Is Raising Turkeys on the Farm right for you?
Have you dreamed of raising your own turkey to serve on Thanksgiving Day? Raising pastured turkeys on your farm is both rewarding and entertaining. Perhaps you have some chickens, maybe even some ducks and you are ready to raise a bigger bird. Turkeys are a unique and fun bird to raise.
There are 5 important considerations before raising turkeys on the farm. I will help you answer 5 key questions before deciding if raising turkeys is right for your homestead. This article is part of a series to help you make informed purchasing decisions about different farm animals. You can read the farm animal overview and a complete list of animals evaluated at A Beginner’s Guide to Animals on the Farm.
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the 5 questions to answer before Raising turkeys on the farm:
- What is the purpose of raising turkeys?
- Next, what is the cost of raising turkeys?
- What are the advantages of raising turkeys?
- What are the disadvantages of raising turkeys?
- Finally, what are the special considerations of raising turkeys on the farm?
are turkeys right for you and your homestead?
That is the question I will help you answer today. By answering the 5 questions, you will make an informed animal purchase. It may help you to write out your answers and discuss it with your family. I have developed a free download to help you.
Be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Then download the free Turkey Worksheet. The worksheet will help you decide if turkeys are right for your homestead.
What is your purpose of keeping Turkeys?
There are four main purposes of keeping animals:
- meat or other food product such as milk or eggs
Let’s explore each of these purposes for turkeys.
turkeys for Profit
Turkeys can be profitable, but if you are just starting out, I suggest you start with just a couple of turkeys to see if you like raising turkeys before expanding to a profitable flock.
There are two main ways to earn money from turkeys: selling meat and selling turkey poults. With the first being much more profitable.
There is a huge demand for pasture-raised turkeys at Thanksgiving time. This year I am planning on raising turkeys to sell at our local farmers market in the fall. In our state, this means that we will have them butchered by a USDA certified facility.
Research the regulations in your state before purchasing turkeys to sell as meat products. It is also important to research the market and try to find customers. Ending up with even a few leftover turkeys will take up a huge amount of room in your freezer.
Turkeys for food
Homegrown turkeys are a healthy, delicious way to develop self-sufficiency on your homestead. Starting out with one or two turkeys to raise for meat is a wise choice. I have raised turkeys for a few years. When I started out, I purchased 8 poults from the local co-op. I bought 8 because that was the minimum purchase.
I lost two poults in the process of raising them. One had a water bucket flip over on it and it couldn’t get out. Another one just died on a hot August day. The others I raised up to maturity. We butcher all but two that we kept for breeding stock. I sold four to friends and we ate one for Thanksgiving and put one in the freezer.
Having a turkey in the freezer takes up a huge amount of room. Especially homegrown turkeys because they aren’t shrink-wrapped liked those you buy at the store. Over the years, I have learned to cut up any extra turkeys (besides Thanksgiving turkey) before putting it in the freezer. It is much easier to store.
What about Turkey Eggs?
Can you eat turkey eggs? Yes, you can! Turkey eggs are much like chicken eggs, but of course, much larger. The yokes are a dark, golden yellow. They taste great. If you love eggs, you will really love the eggs from your turkeys. However, turkeys do not lay nearly as many eggs as chickens. Raising turkeys exclusively for the eggs isn’t cost-effective because turkeys eat much more than chickens. They also need more room to live in.
Obviously, turkeys are not kept for protection. Turkeys are prey animals. However, my turkeys decided to roost on the roof of my chicken coop at night. I have not lost a turkey to a predator yet. Turkeys are much too large for a prey bird to carry away. The biggest predators are coyotes and raccoons if the bird is on the ground.
Although my Tom turkeys do not like to sleep in the chicken coop and sleep on the roof. Most turkeys will learn to go into the chicken coop at night and that is the safest place for them.
Turkeys as Pets and entertainment
Turkeys are very entertaining to watch. The toms spend a lot of time strutting around and fanning their tail feathers. It is fun to listen to them gobble. My son has actually developed really good turkey calls by listening and observing our flock. He is able to “talk” to the turkeys and they answer him.
Are turkeys really pets?
We actually have a special pet turkey named Philomena. She is one of our original turkeys. She became very ill with a respiratory illness the first year we had her.
I was able to treat her with Vet Rx. I would describe Vet Rx as Vicks vapor rub for birds. The formula is 100 % natural developed in the late 1800s. It is an effective relief and prevention from respiratory diseases. It is safe for all standard and rare poultry chickens, turkeys, Bantams, Ducks, geese, and game birds.
We became attached to her when she survived the illness that we thought would kill her. Since she is a standard, white turkey she is very big and slow. She loves to be petted. She also has an interesting relationship with our Great Pyrenees.
We are not sure why Philomena acts like this, but as you can see Holly is a good sport and loves to play.
the cost of keeping Turkeys
Turkeys do not have to be expensive to keep. However, they are much more expensive to keep than chickens because they do eat a lot more than chickens do.
Turkeys basically need 5 things to survive and thrive.
