Give me the dirt on turkeys

Chicky Joy

11 Years
Jun 22, 2008
How can they be kept (housing etc...)? How do you raise them when compared to raising baby chicks? Can they free-range? What's a good quantity to raise? What breeds have the best personality, hardiness, meat, etc...?
where do you live?,I have a pair of RP I will sell you cheap..they are fun until they grow up,unless penned they will be everywhere,eating everything and roosting on you husbands 2007 chev dark blue and chrome pickup..ok,maybe thats just me,but you get the picture..I had no problem raising them,I kept them with my silkies,they ate starter feed mixed with meatbird feed to up the protien,but they were off the ground until about 1 month they free range with meatbird feed at will..I processed 6 allready,and at 4 months more then anough meat for the two of us,and VERY TASTY..side not,automobiles are inside garage with doors shut at all times...
I'm in northern Michigan.

I know we'd like the meat so that's one reason to get turkeys. I also think it would be sort of interesting to have a few roaming the yard. It's just an idea at the moment. That's why I'm looking for some information on the subject.
good thread to start. we want to get some this next april/may. i want to be where we don't buy any meat from the grocery store. that is my plan and i think hubby is for it now !

i will keep a eye out and see what other people post here. Thanks.

Bourbon Red seem to be the most populary over all.

Yes they can be grass fed. they prefer it over bagged feed. Some breeds like the Bourbon reds are very good foragers, other like the great white and bb bronze are not.

As far a flying all will try, even BB bronze and great white at some time in there life fly. Our pens indoor and out doors have always been enclosed. We try to let them completly free range every couple of days and most will exersize there wings during this time.

As far as meat and taste there was a post on the forum about a taste test done a couple of years ago. Midget white and Bourbon Reds were the top two and they received more votes then all the rest combined. A commercially raised Great White was the voted the worste.

As chicks they grow faster, and require more space, as they grow they use about twice the space a broiler and eat about twice the food. In order to keep the feed bill down having them on some sort of grass helps, Or for a small flock taking grass to them.

They also have very poor eye sight during the first week or so. So they can't always find there food and water. So for the first weeks put them on paper towels or an old piece of blanket and put there food in one corner or area for them while still keeping a chick feeder in the brooder.

As chicks they are clumsy, and can drowned in there water. We had this happen to one this year. So adding pebbles to the water for the first week or two helps prevent this.
We you first get the chicks dip there beaks in the water and food. This helps them find the food and water the first couple of days.

When raising them, you use a turkey feed or wild game feed. Because they can be fast growers we make sure the get vitemin supplements in there water for the first 7 weeks. Any generic brand, from any form store works. Our vet, who at one time was a poultry inspector recommended using the supplement.

We don't put them out side until after 7 weeks since it takes that much time for there immunity system to develop. We also don't feed them any grass or weeds from out side until after 7 weeks.

Being around them, allows you to get closer when and catch them when it's time to butcher. But you can get attacked to them it you spend to much time with them.

For the first timer raising Great White or Big Breasted Bronze can be difficult because the first 7 to 10 weeks is critical. They will also have the highest loose rate of any other breed.

Although for heritage type turkeys it recommended to butcher at 30 weeks of age. You can butcher sooner or later depending on how big you want the birds.

When you do decide to pick a breed to raise you need to consider how big of a turkey you want at butcher time. If you want a 26 to 45 pound turkey then a Great white or BB bronze is what you want. But in our case we have never purchased a turkey larger then 18 pounds from the store. So when we decided to raise some Great Whites and BB bronze it was not the smart of a decition on our part. Since they don't fit whole in our smoker and and they barely fit into our largest baking pans. They take up to three times the space to store in the freezer whole.

A midget White will make a nice 8 to 12 pound turkey the does not take up a lot of space in the freezer. Where a Great White or BB bronze that was butcher at 22 weeks came in around 26 pounds and takes up a whole shelf in an upright freezer.

How you will cook the turkey? slow cooking methods like baking, broiling, smoking fat helps a lot with the taste and texture of the bird. So for these methods you look for a bred that will be the correct size at around the recommended time for butcher.

