How to Raise the Best Turkeys
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to raise turkeys on your homestead? Maybe you’ve heard that these birds are so stupid that they will drown in the rain or that they are very difficult to raise. Not true! I’ve had very good results in raising my own turkeys for meat… and so can you.
There are a few things to take into consideration before you get started and place an order for baby turkeys. This guide will give you the basics for getting started, raising, and processing your own turkeys.
You may be interested in my post “Keeping A Mixed Flock: Can You Keep Chickens & Turkeys Together?”
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Start With the Best Turkey Poults
Many hatcheries sell day-old turkeys, also known as ‘poults,’ in the spring and early summer. There are a variety of breeds available, including heritage turkeys and broad-breasted hybrids. Broad-breasted white turkeys are the type you find in the meat section at the grocery store.
Some hatcheries specify a minimum order of 15 to maintain the necessary warmth for shipping. You could split an order with friends or neighbors if you don’t wish to raise that many.
Feed stores often have special ‘chick day’ events in the spring when you may order just a few chicks, ducklings, and turkey poults at a time. Allow a minimum of 3 1/2 months from hatching to processing for broad-breasted turkeys or 6+ months for most heritage breeds.
What Kind of Turkey Should I Order?
If you are interested in keeping a flock of turkeys to hatch their eggs and raise poults each year, order a heritage breed of turkey. Heritage breeds include Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Black Spanish, Blue Slate, White Midget, and Narragansett turkeys. Heritage breeds are able to mate naturally and may be kept as breeding stock for future generations.
The turkeys you find in the grocery store are the broad-breasted white turkey, which grows larger and has more breast meat than heritage breeds. Because these turkeys have so much breast meat, they can’t mate naturally. The male is unable to successfully mount the female. The turkey industry has selectively bred through artificial insemination for larger and larger birds. I have read one anecdotal account that young toms were able to mate before they grew too large. I can’t confirm this.
If you wish to raise turkeys as economically as possible and butcher the whole flock at the end of the season, the BB white is the best option. I’ve raised BB turkeys and processed them myself for years. The largest weighed approximately 25 pounds when dressed at 4 months. They were raised on pasture with meat producer feed free choice once they were able to forage for bugs and other sources of protein.
For Turkeys With “Best Dressed” Appearance…
As you consider which breed of turkey to raise, keep in mind that turkeys with darker-colored feathers are harder to clean than white birds. It is very difficult to get all of the dark-colored pigment from the feather shafts washed out of the skin. So if the presentation is important to you, look for a breed with light-colored feathers.
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Cost of Turkey Poults
The cost of day-old heritage turkeys starts at $11+ and broad-breasted (BB) are usually $7+. The best price I have found online is through Sunnyside Hatchery in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. They sell BB Whites for $5.25 each for straight-run poults. (2020 price catalog… I do not make a commission.)
Shipping is usually extra. In my area, there is a farm that orders large numbers of BB turkeys at a lower price. So check on Craigslist or with your local Extension office to see if there are any farms that offer poults for 4H clubs or local farmers.
Because turkeys lay few eggs, mostly in the spring, availability may be limited (especially for heritage breeds) and the cost is higher. The investment is considerable, so be sure you have feed and the proper brooding area set up in advance for the best results.
If you’re still not sure what breed of turkey to raise, check out my post ‘Broad Breasted vs Heritage: What’s the Best Turkey for Your Homestead?’
How to Care for Turkey Poults
Providing proper care for your young turkeys is basically the same as caring for chicks. There are a few differences, so be sure to read through these tips:
- Dip their beaks in water to teach them to drink
- If they don’t eat on their own, add finely chopped greens to their feed
- Give them chick grit to help them digest their food
- Give them enough space in their brooder to move around and find a comfortable temperature
- Do not use newspaper or any other slippery material to line the bottom of the brooder as these can cause ‘spraddle leg,’ a condition that causes permanent problems with walking
- Keep the temperature at 95 F for the first week, then reduce by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered out
- Add probiotics to their water or give them chick grit with probiotics
- After 2 or 3 days, add electrolytes to their water to give them extra nutrients
- Feed poults a high-protein game bird feed with 28% protein
These are the basics of caring for baby poultry. Remember to check on your babies often. If they are crowded under the heat lamp and piling on top of each other, they are too cold. Be sure there are no drafts to chill them and that their water dish is not deep enough for them to fall in and drown.
If you are having problems with sick or weak poults, please refer to my post ‘How to Care for a Sick Chick.’
The Cost of Raising Turkeys
If you are hoping to save money on your Thanksgiving bird by raising it yourself, you are likely to be disappointed. When turkeys go on sale for the holidays, it is common to find them priced so low that homegrown birds can’t compete.
However, if you raise your own grain and your birds are able to free-range for some of their food, you may be able to save money on raising them. I have read that heritage turkeys can forage for much of their nutritional needs when allowed enough room to roam. Be aware that predators enjoy a turkey dinner as much as you do!
