Turkeys in the Backyard

Raising your own turkeys is not quite a simple as raising a few backyard chickens. They are much more particular about certain aspects of their care and are more prone to suffer from extremes of heat and cold.

There are many different breeds of turkey but you'll no doubt be restricted to what is available in your area. Bronzewings, White Hollands and Midget Whites are some breeds that may be available. If you want to raise turkeys as a hobby, research the heritage breeds. You can then play a part in keeping these special breeds alive and thriving.

Bronzewing turkey

 Buy healthy birds from a reputable source. Livestock auctions may not be the best source as there will be little information probably on the background of the birds and the environment from which they have come. Young birds can easily become slightly off colour and it is much better to purchase healthy birds to start with.

A clutch of fertile eggs can be placed under a broody chicken if you have one. Turkey hens do not always make the best mothers and are inclined to tread on the chicks or take them off walking in long grass and then losing them. Rather than hatching your own turkey chicks (poults) it is probably better to set up a small area under several heat lamps. Keep the lamps above the level of the poults and watch the behaviour until you have the lamps positioned correctly. If the poults cluster together, they are too cold and the lamp needs to be lowered a little. Too much and the poults will become too hot and move to the edges of the enclosure.

Bourbon Red Tom

 The poults may need encouragement to eat. Placing crumbles on a piece of cardboard and tapping with a finger simulates pecking and the poults will follow suit. Dropping crumbles in front of the poults may cause an instinctive pecking at the fallen food. As they age, their need for warmth decreases. They will need more room as they develop and can be gradually introduced to the outside world.

You may be required by law to vaccinate your young turkeys or you may wish to do so as a precaution.Keeping young and old turkeys separate will reduce the incidence of diseases such as blackhead. Consult your local veterinarian for his/her suggestions on the best course of action.

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All animals are happiest and healthiest if kept under as natural conditions as possible. Turkeys on free range are much less susceptible to disease and stress. They may need to be penned at night as a protection against predators but if confined continually, they should be allowed at the very minimum eight square feet of space per bird. Overcrowding will result in bullying, pecking at each other and too many birds in a small area mean it is more difficult to keep the area clean and sanitary.

Chickens can spread diseases to turkeys and are generally tougher. It is best to keep the two apart if possible.

Turkeys will need a shelter or shed. Provide them with perches for roosting on at night. If you plan to kill a turkey for the table from time to time, use round perches rather than cornered timber. Turkeys continually perching on rectangular perches may develop crooked breast-bones which spoils the appearance of the dressed carcass.

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Turkeys forage well and will eat insects, grasshoppers and weeds. However they will probably need supplementary feeding as well. Different commercial brands have varying levels of protein so read the information on the bag and select one suitable for your birds. The choice will usually be according to age. Game bird food can be used for turkeys or a chicken feed if nothing else is available. Confined birds will need access to grit. Fresh, clean water should always be available.

Turkeys can be fussy eaters and drinkers. If they don't seem to be consuming enough food and water, try using a different container.

Turkeys are fast growing and, if good husbandry is undertaken, there should not be too many problems raising your own.

Other articles about chickens:
Raising Backyard Chickens
Blackhead in turkeys