SO YOU WANT TO BE A TURKEY PARENT
Let me just start with, “I am not an expert or a veterinary doctor,” but I do raise turkeys and am an avid reader with great retention of what I have read – especially if the reading material is about something I love, AND I LOVE TURKEYS.
This will be our 3rd year with turkeys. We started with Heritage Bronze – what we thought were one boy and two girls sexed by the best guess possible at the poultry farm from where we bought them. Let me tell you that baby turkeys are HARD to sex unless you’ve mastered checking their “nether” regions...which we have not. So we look at the size of their snood, the thickness of the legs and we’ve given feather-sexing a try. We’ve done pretty well with about 90% accuracy. This year we were only wrong twice out of all the babies we hatched and both we thought they were girls and instead, they were late developing boys.
We had those first 3 babies in our garage for a long time for two reasons. One reason was that we had read that poults are very sensitive to drafts and we wanted to be totally sure they were old enough to go outside. The other reason is that we procrastinated in how and where we wanted to put a turkey pen. Our motivation was that two of our new turkeys began to gobble. That was a sure-fire sign they were ready to head outside. Our first pen was basically T-posts and an outhouse size roosting shed.
When our babies were little, they would actually use the shed to roost in at night AFTER we trotted out at dusk or dark and put them in it about a dozen times. However, once they were older, they NEVER used it.
So let’s discuss feeding those cute little turkey babies. TURKEYS ARE NOT CHICKENS! Scratch is a treat, not a meal, for both chickens and turkeys. Layer pellet feed is for older chickens. Chick starter is for chicks and Gamebird/Turkey starter is for baby turkeys. It is high in protein (30% or more) because turkeys grow at an amazing rate and their vitamin requirements are different. There is a difference between feeding them something and they “survive” and feeding them properly so they “thrive”. Any animal that grows quickly also eats largely. You will feel like you are constantly filling their feeder – which is what you should be doing. In order for a turkey (or any bird) to grow to its full potential, you must feed them all they want to eat. Yes, they will waste some by spillage but if you ever miss a day and your birds go hungry – that’s a day of growth you will never get back.
So you’ve just picked up your new poults or they arrived in the mail..or you hatched those little big-eyed darlings from eggs you got on E-bay – no matter how you acquired them, CONGRATULATIONS, and you are about to fall in love. If you picked them up from a breeder/farm, then the little guys probably are already eating and drinking on their own and you will just need to dip their beaks into a VERY SHALLOW water bowl and dip their beaks into the food bowl and they will know what to do. However, poults are not born with the instincts to go hunt for food and water. They depend on you to show them where it is (or, if you’ve hatched a few chicks with your poults, the poults will learn from the chicks about where the dinner and drink sit. You still need to keep an eye out for any poult that hasn’t followed the others to the dinner table and help it get to food and water). If there are no “tutor” chicks, then you must take the poult and gently dip his/her beak into the water and the same with the food. This applies to the babies your incubator hatched or the babies you took out of a shipping box. Don’t expect them to start drinking and eating right away, but every few hours or so, repeat this. Don’t panic if it takes a day or two before you see anyone eating or drinking..just hatched poults still have their yolk sac reserves to draw from.
Keep that turkey starter coming until the birds are 6 months old. Don’t be fooled into thinking that BIG bird is big enough to switch to regular Gamebird/Turkey feed. Those bones and muscles are still developing. It takes 2 years for a Heritage turkey to grow to full size and it takes a strong skeletal structure and lean well developed muscle to hold 33+ lbs of weight.