In 2012 I raised 16 Broad Breasted turkeys and processed them at home. The total cost came to approximately $1.20 per pound. This price was based on pastured birds raised with conventional meat producer feed. At the time, I was paying from $14.99 to $16.99 per 50-pound bag of feed. I was able to purchase most of the feed on sale for a lower price. (Note: this was the cost for day-old poult at $3.50 each plus feed, it does not include the cost of electricity for the heat lamps and pumping water, hay or other bedding, or processing.)
Update: I have raised BB turkeys again since then and the price was approximately $1.09 per pound. In 2012 the cost of feed was higher for a number of reasons, including a huge number of new chicken keepers entering the market, and biofuel production was consuming much of the corn and soybean harvests. The cost of meat producer feed at our local farm supply store is now $13.59 per 50-pound bag of meat producer 22% protein.
2022 – The cost of meat producer feed has gone up to about $17 per 50# bag.
The cost of raising your Thanksgiving turkeys depends on how much feed and bedding you can raise and the cost of feed at the time of purchase.
What Should I Feed My Turkeys?
When you bring home young turkey poults, their first food should be a high protein ration with 28 – 30% protein (look for a turkey starter feed or game bird feed) to fuel their fast growth.
At 8 weeks, most turkey growers switch their birds over to a 20-22% feed. By the time they are 14 weeks old, turkeys can be allowed to find more of their own food by foraging, if you have the room. You can switch them to a grower feed with around 18-20% protein and a few scratch grains and field peas on the side. Use cracked grains and give them a dish of grit to help their digestive systems utilize their feed fully.
About 2 or 3 weeks before butchering, add extra carbohydrates to their feed to help fatten them up for the table. Toss in excess or bug-infested apples, tomatoes, and other produce to clean up your garden and save money on feed.
This might sound a bit complicated, and you may find that it is difficult to locate a feed mill with the different formulas used by commercial turkey growers.
I found that starting my young turkeys on game bird feed for the first month, then switching over to meat producer feed provided them with enough nutrition to reach a nice butchering size. They were given cracked corn as a treat and they had pasture for foraging.
After the initial month, I don’t worry too much about the extra protein that was recommended because I wasn’t looking for the fastest growth, largest dressing weight, or cheapest birds. If these are concerns for you, I would recommend finding a source for a 28% protein feed for your flock.
Note: These feeding instructions are based on achieving the best weight gain for the cost. If you are raising heritage birds for breeding, you’ll need to follow a different feeding program.
How Long Does it Take to Raise a Turkey?
If you are raising BB turkeys, they will reach butchering weight faster than a heritage breed. I found that in about 3 1/2 months I had Broad Breasted turkeys that dressed out at around 12-14 pounds. After 4 1/2 to 5 months they dressed out in the 15-19 pound range.
If they had been kept on higher protein feed, the weights would have been higher. (Update: I have since raised BB turkeys on 22% meat producer feed and had them dress out at up to 25 pounds in 4+ months.)
How to Process Your Turkeys
If you intend to sell turkeys it is very important to check your state and local laws about selling home-butchered poultry. Many states do not allow poultry to be butchered on the farm and you must send them to a processing plant where the dressed birds are inspected. Expect to pay upwards of $5 per bird for processing fees.
Because my family is working toward a self-reliant lifestyle, we process poultry for our own consumption.
For complete instructions on processing turkeys, check out my post, How to Butcher a Turkey.
I find that processing a turkey is a bit more difficult than for chickens. Turkeys are heavier and feistier than chickens. Lifting a live turkey can be pretty hard on your back. I put my birds into a feed bag with a hole cut in one corner for the head to poke through to help restrain them for slaughter. Then I chop the head off with a hatchet.
You may choose to put the bird into a killing cone and nick the arteries in the neck to bleed it to death. I feel that severing the spinal column is more humane, however, some people feel that this doesn’t allow the heart enough time to pump blood out of the circulatory system. I didn’t find this to be a problem.
Preparing Your Turkey for Cooking and Freezing
After processing your turkey, be sure to allow it to sit for 24 to 48 hours in the refrigerator. Skipping this step will make the bird tough. Try soaking your bird in a brine solution overnight for the most tender and juicy meat.
If you plan to freeze your turkey, plan ahead and purchase freezer bags that are large enough to hold your birds. Clean the bird thoroughly, pick the pin feathers, and rinse. Place the neck, gizzard, liver, and heart in the body cavity, if you wish, then place them in a very large freezer bag or a shrink-wrap bag made for freezing turkeys.
Plan ahead and remove your turkey from the freezer far enough in advance to allow it to thaw completely before cooking.
Have you ever raised your own turkeys? Did you process them yourself? Please leave a comment!