If you plan to fry a turkey, then you can butcher early and use one of the larger breeds.
Because more fat means a greaser bird when frying. Larger bird means more meat, but larger chest cavity so to big and it won't fit the fryer or casue the oil to over flow.

Generally speaking you will be getting a straight run from the hatchery so you won't be able to pick and choose between a smaller female or larger male. Also since Heritage breeds are no longer bred for consistancy the finished size will very some what. So don't be suprised when you butcher there is several pounds difference in the same breed. Also be aware that if you order from a Hatchery they have a minum number you can purchase is usually around 15 or so.

Have your housing ready before ahead of time. We started off with 2 105 qt plastic containers for 16 Turkeys, that lasted about a week. We moved them to some larger brooders we streached that to about another 4 weeks, but that was to long. Then we had to move them to some larger indoor pens, because I didn't have anything ready outside.

You must be careful not to get to attached to them, because it can be really easy. Since it a small flock it not like you are raising the on a commercial bases where you have hunderds of birds. So it's really easy to get attached to them, which makes butchering a lot harder to do. since we are down to our last 6 all of ours now have nick names, and two of them I can tell we are getting attached to. We can agonizing if we will keep these to over the winter as a breeding pair or not.

The link ivan3 post is a good one to read. Not everything in there would apply to the first timer. But not everything in there is for the small flock owner.

This is a very interesting, I too have been thinking of having 4 or 6 Turkeys this next year.

How are they in the brooder? Do they have to be on wire? (I heard they will eat their own droppings- like chicks don't!?)

How are they with preditors such as hawks? Do they get snatched as quickly by hawks/eagles as a hen will? (kinda a stupid question I know, but its like Jerasic park around here)

Approximate growth time, say 6, 8, or 11 months til slaughter?

And lastly, are they weaker then a chick and what about cocci? Do they also have this issue?

Thanks to whom ever can answer my "stupid" questions and yes, you can point and laugh!
We raise Midget White, Royal Palm, White Holland, Beltsville Small White, Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze Turkeys.

The turkeys are more tender than chickens in the brooder. Once you get about 3 to 4 weeks on them they are fine.

We raise ours just like chicks however the turkeys need a higher protein starter. We start ours on 28% game bird starter for the first 3 months then go to a 21% chick starter until 6 months old, after that they eat 16% layer same as our chickens. In the spring when they are laying hot and heavy we feed a custom mix 18% layer that we have ground at a local feed mill. Yes turkeys can get cocci, We use medicated starter and after the get about 6 months old they normally don't have any problems with it.

Here in eastern NC our predators leave them alone after the get about 5 to 6 months old.

We process ours at about the 10 month point, you can do it sooner but they won't be as filled out.

Size wise the Midgets, Beltsvilles are about the same, the Belts have a wider breast. Toms about 20 lbs, hens 12 -ish

Next in size are the Bourbons, Toms go in the upper 20 pound range, the hens high teens.

The Hollands and Bronze are the largest we have with the toms over 30 pounds and the hens 20 +.

The Royal Palms aren't really a meat type turkey, the have a Y shaped breast bone so there isn't alot of meat there, they are more eye candy.

Turkeys are very curious and can as friendly as you make them. Just remember that a 1 pound poult that likes to sit on your lap might be a 30 pound tom that likes to do the same thing.


Bourbon reds


Midget White


Royal Palm




White Holland hen (not the size- that is a 5 gallon waterer behind the hen)

Steve in NC
Can someone please "sticky" this thread? It's an awesome, concise explanation of heritage turkeys especially with sandspoultry's pictures and all and should be easily found for other newcomers. I'll write to the mods, but I think we may be able to sticky it ourselves. Great job Sands and PD patch!
I agree this is an amazing and informative subject. The pictures are breath taking! Wow, amazing birds and before I got to the photos I had a incling that I'd like to try the midgets, then saw the photo and that is incredible.

Now, here is the next foolish question, Can you start Turkeys in with your cornish x meat birds? Perhaps I'm trying to stick to much together. Also, we have (I'm sure you do too) wild turkeys, can these go wild? will these go wild?

I'm not really this dumb! LOL Just doing a mental inventory of where I can put these on the property without to much stink or buildings.
Thank you again for such positive and informative link!

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