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Raising Turkeys | Preparing to Raise Turkeys | Hobby Farming


Chickens may have a new contender to their title as America's favorite small-farm fowl. Turkeys are gaining in popularity, and for good reasons: you can produce high-quality food, and it's a great opportunity for kids to learn to care for animals. Raising a small flock of turkeys is relatively easy, but they do require seven-days-a-week care.

Before diving in, think about your daily routine and whether you have the time and space enough to give your turkeys the care they need. If the answer is yes, check the zoning regulations in your area. Talk to your neighbors to calm their concerns. Schedule a family meeting to assign responsibilities. Here are a few rules to remember as you get started.

A small flock of white turkeys on a hobby farm.Turkeys rule the roost

First, do you already have chickens? If so, better to hold on to what you've got. According to C.C. Sheppard and C.J Flegal from Michigan State University's Cooperative Extension Service, a cardinal principle in turkey raising is never to raise chickens and turkeys together. Chickens are carriers for blackhead organisms. While these organisms often have no effect on the chickens, turkeys have a 100 percent mortality rate if they contract the disease.

Preparing your birds' house

It does take some space to raise a small flock, and plenty of buffer room within indoor enclosures. The general rule is to provide 3 cubic feet of air (or total enclosed space) per pound of body weight for indoor enclosures.

Floor, feeder and waterer space requirement of turkeys: Age

Floor Space
(Sq .Ft)

Feeder Space (cms)
(Linear feeder)

Waterer Space (cms)
(Linear waterer)

0-4 weeks

1.25

2.5

1.5

5-16 weeks

2.5

5.0

2.5

16-29 weeks

4.0

6.5

2.5

Turkey breeder

5.0

7.5

2.5


For health and safety reasons, suburban fowl should never be allowed to roam free. When deciding on the right spot for your enclosure, consider your neighbor. While the rule varies in different municipalities, start by counting back 150 feet from the property line of your neighbor. And speaking of diplomacy, remember that your birds' personalities may not be as charming to your neighbors as they are to you. If your turkeys are noisy, then insulate their quarters, providing adequate ventilation and using proper sanitation practices.

To build your turkey house, use one- by two-inch welded wire flooring with chicken wire sides and top. Under the flooring, place two-by-fours to provide support. The flooring should be at least one foot above ground level. To finish it off, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents recommend constructing a slight fence or planting shrub screening to a minimum height of 4 feet. Your neighbors will thank you and your birds might just appreciate the privacy.

Young poults

You've prepared the house, and you're ready to adopt. Check out the classified section of farm magazines in February through May to find your turkeys. Vocational agriculture teachers, 4-H agents, your local Southern States dealer and county Extension agriculture agents can also help point you in the right direction.

There are approximately three turkey varieties available for purchase. The Broad Breasted White is the most common and is preferred by most commercial producers. The Broad Breasted Bronze is also popular and is recognizable by its black pinfeathers that are noticeable on the dressed bird. For both of these varieties, toms (males) weigh 25-30 pounds and hens (females) weigh 16-20 pounds. The Beltsville White is a smaller white-feathered bird. Beltsville White toms weigh 13-18 pounds and hens weigh 8-12 pounds.

As with any backyard fowl, keep young poults warm and dry. Shavings, crushed corn cobs and straw are all optimal litter materials. For the first four or five days, cover the litter with cloth or burlap bags to keep the poults from eating it, and keep plenty of waterers and feeders available. From hatching to 5 weeks of age, feed them a starter feed like Sporting Bird Starter (Avt) Medicated. When they are first trying to find feed and water, they need lots of feeder options so they don't starve. After they've figured out the location of their feed and water, the poults won't try to eat their litter material. As the birds grow, you can start to give them water in a water pan with a wire guard. Modern "nipple"-type decrease the risk of spreading disease. Never use water that is cloudy or rusty in color. Provide fresh water each day and check multiple times a day during hot weather. Once the poults reach 5 weeks of age, feed them a developer feed like Sporting Bird Flight Developer (BMD) Medicated.

Once your turkeys are ten weeks old, feed them a balanced mixture from freshly processed grains like All Grain Poultry Grow-N-Finish. According to Kansas state University agricultural Extension agents, "fresh" means no more than three months old. Discard any moldy or rancid feed, and check feed labels for added medications. If present, carefully follow the labeled directions.

Because cannibalism can be a problem that turkey growers face (often when older turkeys lack sufficient space or feed and water), consider debeaking, or removing a portion of the turkey's upper beak and lower beak. This is easily accomplished when the birds are young with a pair of sharp wire cutters, a knife or fingernail clippers.

Disease control

With a small turkey flock, you'll need to keep a look out for blackhead, coccidiosis, and airsacculitis. In addition to keeping your turkeys away from chickens to prevent blackhead, you can prevent coccidiosis by keeping the turkeys' litter dry, or soil well-drained. To guard against airsacculitis, buy your poults from a hatchery that tests for the disease in the breeder flock. Call your Extension agent to find out vaccination recommendations.

For more information concerning turkey production, please contact your local Southern States dealer.

Do you have a backyard flock? Whether you're in an urban area or out in the great wide open, we'd like to hear from you. Share your tips or stories on your favorite fowl in the comments area below.

_
Poultry Care Series

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