First-timer Contemplating Turkeys. Breed?

Bicoastal

In the Brooder
Dec 14, 2020
14
34
41
Central VA
First timer! I purchased a farm and am interested in raising a few poults this summer for Thanksgiving for myself and family. Turkeys seem like an easy animal to start the raise-your-own-food journey. Did anyone burst into laughter at my naivety? 😜 My biggest uncertainty, after “Am I crazy for considering this?!?!” is breed.

My research so far:

- 30% protein the first 8 weeks. Can be hard to find 30%.

- If you can raise poults to the fully feathered stage, they are low maintenance; very vulnerable when young

- Mixing chickens and turkeys risks blackhead, so though I’d love both I can’t in my state (VA) 😢

- Turkeys prefer to free range and roost in trees

- Double Breasted Whites (DBW) are what we are most accustomed to. Growth period is four months.

- Cackle permits purchases of as few as three poults

Questions

- If my goal is four adults to harvest, how many poults should I purchase (typical loss rate?)?

- My biggest concern is dress-out weight appealing to buyers and ability to fit in the oven! Thus the breed debate. What is the most common weight consumers desire? Will DBW be too large after four months? I prefer the color of DBB. Royal Palms are oh so pretty! But I read that Bronze have a darker carcass that may look unappealing and Royal Palms dress out rather small with small breasts.

- Cackle lists availability out to July, but how do I select the date I want when I order? I am also delighted to hear of any local breeders (VA).

- What keeps turkeys from wandering away, if free range?

- Can or should you pull their food at night to reduce rodents (like you can with chickens)?

- I can shut them in the coop at night and run during the day, but it sounds like they prefer roaming the great outdoors. Pros/cons of confining them?

- Do you recommend a different breed? Should I purchase a few DBW for Nov 2021 and a few heritage for next year? Do you recommend having all of the birds on the same cycle?

- Four-month growth means poults in July, right? Looks like that is the end of Cackle’s hatching season, and I’m wondering why? :confused:I assume most people want to harvest in November.
 

R2elk

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- Turkeys prefer to free range and roost in trees

- Double Breasted Whites (DBW) are what we are most accustomed to. Growth period is four months.
If you are looking at Broad Breasted Whites (BBW), they will not be roosting in trees. They fly well as youngsters but once they put sufficient weight on, the broad breasted varieties do not fly.

Free range will cause slower growth. If you want them simply to produce meat, a large run is nice but free ranging is not necessary.
- If my goal is four adults to harvest, how many poults should I purchase (typical loss rate?)?
I typically have 100% survival but people trying to gets a limited number of poults growing can have survival rates as low as zero and as high as 100%.

For me, the more poults that I start with the higher the survival rate is. I recommend that you start with a minimum of 6. There is a valid reason why most hatcheries require a minimum purchase of 15 poults for shipping. I have seen many complaints about the small quantity shipments from Cackle or others arriving dead or dying shortly after arrival.

When I order poults I order the 15 minimum. I either arrange to split the order with others or else I advertise the extras for sale as soon as they arrive. I have not had any problems selling off extras.
- My biggest concern is dress-out weight appealing to buyers and ability to fit in the oven! Thus the breed debate. What is the most common weight consumers desire? Will DBW be too large after four months? I prefer the color of DBB. Royal Palms are oh so pretty! But I read that Bronze have a darker carcass that may look unappealing and Royal Palms dress out rather small with small breasts.
All domestic turkeys are the breed Turkey. There are many different varieties. There is no such thing as DBW. Broad Breasted turkeys are BBB (bronze) or BBW (white).

Four month old BBW toms can dress out in the 30 to 40 lb. range. The hens can dress out in the 20 lb. range.

For a meat bird, I prefer a white feathered bird which will present a more appealing carcass. Bronze turkeys can present an appealing carcass if harvested when there are no pin feathers. Mature feathers do not leave the black color behind that growing feathers have. Either way, the color left behind will not be noticeable once cooked and will not change the flavor.

Royal Palms are a heritage variety and will never attain the size of the BB turkeys. A one year old Royal Pam tom may dress out at 15 lbs.
- What keeps turkeys from wandering away, if free range?
A perimeter fence and an appealing home base. Food and water in the coop and or run area. A sheltered place to roost.
- Can or should you pull their food at night to reduce rodents (like you can with chickens)?
You can. They eat during the daytime, not at night.
- I can shut them in the coop at night and run during the day, but it sounds like they prefer roaming the great outdoors. Pros/cons of confining them?
If you are only raising meat birds, they can be raised in a coop with a large run. Shutting them in a secure coop fpr the night can save them from predators especially when they are young.
- Four-month growth means poults in July, right? Looks like that is the end of Cackle’s hatching season, and I’m wondering why? :confused:I assume most people want to harvest in November.
Some order earlier and send to freezer camp once the desired size is achieved. Thanksgiving is the biggest time that turkeys are desired. Christmas isn't really that far behind.