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Great post! We have talked about getting turkeys, but just haven’t done it yet! A few years ago there was some disease and our local hatcheries didn’t have any. We just gave up calling about them. I think next year! If you have time would you mind stopping in and sharing with us on Embracing Home and Family? This is such an informative post!
Thank you for hosting! This is what I featured the week of 10-26 to 10-30-2020 on my blog. On Tuesday was Sugar Free Homemade Applesauce. Wednesday was No Bake Oreo Crumb Cheesecake. Thursday was Italian Meatloaf. And winding up the week was Baked Sea Scallops. Enjoy!
Thanks so much for hosting each week!! It is greatly appreciated!! Stay safe, healthy and happy!!
Nice article. Although I haven’t had any turkeys for years, I have raised some sort of poultry all my life and have had broad-breasted bronze and broad-breasted whites. Like you said I didn’t find them much harder to raise than chickens and well worth it because the meat is so much better than what you get in the store. But I’d check to see if blackhead was endemic to my area before raising them together with chickens. I heard that blackhead can wipe out a flock of turkeys (or gamebirds), and most vets I’ve run across are strictly dog and cat people and have no experience or medications on hand for other animals. Not to mention being very pricey. Prevention is definitely the best course of action with diseases (and predators), even if it means raising a lot fewer birds. Or if space is limited, deciding on chickens or turkeys. Another “problem” with turkeys, more so for me than for other fowl, is that it’s so easy to get attached to them if you have just a few. They are literally gentle giants and somehow so engaging the way they strut around and gobble. The only aggressiveness to be on the lookout for is if one of the birds gets injured. They go absolutely loco at the site of blood and will peck their injured flock mate unmercifully. I love all poultry (except Chinese geese) and while all are so cute when they are chicks, turkeys somehow never outgrow their appeal. Adult geese, chicken, ducks, etc. can indeed be beautiful birds and even pets, but somehow it’s not quite the same as turkeys.
I have to make myself do the butchering because I can get kind of attached too. My last batch of turkeys got more aggressive than the others I’ve had in the past so it was a little easier.
Yes, blackhead disease is an issue to be aware of. I worm my chickens and turkeys with acidified copper sulfate to keep the parasites that cause it from infecting the chickens. I do have a post about that, but I caution anyone who is raising them together to be very careful.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing!
Hi Lisa, how often do you with them with that? Thanks!
Do you mean how often do I worm them? I used to worm twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. However, I don’t have turkeys in with my chickens now so I usually only worm the chickens if they need it.
Hi Lisa gotta love a turkey lady – thanks for the article and Q&A. I’ve been raising burbon reds for both breeding and meat for the table. They are good for both. I’m having a heck.of a time raising poults though. The first year my two hens hatched out a brood of 15 poults. After two weeks they all were dead. I observed the Tom stepping on the then they would die shortly after. So I separated the Tom from the hens and poults. About 5 days afterward I separated the Tom both hens pecked the remaining poults dead all of them had bloody spots on the back of their necks. I always had food and water in front of them. I just couldn’t understand why the hens would spend all that time brooding then turn on their poults. They had plenty of room in their yard also.
This year I snatched up the.poults as soon a I could after hatch. I put them in a brooder with a heat lamp, food and water and most (8 of 12) have lived for 4 weeks so far. I’ve sense moved them into a bigger yard and coop and they seem to be doing well.
My question is this mortality rate normal for burbon reds? If so, is there another large heritage breed that’s easier to raise? I really don’t like playing momma hen to a bunch of tutkey poults because their moms are horrible mothers. It just doesn’t seem like it should be this difficult…
Hi Jeff…so glad to have you here!
Bourbon Reds, and many other heritage turkeys, can be very unpredictable as far as their temperament. Some breeders select for a more aggressive nature and others for a calm disposition. It sounds like you may have gotten a more aggressive strain that is unlikely to raise their own young very successfully.
There is no telling what goes through a turkey’s mind when they do things like kill their own young. In the wild they would not successfully reproduce and the problem would be ‘solved’. Since humans got involved, we’ve incubated the eggs and raised the young from turkeys that would not have survived and reproduced naturally. So there are often cases where the turkeys just aren’t capable of raising their own poults.
I have always put the turkey eggs in the incubator to hatch, in order to increase the number of eggs the hens will lay and hatch out more poults. I also think that more of the poults survive when I hatch and brood them myself. Of course, this doesn’t ensure that the offspring will be good parents. And since I usually eat all of them, it hasn’t been an issue for me.
These days I am raising the broad breasted turkeys so I don’t need to keep the breeding stock all year. It was a tough decision, but the cost of feed was too high for my wallet!
I’ve got a white turkey to see how it goes this year. I’m curious how to tell if it’s a hen or a tom? Its only about 2 months old right now.
At 2 months you may start to see a tom strutting and holding his wings out to the sides, with his feathers puffed up. Although they may not do that if there isn’t anyone to show off for.
Without doing a close inspection of the vent, it is hard to tell them apart. And even looking at the vent can be hard to tell.
