wild turkey. They received their name from their bronze coloring.
The broad breasted bronze turkey derived from the bronze turkey being crossed with larger, faster growing breeds. Because they are broad breasted, it is difficult for them to mate naturally. Many times they are bred through artificial insemination.
Bronze and white broad breasted turkeys are available at most poultry hatcheries and also at many farm stores (in the spring). Proving themselves popular, they sold quickly this year in our area!
We decided this spring would be a great time to add turkeys to LL Farm. We ordered a male and female broad breasted bronze the same time that we ordered our chickens from the hatchery. Within 24 hours both turkeys were dead!?!?!?! Sad, but determined to not give up, we called local (and nearby) farm stores…all were sold out! Seems many others had the same idea as us this year. After searching on line for other farm stores, we made an almost two hour drive to get their last two.
Raising baby turkeys is similar to raising baby chickens. To get started, you will need a brooder and a few supplies. The turkeys will spend the first 7 – 8 weeks living in the brooder, so it is important to have everything ready before you bring the turkeys home. Along with the brooder, you will need a brooder light and red light bulb, a poultry thermometer, food container and food, water container and water, and bedding (such as pine shavings). Click HERE to read about getting your brooder and supplies ready.
You will also need a place that is draft free to keep the turkeys in while they are in the brooder. They grow fast and can be messy and smelly, so plan accordingly. A basement or heated barn/garage are good options.
Broad breasted turkeys need high protein diets because they are fast growing. We are feeding our turkeys a commercial poultry starter/grower food made for a variety of poultry, including turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, and quail. Supplement more protein in their diets if needed.
When you first get the turkeys home dip their beaks into the water and food. Always have clean water and food available for them. Clean their bedding as needed. As they grow, add a roost for them to perch on. An appropriate size branch should work.
Broad breasted turkeys grow fast (that’s why they are popular meat birds). We put a wore covering on top of the brooder so they could not get out. Imagine my surprise one morning when I went to the basement to check on them and there they were perched on top of the brooder. Lesson learned – fold wire down and/or add weights to sides.
For the first week, keep the brooder temperature at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Each week, bring the temperature down 5 degrees by raising the heat lamp a few inches. Once you reach 60 degrees, you can remove the heat lamp.
At 7 – 8 weeks, if the outside temperature stays consistently at or above 60 degrees, the turkeys are ready to be moved outside. During the day, they can free range or be in a fenced area on your property. They will need a coop that they can be locked in at night to protect them from predators.
Our weather has been dipping into the 40’s overnight, so we have not moved the turkeys outside permanently yet. They have spent some time in their coop and fenced area for a short time during the day, then back to their brooder in a heated garage at night. Once the weather warms back up, we have the turkey house and fencing ready for them.
Our turkeys still have not made the GOBBLE GOBBLE noise. They make a noise similar to a person whistling. Turkeys like human interaction. While handling them, I have found that ‘petting’ their necks seem to calm them down.
TRUTH or MYTH? Benjamin Franklin nominated the turkey to be America’s national bird?
Part 2 of Broad Breasted Bronze Turkeys will include our DIY turkey house, fencing, clipping their wings, expectant weight, and when to process.
I disagree with the performance on pasture. I have had both male and female broad-breasted bronze turkeys on pasture for a couple years now. The first year I used a John Suscovich chicken tractor system with supplement feed. I did this parallel to my Golden Sexlink and White Leghorn chickens. When winter came I decided to mix the flocks in an unheated three wall barn to over winter and allow plenty of space for both flocks. I used electric fence to create a perimeter around the barn, so they could also have outdoor time when they wanted. They thrived so well together I decided to open pasture the whole flock in the second year on pasture, Using electric fence as a perimeter with the chicken tractors available for shelter when they wanted. I have noticed the turkeys forage better than the chickens and that they lay eggs longer when there are environmental pressures. They over wintered better than the leghorns as well. Where I notice the issues with the turkeys are in the domesticated areas of the system. Like inside the brooder and the transition to the pasture from the brooder. Also they seem to need the ability to drink from a pool of water. They do not do well with the chicken nipple type systems. I always have to have a standard water system available for them to dip their beaks into. I live in Utah and so we have all four seasons. It gets up to 100+ degrees in the summer and below freezing in the winter. Also we are high altitude. Not many domestic bird breeds can thrive in this environment with only minimal human support. But the broad-breasted bronze turkeys do. They are a family favorite all season but especially when we get to eat the best tasting 35lb turkey on Thanksgiving.
Will turkeys go to their house and roost in the evening like chickens?
We raised 3 broad-breasted bronze turkeys last year and three broad-breasted white turkeys. I agree with Jennifer in that they are eating machines and they don’t perform well on pasture. They always fought over food like they’d never seen it before and had a range of issues that I chalked up to their hybridization and breeding. While we did end up with at least two of them that were a large butcher weight, I don’t think the cost of their feed was worth it. After vowing I’d just hunt wild turkey on our property this year, we are trying some Bourbon Reds I stumbled across traveling past a faraway feed store. I’ve had a Bourbon Red as part of a meat CSA before and it was the tastiest turkey I had ever eaten. I’m hoping this year’s heritage breed works out because I hate the notion of buying a factory farmed turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
Good luck with your Bourbon Reds and thanks for your input Nathan.
I do not see which State you live in but in Texas you must have a Game Breeders License to own a turkey for any purpose. Just info for those who do not know. And I like heritage breeds better myself too.
Thanks for the info Terri.
Broad breasted turkeys are eating machines and will get very large very quickly. I’ve raised them for the last 3 years along with Heritage birds. This year I’ve decided to only raise Bourbon Reds. They do not get as large as the BBs but they are tastier and I think their feed to meat conversion may be more economical.
Thanks for sharing Jennifer. Good luck with the Bourbon Reds.