I would buy my BBWs from local feed stores in March and harvest at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Buying from local stores eliminates the problems associated with shipping small batches.
 

Bicoastal

In the Brooder
Dec 14, 2020
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Central VA
Thank you so much, @R2elk ! It sounds like my concern about BBW (sorry for the error, some places I've seen them called Double Breasted, some Giant Whites. Glad I came here!) being too large is valid.

What other varieties do you recommend for a novice wanting a table bird? Bourbons seem popular. Getting BBWs in March and harvesting in Nov and Dec sound like HUGE birds!

Your comments about the greater the number, the greater the survival rate is super interesting! Do you think survivability is improved through observational learning from the poults watching others eat and drink? Or is it about keeping warm with more bodies to heat a space?
 

iwltfum

Songster
Sep 10, 2018
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Number of weeks to butcher will be based on the size you want of course. I have had to deal with 40-50 pound BBW toms growing them for 16 weeks, even on pasture. If you want giant breasts for smoking and making lunch meat out of or for selling legs to a renaissance fair, then 40-50 pound turkeys are what you want, but most people will want 12-25 pounds turkeys for thanksgiving is what I generally find. Originally, we tried to coordinate purchasing turkeys with our week-of-thanksgiving butcher day schedule, but we ran into the same problem that you have found - hatcheries generally stop selling turkeys in lat July or early August. If you only want to grow them for 13 weeks (that's how long we raise them for now), you can't even get them late enough in the season. We decided just to buy earlier and butcher when ready. We usually butcher them in late October or early November. We always make sure to have our preorders in before butchering day so we know how many to freeze whole. We have been thinking about raising an early summer batch for grinding since ground turkey has become a very popular product for us and, right now, we raise a huge number of BBW's in the fall. Half for thanksgiving birds, half for grinding. It would be nice to spread that out in to two batches.
 
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R2elk

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Thank you so much, @R2elk ! It sounds like my concern about BBW (sorry for the error, some places I've seen them called Double Breasted, some Giant Whites. Glad I came here!) being too large is valid.

What other varieties do you recommend for a novice wanting a table bird? Bourbons seem popular. Getting BBWs in March and harvesting in Nov and Dec sound like HUGE birds!

Your comments about the greater the number, the greater the survival rate is super interesting! Do you think survivability is improved through observational learning from the poults watching others eat and drink? Or is it about keeping warm with more bodies to heat a space?
One hatchery used to sell their particular line of BBWs as Giant Whites. They are still BBW even though they are a specific line of them.

Any of the larger heritage varieties such as Bourbon Reds, Bronze, Narragansetts, Slates, etc. are fine for producing smaller sized carcasses but with a much longer time to market.

If one is concerned about wanting a carcass in the 20 lb. range, Valley of the Moon Turkeys sells day old BBWs sexed. Buy hens and you will not need to worry about 40 lb. toms. I believe their minimum order is 15. The price is right and if you are in the eastern U. S. shipping is reasonable.

The survival rate is dependent on all of what you have mentioned. I have no problem getting turkey poults to eat while others have had such problems. Turkey poults will naturally pick at things on the ground. I use sand as bedding in my brooder. I sprinkle turkey starter on the sand. The poults usually begin eating within minutes of being placed in the brooder. It may take them several days before they start eating from the feeder.

I start my turkeys at 90°F measured at the bedding level. If a person only has a couple of poults, they may want to start them at 95°F since there aren't enough of them to share body warmth.
 

Bicoastal

In the Brooder
Dec 14, 2020
14
34
41
Central VA
I have had to deal with 40-50 pound BBW toms growing them for 16 weeks, even on pasture. If you want giant breasts for smoking and making lunch meat out of or for selling legs to a renaissance fair

WOW! That are huge birds. I've never thought about where those giant turkey legs come from, but of course!

12 - 25 pounds. That is very helpful to know! We are just reaching out to local family for this first experimental year, but I don't want to leave my family in the lurch come Thanksgiving if I have enormous birds that won't fit in the oven! @iwltfum do you raise BBW and just butcher early? Or do you also raise other varieties? Personally, I consume more ground turkey than ground beef, so that is another good use for my own.

@R2elk Valley of the Moon is drivable! I will definitely look them up. Thanks for the recommendation.
 

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