Why raise backyard turkeys?
Right now you’re more likely to come across people raising backyard chickens than backyard turkeys – but that is a trend that starting to turn!
Turkeys can provide you with:
- Fresh free range eggs, and yes turkey eggs are delicious.
- A pet. Turkeys are excellent company.
- Homegrown meat with zero food miles.
- Feathers for fly tying and feather dusters.
More and more people are warming up to the idea of raising their own flock of turkeys in their backyard, and for good reason.
These birds are bigger, provide more meat, still provide fantastic eggs, and can even do double duty as a side income generator come Thanksgiving time.
Is it easy to raise backyard turkeys?
Is it a nightmare to raise turkeys or are they just as easy – or even easier – to raise at home than chickens, ducks, and geese?
Another reason why raising turkeys at home is a good idea: the fact that these animals can become the best pets that you can ever have in your life.
Are Turkeys Hard to Raise at Home?
Believe it or not, a lot of people that have raised turkeys, ducks, geese, and chickens in their backyard find that turkeys are the easiest of the bunch to work with.
Yes, you are reading that correctly – turkeys are even easier to deal with than backyard chickens (which are about as easy as it get)!
Truth be told, if you give turkeys the right conditions in your backyard they almost raise themselves.
Very intelligent, they don’t need a whole lot of handholding and a whole lot of babysitting not just to survive – but to thrive.
Turkeys also have wonderful personalities, make some really interesting sounds (the toms really never stop talking), and come in a dizzying array of colours, sizes, and breeds.
If you’ve been looking for something fun to shake things up on your backyard farm, turkeys are the way to go.
Settle on a Breed of turkey:
Of course, the first big piece of the puzzle when it comes to raising backyard turkeys is choosing the right turkeys straight out of the gate.
And boy, there are lots of turkeys to pick and choose from!
Some people that want to raise turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner – big, meaty birds – are going to want to have a closer look at Broad Breasted white and Bronze turkeys. These things grow quick and are absolutely delicious.
Heritage birds, on the other hand, are more of an authentic sort of turkey around Thanksgiving time – they are a little smaller, they have a little less meat, and they generally have a lot more dark meat as well.
Some people prefer the flavor of heritage birds and heritage breeds, though. They do take a little longer to grow to full maturity so expect to factor that into your mix as well.
If you want to breed birds yourself it’s a good idea to go with heritage turkeys, too.
When you plan to keep your birds past their six month “anniversary” on this planet you’ll want to make sure that they are heritage birds.
Food, Water, and Shelter – Three Keys to Successfully Raising Backyard Turkeys
There are three things that you have to get absolutely correct when you are raising turkeys:
- The food you provide for them.
- Fresh water from two sources.
- A coop to call home.
- Fresh ground to range on.
Feeding backyard turkeys:
Right out of the gate, you want to make sure that you are feeding your poults within the first 12 hours of their arrival at home and give them clean drinking water to start.
Make sure that you are giving them high-quality feed as soon as they touched down on your land.
Turkeys require a very high protein diet, especially when they are young, so make sure that you are feeding them a quality commercial game bird mixture. You want something that has at least 30% protein when they are quite young and I continue until they are three months old.
After that, you can shift gears to a commercial feed that has 20% protein as long as it is absolutely swimming in calories. This is especially important if you’re looking to fatten up your birds ahead of Thanksgiving.
You can also give turkeys whole corn, kitchen scraps (including fruits and vegetables), and even a bit of egg that has been cooked.
Turkeys love to free range and will do a good job of digging around for worms and insects to eat while they are cruising the yard as well.
Water for turkeys:
On the water side of things, oversized rubber bowls or stainless steel trays work pretty well to make sure that your flock has plenty of water on a regular basis.
Gravity water feeders eliminate a lot of the heavy lifting of having to make sure that everybody has water all the time. The cool thing about turkeys is that they don’t have to stick their faces underwater to get a drink the way that ducks and geese do.
Coops for turkeys:
Finally, when it comes to shelter you want to be sure that your turkeys have 6 ft.² (or more) in the coop that they are going to be sleeping in.
The more room they have the better – more space definitely equals happier turkeys – but you don’t have to go crazy.
You will want to make sure that turkeys have roost options that are at least 5 feet off the ground, nesting boxes for hens if you’re going to collect eggs, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a couple of sturdy trees out of the yard that turkeys can pop up into that they’d like an afternoon nap.
Toms and Hens – What’s the Right Mixture?
Tom turkeys are the male turkeys and the hands are the females, and it’s generally a good rule of thumb to keep that ratio between the boys and the girls at about 1:3 – or even greater.
Truth be told, lots of people suggest that you only have two or three toms total in your turkey flock even if it gets pretty sizeable.
It’s important to remember that toms are going to be the bigger birds, the chatty your birds, and certainly the more aggressive birds. They are going to do the strutting, gobbling, and the bopping around for the most part.
Those toms (if they get older than six months) are going to want to get to know the ladies of the flock a little bit more intimately when breeding season rolls around.
If you have a bunch of toms you run the risk of some pretty serious fights breaking out – and that can cause havoc in your flock (and some pretty expensive vet bills).
Try to keep your flock mostly hens if possible, unless you are raising these turkeys purely for meat ahead of Thanksgiving. If that’s a game plan (and all of your birds are going to “check out” towards the end of November) there’s no reason not to go with a ton of toms instead.
You’ll be guaranteed to get a lot more meat that way.