It’s not really the season to be looking to find turkey poults to raise for table. That usually takes place in the spring. But it is an excellent time to let your taste buds do some research for you. Homegrown turkeys can be delicious and what you eat this holiday season, might determine what fills your brooder boxes next year.
Your Homework: Find a local breeder and reserve a fresh turkey this Thanksgiving. If you can find a heritage breed…even better! Cook it this Thanksgiving and see what you think.
If you’re the do-it-yourself type…as many of our readers are, then you just might find yourself building a turkey coop when the weather breaks.
In my opinion, if you have the means and interest in raising turkeys, then DO IT! You’ll be so glad that you did. If you’re already familiar with raising chickens, then turkeys should be a fairly easy transition. But there are some differences between the two species. I’ll highlight some of those differences in this post.
The biggest difference between turkeys and chicken is size. Turkeys are large. Even a small breed like a White Midget requires more space than the average chicken.
This translates to larger coup/run.
It also means that you might not be able to keep as many turkeys as you might chickens. They say chickens are like potato chips, you can’t have just one…well turkeys are more like baked potatoes. You might want more than one, but they fill you up a lot faster.
They’re Less Messy
It may sound counter intuitive, but turkeys are less messy in my experience than chickens. Even though turkeys are larger than chickens, and the waste load is in fact larger, I still feel like the turkey coop stays a lot cleaner than the chicken coop. Mostly that’s due to the behavior of turkeys. They’re not frantic like chickens. They move more gracefully, eat cleaner, with less scattering of food, and they don’t have the instinct to scratch like chickens.
Large piles of dropping pile up under the roosting areas, and these can easily be shoveled out on a regular basis between more thorough cleaning.
Our turkey water stays cleaner as well because the bedding isn’t being thrown around the coop as much.
They Can Fly!
If you’re planning on raising a heritage breed, be prepared to deal with some vertical coop challenges. Turkeys like to roost high. Our Black Spanish Turkeys are quite capable flyers and have been known to scale our two story barn with ease. None of our chicken shave ever attempted such heights.
Be prepared to do wing clipping or install a covered run to keep them away from unreachable heights.
Why Are you Raising Them?
When you get turkeys you need to figure out concretely why you are raising them. Chickens have a wonderful life saving aspect in that they lay eggs on a daily basis. They’re pets with benefits! And while Turkeys lay edible eggs, it’s not with the same consistency as chickens and you need to put a lot more feed into a turkey to get it to lay eggs verses chickens. The costs don’t justify the outcome.
If you simply want a couple turkey pets then this idea becomes less of an issue.
If you’re raising them for meat then you need to decide if you’re going to process them yourself or have them processed. Both require research on your part.
If you’re going to process them yourself, then you need to learn how to do this properly.
If you’re going to have them processed then you need to find a local processor in your area. This can be a lot more difficult than it sounds. Many facilities are getting out of processing poultry. It’s messy and many places feel it’s not worth the effort.
Feed is more expensive.
It takes more feed to raise a full grown turkey and if you raise them on turkey specific feed or game feed (which really is best) you’ll be looking to spend anywhere from 10-$ to 20$ more per 50lb bag.
It can be difficult to find poults
Many feed stores get in hundreds of chicks every spring, but turkeys are not as common, and heritage breeds are even rarer. You might have a difficult time finding a source of poults.
Poults vs Chicks
Turkey poults are more fragile than chicks. They’re more sensitive to temperature fluctuations, take longer to feather out and they’re slower and more delicate than chicks.
The mothers also don’t take brooding as serious as chickens. Many of our turkey hens give up on clutches half way through, or step on young accidentally.
Poults are also more expensive than chicks. Ranging around 10$-20$ each vs. chicks which come in around 3$-5$
Turkeys have different personalities than chickens. They’re deliberate, majestic creatures. They move gracefully and cautiously. When the flock is mixed, they are the last ones out of the coop, letting the fluttery chickens out first, and then the turkeys make their entrance.
Our Tom turkey is like a dog. He comes when he’s called and is incredibly curious. He loves to follow us around the yard and is somewhat protective. He always tries to “protect” me against our Golden Retriever. He insists on coming between us when ever we’re out together. Turkeys are loyal, which makes it even more difficult to think that their primary use is for meat.
In the end, if you can raise chickens and have enough space, you can raise turkeys. The general concept of care is very similar to chickens. Shelter, food, water, even raising young is similar. My advice is to give it a try. Our turkeys have brought us nothing but pleasure since we started with our first little peeps 6 years ago.