Turkeys can eat commercial chicken feed. If you live on a farm like us, we give them ground corn, oats, and sometimes soybeans that we grow. You will need a Poultry feeder.
The beautiful thing about turkeys is that they like to forage. If you free-range them, they love to hunt for bugs and seeds. They do not scratch like chickens, which is also nice.
Turkeys need fresh water daily. A chicken waterer will keep the water cleaner, but you could use any dish that will give enough water to them.
We use wheat straw, corn fodder, or soybean fodder as bedding. I like to use pine shavings in the nesting box. Pine shavings can also be used as bedding in the coop, however, I prefer straw or fodder. Contact a local farmer if you do not produce your own crops.
Nesting Box (optional)
You will have to provide a large nesting box. However, you can also use items that you already have. My turkeys lay their eggs in the corner of the coop, unlike the chickens who lay their eggs in nesting boxes. I also have a sneaky turkey hen who likes to lay her eggs in a nest in the tall grass. You will only need a nesting box if you plan on keeping your turkeys over a year. Turkeys butchered in the fall do not reach egg-laying age.
Shelter (optional, but highly suggested)
a.k.a a chicken coop, in this case, turkey coop. Turkey coops can be as simple as using a building already on your homestead to building one, to buying one. the possibilities are endless. I suggest you set a budget before you begin searching for a coop. Remember turkeys get much larger than chickens, so you will need a large opening and taller ceiling if you have a compact coop.
The characteristics of a good coop are: weatherproof, but not insulated, predator-proof, have nesting boxes as a roost for turkeys to sleep on at night.
the advantages of keeping Turkeys
Turkeys are somewhat easy to care for
Even if you work full-time or are very busy, turkeys do not require much time to care for. You can simply let them out in the morning, feed and water them. Then shut them in at dusk, check their food and water. On a weekly basis, clean their coop. Honestly, since my turkeys free-range with my chickens and don’t spend much time in the coop, I only clean it quarterly.
Raising turkeys for Meat is a step toward self-sufficiency
If you are interested in raising turkeys for meat, you should purchase them early in the season to ensure they will reach maturity by mid-November. If you aren’t sure turkeys are right for you, raising a few for Thanksgiving dinner is a short-term, low-cost way to see if you like raising turkeys.
Turkeys are Entertaining
If you have a hen set on a clutch of eggs and hatch her own poults, it is very educational and entertaining to watch. Turkeys are pretty good mothers, however, it is important to watch closely for any abandon eggs and new hatchlings. We had to rescue a newly hatched poult that the hen abandon. We ended up raising it by hand while she raised the rest of her clutch.
the disadvantages of keeping Turkeys
Turkeys are messy
Since turkeys are bigger than chickens they leave behind a bigger mess. My turkeys like to climb the stairs of our deck and eat the birdseed that we have for the wild birds. Of course, they leave plenty of evidence that they have been on the deck. Turkey manure is looser and bigger than chicken manure. It is very difficult to clean off decks and sidewalks.
Turkeys are harder to raise than chickens
Young turkeys are more fragile than young chickens and some sources suggest that you do not keep turkeys and chickens in the same coop because turkeys are more likely to get sick from chickens. I am not sure how much truth there is to this. I house all my birds in one coop.
As mentioned above, one of my turkeys did have a respiratory illness. Turkeys are more susceptible to these types of illnesses. Ideally, keeping turkeys separate from other birds is best, but as I mentioned I keep my turkeys and chickens and other birds together.
Tom Turkeys can be Loud and sometimes mean
Tom turkeys are necessary if you want to have a self-sustaining flock. Toms like to spend their day fanning their feathers, strutting, drumming, and gobbling. They are loud, but not as loud as roosters. They also do not start gobbling as early as roosters start crowing the morning.
Toms can become aggressive and attack people. I had two toms and they started to protect the door of the coop. Neither attacked me, but they would circle me and show attack posture. I learned not to turn my back on them. If you have small children under the age of 8 years old, having a tom turkey may not be right for you.
special considerations of Raising turkeys on the farm
Should you keep your turkeys with your chickens?
I have always kept my chickens and turkeys together. I raise the turkey poults with my meat chicks from day one. Turkeys do not catch on as quickly as chickens when they first hatch. Turkeys can actually learn from chicks about how to drink and eat. If you would like to research this topic more, here is a good article about both the advantages and disadvantages of raising turkeys and chickens together.
Butchering Turkeys on the Homestead
We use the old-fashioned ax method to butcher our chickens and turkeys. Since I am not a very big person, it took all of my son’s and my strength to hold a full-grown turkey on the chopping block and butcher it. You may want to enlist help from a strong person to help you on butcher day. Butchering and dressing a turkey is hard work and takes strength.
I enjoy raising turkeys on the farm both as food and as entertainment. I hope this article has helped you determine whether turkeys would be a valuable addition to your farm or homestead. Here is a picture of me and a 42 lb. turkey we raised.
Are you ready to Raise Turkeys on your farm?
What about you? Are you ready to keep turkeys on your homestead?
Maybe you already own turkeys? Tell me about your turkey experience in the comments below.