If you never see it strutting, you most likely have a turkey hen.
this is a very long winded comment for only 2 quick questions that I would like to ask you… I wont be offended if you skip to the end without reading 🙂 .
I came across this article when I was last minute ways to fatten up your backyard turkeys. I guess I thought I had a couple more weeks for them to grow but was reminded late last week that this weekend coming is our thanksgiving. Closer to the end of June I surprised my patient and loving partner by bringing home 2 poults. I had always wanted to try raise my own turkeys to eat on one of the turkey day holidays, but sadly live in the city. On this particular day, (turkey purchase day) I had a scope done on my stomach and was put in “Twilight sedation” I was told not to drive, online shop, gamble or carry my credit cards with me for 72 hours. Apparently bad decisions are known to be made after coming out of the “twilight”. I remember nothing about the purchase, but did end up bringing home everything required to properly care for them. After alot of google surfing and hard work, I have 2 beautiful, healthy and happy Turkeys!! 1 is dark and 1 is white but to be honest I really don’t know much else! Before this experience I probably would not have been able to distinguish a turkey from a flamingo! Now though, I feel quite certain that I have 1 bronze and 1 white broad breasted turkey. I am even pretty sure that the bronze is a tom and the white is a hen. This determination was, at first, based on physical characteristics that I began to watch for after researching. The new behaviors that I have begun to notice this past month or so, usually when I let them play in the yard as I clean their coop. It is quite a sight to see and I am truly fascinated. I am a very proud and independent woman who has only recently moved in with my partner so when I brought them home I of course took full responsibility. I’m not sure I mentioned it, but we own a duplex in a Northern Ontario city that has a population of about 82,000 people. My neighbors are so close that I can hear them flush their toilets when the windows are open. I honestly have no idea how I haven gotten away with this (knock on wood)!!! I started them inside, in a brooder that was about 5 ft long by 3ft wide. Their smell earned them an area outside after about 2 weeks but it was small and quite the hackjob (Shout out to Pintrest Pallet Ideas for that phase) not long that project was completed, I built the coop they are in now. While my partner was working a night shift, I started and completed the coop/pen and screwed my last screw moments before he pulled into the driveway and as the sun was beginning to rise. It ended up measuring about 20×20 off of our back deck. Rails about 4 ft high all around and every 6ft or so I attached a 10 ft post to secure the chicken wire. in the one corner I built a 3 sided, covered enclosure to protect them from the rain and cold in case they were still around when the snow flies, turns out the shelter serves more purpose in keeping their food dry as I have both food and water hanging under there. They have no interest in sleeping under there and rather sleep on the perch I built for them at the front of their enclosure. Yes, I even figured out the perching instinct and obliged my 2 dim witted friends lol. I built them a 2 tiered ladder to get up to it, which definitely helped them out after deciding to cut one of their wings to keep them from leaving me. I am definitely babbling at this point and making a short story or quick question long but am pretty impressed with the outcome so far! as is are my family, inlaws and friends. After I am done typing this comment I will see if there is a way to add pics before submitting it (a little bit of showing off is warranted ha!!) .
Ok so here are my 2 questions Lisa,
1. is there anything I can do to give them a last minute hike in weight? The tom is bigger but I would really like as big a bird as I can get!! I have them on finisher feed now. and I think I have some split peas in the pantry along with white beans and who know what else. I will add it to their finisher feed and hope that is what you were referring to.
2. If I decided to keep one of them alive till Xmas Dinner, would it be ok? Do they so alright alone? I don’t want a sad or depressed turkey. If this is ok, is there a recommendation on which one I keep around?
Ty in advance!! this experience has been so much fun!!! next year I may double down! My loving partner has been recommending that we start to look at properties outside the city so that we can make my dream of owning a hobby farm a reality!!
Well, to start, let me just say that I am very impressed! Great job on raising your turkeys and researching everything that they need to be healthy and happy.
Sorry that I don’t have a way for you to post photos here. I’m not sure if that is something I can add to my site.
Yes, I agree that it sounds like you have Bronze Broad Breasted and a White Broad Breasted turkey.
I think that if you were to butcher one and leave the other one alone for a while, you would most likely have a sad turkey. I know from experience that they really do act like they miss their flock mates. The last time that I raised turkeys (I believe that was in 2015) I had one turkey that was butchered a week or so after all of the others and he was not a happy bird. He attempted escape to find his mates. I think I was waiting for help with butchering him because he was so large and I had trouble picking him up without assistance. So, although the remaining turkey will be fine as far as physical health, it will probably be lonely.
To add extra weight, I recently read that increasing their carb intake is helpful. This could be done by adding extra fruit to their diet. If you have apples, grapes, or other fruit that is high in natural sugars, that would give them additional calories for putting on weight. The extra protein will also be good. Any high sugar veggies will also be fine, such as sweet corn, cooked potatoes or carrots…things of that nature will be helpful.
