For lots of folks who keep chickens, adding a turkey or two is a natural next step: they often get along well together and can even be kept in the same enclosure. They are personable and friendly and add a bit of comic relief to your day. Whether you’re interested in growing your own Thanksgiving turkey or you’re interested in keeping a turkey as a pet, the friendly folks at Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill are happy to help.
Turkeys raised for eating should be started six to nine months before the day you plan to eat them, so a commercial domestic turkey poult should be purchased around the first of May. Heirloom birds should be started by February at the latest. Some heritage breeds take much longer to develop, as much as two years or more.
Choose Your Breed and Buy Your Poults
There are several different breeds of turkeys to choose from but they are generally divided into two categories: commercial and heritage. The most popular commercial variety is the broad-breasted white, with the broad-breasted bronze coming in second. Commercial turkeys are bred for rapid weight gain but can be prone to health problems as well. They may have difficulty walking and breeding, the inability to fly, and be more disease-prone. They have a reputation for not being the most intelligent of creatures, though we don’t hold it against them. They’re not bred for their smarts!
Heritage turkeys, on the other hand, much more closely resemble the wild turkey that Ben Franklin preferred over the bald eagle our national bird. They can breed without artificial insemination, run, and (often to their owner’s chagrin) fly. There are about a dozen heritage breeds available currently but the most popular are the Bourbon Red and Narragansett. While heritage birds take longer to mature, their meat has more depth and complexity. Heritage turkeys are also more active and intelligent, making them enjoyable to keep.
Prepare Their Space, Keep Them Safe
A baby turkey is called a poult. Poults must be kept in a warm, safe environment. A child’s wading pool is a good choice for brooding turkeys, chickens, and ducks as they can be easily cleaned and have no corners – spots where poults can pile up and smother each other. Fill the pool with a few inches of straw or cob litter and cover it with paper for the first week or so to prevent them from eating the litter. The floor temperature of the brooder should be around 95 degrees fahrenheit, maintained through the use of heat lamps. Each week, raise the lamps a bit more to drop the temperature by 5 degrees or so.
Poults need food and water available to them at all times. For the first day or two, sprinkle poult starter feed on sheets of cardboard, later moving to trough-style feeders. Each poult needs one linear inch of feeder space to start but as they mature will require three to four inches per bird.
Observe your poults closely: Are they drinking? Water should be fresh and waterers cleaned daily. Often baby birds need to be shown how to drink – just dip their beak in the waterer and tip their head back to help them swallow. You need not do this with each bird; their sisters will copy this behavior. Are they piling up on each other? The temperature may be too low. Hanging out around the edge of the heat lamps? The temperature’s probably too high.
Turkey poults should be fed our Turkey Poult Starter for the first six weeks. Like our Chick Starter, this feed is high in protein to encourage healthy growth during this crucial stage in each bird’s life.
At around six weeks, birds should be let outside each day. Take care, however, as turkeys do not share the same preference for a henhouse roost that chickens do and may be reluctant to come in at night if you just turn them loose. From six to ten weeks, feed the birds our Turkey Grower 1 formulation.
Turkey housing needs are identical to chickens, in fact the two can be kept in the same enclosure. Turkeys are social birds and love company! Turkeys need about the same space as chickens in the coop but need more space for a run: about five hundred square feet is ideal.
Heritage turkeys do possess the ability to fly. Normally this doesn’t pose much of a problem but occasionally a turkey will wander off and be unable to figure out how to return home. Wing clipping may help. You can clip the flight feathers of one of a Turkey’s wings to discourage flight. Here’s a great video which shows the proper turkey wing clipping technique.
Feeding, Watering & Care
Be sure that the waterers are always full! Dehydration is a major stressor. During the heat of the summer, you might consider adding one tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar or trace mineral salt to each gallon of water. This helps improve hydration and digestion as well.
When transitioning from one feed to another, it’s important to taper your turkeys off of the old feed slowly and onto the new feed by increasing the amount of it in their feeder little by little over a period of about a week. Take a look at our feeder design sheet for some ideas on turkey feeders and waterers.
At Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill, we provide four different feed mixtures for turkeys. For the best results, please refer to the Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill Turkey Feeding Guide.
Stress and Illness
If your turkeys show signs of illnesses, don’t rush to medicate them. We are glad to share some organic healing methods with you here. Adding one tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar to each gallon of water can help a myriad of issues including dehydration, digestion issues, and general immune system weakness. You can also add one teaspoon of garlic paste to their water to support their immune system and fight off infection or respiratory issues. Organic molasses can be added during times of high stress.