Congrats on your successful turkey project! Best wishes with looking for a homestead! That is very exciting and I hope you find what you are looking for. 🙂
David…out of room to reply to your last message, so I hope you see this. That’s great that you were able to get the males switched and there weren’t any issues. Good luck with the eggs hatching…hope you get some poults. I can understand the switch on who to butcher! Best wishes!
My daughter just had her tom turkey and 1 hen turkey butchered. She gave me the necks, etc to freeze because I’m the soup maker. Anyway, inside were also 15 egg yolks!! I remember as a child (I am 79 yrs) my mother used to find yolks in her fresh butchered chickens and as kids we’d fight over who would get the yolk she had in the gravy. I never asked her how she prepared those. Can I freeze the ones that I found and/or how do I cook them? Thank you.
I have never used those unhatched egg yolks but instead fed them back to my chickens…mainly because I usually have so many eggs. I don’t have a recipe for using them, but would recommend that you cook them completely through due to the possibility of e coli being present during the butchering process. Without the egg shell to keep them clean, they could have e coli and other bacteria on them. To freeze eggs, you should mix them with just a pinch of salt or sugar to stabilize the eggs and keep them from getting rubbery. Use within a couple of months for best taste. Thanks for the idea!
I have 2 tom turkeys that are 4 months old. They are being raised together with 4 ducks and 8 chickens. I have not had any problems with them eating and sleeping together. One is a white turkey the other is a bronze. I’ve been feeding my flock the Purina Flock Crumbles and they get lots of veggies and green dandelion leaves on a daily basis. They don’t free range because of no room. Here is my question: I’ve been told that they are old enough to feed my flock the layer pellets, but am concerned about my toms not getting what they need for nutrition. Can I keep giving them the layer pellets or do they need to be separated and given a different kind of feed? What should I do? I’m a rookie at this and have never raised birds before this year.
Good question! If you are keeping them as pets, you should be fine feeding them what everyone else gets. I would suggest that you give them a little scratch feed with some extra protein (split peas, field peas, sunflower seeds) once a day. This will provide them some extra protein (turkeys are supposed to get more protein than laying hens) and give them some food that isn’t fortified with calcium. They should do just fine with this.
If you are raising them for meat, then I would suggest giving them a bit more scratch and give them the extra protein twice a day. Don’t overdo it with the scratch, since it can put too much fat on them. And try to give just about what they will eat and discourage the hens from getting too much of this too.
Of course, if you have the room to move them to their own pen and stall, and give them their own feed, that will be the easiest. But it really shouldn’t be necessary. I’ve kept heritage turkeys and meat turkeys in with my hens and this year I had two broad breasted turkeys that got up to 25 pounds at processing time, even with mostly layer feed with the scratch and split peas twice a day.
I hope this helps!
Thank you Lisa, I am raising them for meat do I will do as you suggest. Im giving extra scratch and more protien but not too much Lol me you said. No room for them yet to be separated but if we had to we will get it done. Thanks again.
Lol…..like you said
I have a tom that his head is swollen and his hangie down thing he will not or can not let it down is there anything i can do or put on it and his head.
One of ny turkeys head is swollen and his hangy down thing will not relax and hand down. what is the cause and what do i do about it
I’m sorry to hear about your turkey. I did a quick search for ‘turkey with swollen head’ and this site came up…
They also say that it can be a symptom of other diseases…so the only way to have a proper diagnosis would probably be with blood work. I don’t know how attached you are to your turkey.
I would suggest separating the sick turkey from the rest of the flock, clean the coop thoroughly, and and maybe try some herbal remedies for respiratory illness. Oregano may be helpful, and sage. But the site says that antibiotics are not especially helpful.
I hope this helps…let me know what happens
I am looking into raising a couple of poults for the first time. I live in Northern Canada, where temperatures can reach -22F. They will be okay outside for the first few months, but after that, I am looking into building a coop for them. If I keep the coop at the desired temperature, should they be okay to survive? Any suggestions would be great.
I think you can raise turkeys in your area. The thing to be careful of is that the coop will have air flow, as well as proper temps. If you have any govornment agricultural offices (or a nearby university that does research) similar to our extension offices in the US, I would check to see if they have any information to help you provide the proper requirements for turkeys in your area.
I’m sure they will require a diet higher in fat and protein to help deal with the cold. Let me know if you try this and how it works out!
I’m so sorry to hear about your baby turkeys 🙁 Most likely the heat was too high or the humidity too low. If she didn’t drink enough during the last 3 days, the shells would have been too dry and hard for the poults to hatch. Most likely she is done trying to lay and hatch eggs for this year. Turkeys lay eggs seasonally, in the spring when their instinct tells them the best time to hatch and raise a family will be. If they aren’t successful, there is a chance she’ll try to start another nest, so watch for eggs, but don’t be surprised if you have to wait until next year.
I would not put another male turkey in with your pair. With the nest being there, the original tom would be very aggressive, but he will still defend his mate even with the nest gone. As far as he’s concerned, the other tom is invading.
If you can find another hen for the extra tom, maybe you could set up another pen for them? Best wishes!
Hi Lisa, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to wait until next spring, so I had an idea. The pair was in the goat house and coral, and I had the other tom in with my chicken in the separate chicken area. I hoped that if I swapped the toms, the new tom might not want to wait. I was right or the hen decided to try again anyway.. As the hen has been less visible lately, I decided to check. I found a new nest with 8 eggs out in the long grass of the coral. I really don’t think that is a good place for them (we get about 2 FEET of rain a month for the next 3 months), so today I decided to put a nest box inside the goat house and moved the eggs in there. I put the food dish fairly nearby so that hopefully she will see them and decide to lay future eggs there. I won’t keep the food there for long. If she goes back to the old spot (not the original spot) then I’ll have to decide what to do next. Any suggestions? Would it be possible to find someone with a sitting hen to hatch the 8 and see what happens to whatever else she lays? With all the rain it is obviously humid here, but if she does set on the inside eggs, would it be a good idea to give them a little spritz of water every day so they don’t get too dry? I am glad I didn’t have to wait until spring as the poults can easily grow large enough by Thanksgiving/Christmas 2016. Thanks again for your advice.
If she decides not to lay on the nest inside, but wants to keep laying in her nest in the corral, you could look for another turkey hen, or a chicken that is broody. But it seems like there is never a willing hen when you need one…in my experience. I don’t know if you can find a Silkie hen…they are usually quite broody and will set on any eggs if they get the chance! An incubator is also a good investment if you can manage it and have dependable electricity.
You could also try to make the inside nest a bit more secluded with some extra hay or grass around it. Keep putting any eggs she lays outside in it to see if she gets the idea.
I wouldn’t add any water if she does go broody and sits on the nest. Her body will produce the necessary humidity to hatch the eggs. Adding extra moisture could prevent the proper size air sac from forming in the large end of the egg.
I hope this helps and you have a successful hatch in about 28 days!
Hi again. Thank you for responding so quickly. I had another question. While it rains a lot here, it usually doesn’t rain much at night. Tonight is different. Even though she’s not sitting on the eggs, it seems the pair prefers to spend the night outside, lying on the damp ground. This evening it is raining off and on, so I herded them inside and closed the door. They can get out if they really want to. Do you think I should try to keep them in at night even though they want to be out? Another question. As I understand it, birds don’t begin to brood the eggs until the last one is laid. Otherwise they would hatch at different times. Is that correct? Last time she laid 14, but seemed to be sitting on them before the last several. Thanks again for your help.
I make sure that all of my birds are inside at night or I would lose them all to predators. It seems safer than leaving them out, even if you haven’t had problems with night prowlers about. So, if I were in your barn boots, I’d put them in and hope that this helps keep her on the nest and protect all of them…especially if you do have little ones hatch, they are more susceptible to predation by snakes, etc.
I think that, in general, the hens will wait to brood the eggs once the last egg is laid. But I have seen chicken hens keep adding eggs to their nest from the nest next to them, with the result of eggs hatching over a long period of time. I don’t know that they follow any set rules.
If she starts setting before laying the last one and she has a successful hatch, I wouldn’t worry about it. Most hens will keep their babies in the nest until she feels that all of the viable eggs have hatched. Then she may eat any that didn’t make it. Again, this varies. I’ve had a chicken hen that wanted to continue brooding eggs even after they got smelly, so their instinct to set is pretty strong.
She’ll most likely want to stay close to the nest for at least a day or two after hatching so that the babies are able to get around better. If you have a small dish of water (that the poults can’t drown in) and a small dish of food for them right close by, they will be fine.
Thanks again. So far she hasn’t gone on the new nest, but is apparently going to lay another egg outside.
Is it possible to shut her in for a day or two to see if she’ll lay in the nest inside?
It would take a lot of work to keep her in. I tried to get a hen to set on the eggs, but couldn’t. I put them in with 5 new eggs she laid in the original spot and she is sitting on them all. I guess we’ll know by Oct. 3 or 4 if she’ll succeed in hatching any. I did build a roof over her nest site.
Hi again, This being my first year with turkeys, I don’t know if my present concern is valid or not uncommon. The hen has been setting on the eggs for 11days now. I rarely see her to check on the eggs–just to make sure they are all together and look ok. Yesterday I saw she was off the nest, so I ran to see. But the tom was sitting on the eggs. I know that some birds do that, but I don’t believe chickens do. Today I didn’t see either, so I looked and he was setting on the eggs and she was sitting beside, seeming to wait for him to leave. He’s been on there a while. Is this normal? Is it anything to be concerned about?
I don’t think that is very common, but I wouldn’t be too concerned. It’s very interesting and I’m not sure how many tom turkeys have that level of parental involvement. But it’s good that he is such an attentive father. 🙂
Hi Lisa. Well, I’m not too sure if this is a good situation. Late in the afternoon, he was still on the nest and she was laying down nearby. When I went to walk my dogs, she was on the nest, but he was next to her and a few of the eggs were not under either. when I reurned, he was still there, not where he usually sleeps. This morning, she was on all the eggs and he remains beside her. I’m wondering if he isn’t going too far. He’s much larger and I worry about those big feet and how much he knows about what to do. Do you think I should switch the places of the males–put him back with the chicken and move the one presently with the chicken to where she is? I worry that she may not be eating when he takes her place. I think we’re all confused.
This does sound like a very unusual situation and I would be wondering how to handle it too. You could try switching the males, but there is no way to know if the other male would attempt to eat the eggs or if he would be more aggressive and disrupt her nesting. If you could remove the male and keep her by herself, that would probably be the best solution. But if I remember correctly, you don’t have the space to do that. Putting the males in together would also not be good. Can you re-home the other male? Then separate the male and hen?
After several days of watching for the tom getting off the nest, with no results, I decided to take action. It does not seem that either of them has eaten any food I put out (though they could have found greens and bugs). I could not catch either of them off the nest. So today I tried to gently nudge the male away, then I was able to switch males. The other male is not attempting to get on the nest so far, but is acting like he always did when he was with her before. When I nudged #2 off, it appears they were sharing the eggs as several were uncovered when I got him off. Now she has rearranged them under her. Hopefully with tom #1 not trying to horn in on her job she will get off the nest and eat and drink. I don’t hold much hope for getting many, or any, poults, but at least they will be eating as they should. I had planned on butchering tom #1 for Canadian Thanksgiving on Oct. 12, but now it will probably be #2.
I wrote to you earlier. My hen did lay her eggs on the ground outside the goathouse. As it is the rainy season, When I found her nest, there were about 8 eggs. I put them in a dried grass filled shallow box. She accepted that and layed more. I built a frame over the nest and topped it with a roof. Her total egg number is 14. Assuming she didn’t start incubating the eggs until the last one was layed, they should hatch in another 10 days or so. I am concerned with the hen, though. She almost never gets off the nest. I put food and water near her, but I never see her leave the nest. I hope this is normal. She certainlly is not expending any energy other than to keep the eggs warm. I know wild birds leave their nests much more often. I figure the poults will be relatively small for Thanksgiving turkeys, but I can’t do anything about that now. This is the rainy season here. The male stays out in the rain a lot, though he could get in the goat house. The hen is dry in her covered nest. For the first time, what can I expect as to % that hatch?
It is normal for hens to lay on the nest and only get up to eat, drink and defecate once a day while they are broody. So I wouldn’t worry about her, but it is good that the food and water are right close to her.
The hatch rate depends on so many things that it is impossible to know. First is the question of fertility…if the tom isn’t doing his job properly, the fertility rate can be low. Also, if the parents haven’t had proper nutrition, the fertility can be low. Assuming a good fertility rate and an attentive hen, hopefully you will have an excellent hatch of close to 100%. I have heard from folks who have had a 100% hatch rate, but I have not been so lucky. This year I had only 7 out of around 40 eggs that hatched.
Good luck with your baby turkeys!
An update. After the date for the eggs were to hatch came and went, I waited a few more days then took out an egg and opened it. It was starting to decompose. I checked more eggs with the same result. I ended up opening them all. Most were pretty developed with lots of feathers. The only thing I can think of is that the last week or so was very hot (97) and the hen still stayed on the nest. Also, when I cracked open the eggs, the shells were harder than my chicken eggs. She kept going back to the empty nest, so I had to take it away.
Since turkeys aren’t like chickens, I don’t expect them to try again soon. Do they usually have one “litter” a year, or could she try again this year? Another question: I got another male, but when I tried to put him in with the pair, it seemed like they were going to fight. Now that there is no nest, would that change anything? Would they really hurt each other? I appreciate your help. Thank you.l
As I feared after all the tribulations, the eggs did not hatch. Some, at least, were developing, though they were all putrid, so I couldn’t examine them too closely. I took out one 28 days after the last was layed and the rest the next day. She went back to the nest for the rest of that day and the next two, but today seems to have gotten the idea that there’s no need for that. I will give it another try in the spring, but if that fails, I think I’ll give up on turkeys. Thanks for your advice.
I’m sorry to hear that, David. 🙁 I hope you have better luck next year. Have you considered the possibility of using an incubator to hatch the eggs? If you aren’t able to raise heritage turkeys for future generations, you could also consider ordering a few of the broad breasted turkeys and just butchering each autumn.
I have had mixed results with turkeys, but I’m trying agin next spring…as long as I have at least one tom and one hen that survive from the four young ones I have right now. We’ll see what happens. Best wishes with your future turkey hatches.
We’ve been raising Narragansett turkeys for about five years, buying 7 poults from the local feed store in April and slaughtering them right before Thanksgiving. They probably cost about $60 each, when all is said and done, but they’re well worth it for the extra dark meat and wonderful flavor!
We have them in a large outdoor pen. We have been fortunate three of the years, ending up with one tom and 6 hens, but one year we had 2 toms and had to separate them when they started fighting. This required dividing the pen in half. This year, we appear to have 5 toms and two hens! It would be difficult to divide the pen into 5 parts and still give them room to run, plus it would mean extra feeders and waterers. How should we proceed? Separate the toms from the hens? Wait for the toms to sort out a pecking order? Try to identify the dominant tom and put him with the hens? We’re fearing a bloodbath…
I have never had a problem with my young toms fighting badly enough to cause injuries. They hatched in April or May and I butchered them in October or November and there wasn’t any blood shed in that time. I’ve had as many as 15 of the broad breasted turkeys and 6 of the Narragansetts, with approximately half of them being males. However, I have read that turkeys will pick on the least dominant male until they kill it, so it is possible.
I wonder if you could purchase some of the pinless peepers to put on the toms if they start to fight? They are a small device that you snap onto their beaks to block their vision in front, making it hard to pick on flockmates. They are made for chickens, so I’m not sure if they would fit a turkey.
Here is a link to another blog that talks about them…
Which heritage species can survive as an adult with little or no care. We have 640 acres and bayou splits it down the middle. With arnd 100 yards of big uncut timber on each side. And 180 of native grass and tree restoration ground and the rest is farmed. Plenty of natural food and water but coyotes and coons r present. I guess my question is which one will roost at night and will likely survive if not pinned up? We raise eastern wilds and they never stay.
That’s a good question, Blake. I haven’t tried raising any turkeys under those conditions so I can’t be sure. The Eastern Wild turkeys are what I would have suggested. I wonder if it would work to keep them in a pen and feed them once or twice a day until they are adults and then release them but continue to feed them each day.
I live in Costa Rica. I recently got a male and female about 4 months old. As it never gets below 60 F here, I’m assuming that the poults will be OK without heat. (The pair I got were raised without heat.) There isn’t a lot of choice here about types, but mine look like the picture at the top of the page. I’m hoping they will have eggs in March or early April so that they are big enough by Thanksgiving. They are housed in my (vacant) goat house so they have protection from the rain and have free access to a good sized corral with grass and weeds. I think I need to clip their wings as they can get out of their enclosure, but they stay close by (and today flew into the chicken coop where they spent the first weeks with my hen). I have built a box with sides a few inches high with dried grass for the hen (Beverly (Sills) to use, but I’m wondering if it would be better on the ground than its present position of on a shelf 3 feet off the ground, and whether sides and roof would be preferable. I was thinking of a dog house type structure that could be in the corral. Any ideas?
Congratulations on your new turkeys! At their age they will not need any additional heat…they will be fine. It would be a good idea to clip one wing…if you clip both of their wings they can learn to fly again pretty quickly. Your turkey hen might lay her eggs in the nest box, but I have found that mine like to lay their eggs on the ground. Last year I had a turkey hen that decided to nest outside and she ended up as breakfast for a fox. 🙁 If you can keep your hen in the corral, you might want to give her several options for nesting…pile up some dried grass or hay in a protected corner of the goat house, another pile in a secluded spot in the corral, and maybe a small dog house type structure with hay in it too. This will give her a number of options and she’ll let you know which one she likes best.
Usually turkey hens will start to lay eggs at around 7 to 8 months old…so you should see eggs in about 3 months…maybe a little bit earlier. With the heritage turkeys, it takes around 6 months for them to reach a good size for butchering. Best wishes with your new turkeys!
Lisa i heard you cant easily breed broad breasted whites and bronze that turkeys are to heavy or to fat for home breeding is that true !!and thanks good info..
Sorry my name is Ray Gutowski..
The broad breasted breeds are unable to mate naturally because the males have so much breast meat that they are unable to mount the female. So what you heard is true. I have a trio of heritage turkeys and I’m thinking about raising a broad breasted white female to breed to my heritage tom to see if I can produce offspring that are meatier than the heritage. If I have any luck, I’ll post about it. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by!
I was just wandering if I could breed a broad breasted hen to a heritage tom for a larger bird. Please let me know how it works out for you.
I’m no longer sure if I will try this. I’m downsizing my flock and considering the possibility of just ordering my turkeys every spring from a hatchery. It is possible to breed a heritage tom to a broad breasted turkey hen. The hen will most likely consume more feed than a heritage hen. The tom and hen will be able to breed the year after they hatch. So if you start them this spring, they will be ready to breed next spring.
I also have been told that I can’t raise cornish cross/have them breed/lay eggs and hatch them without AI, etc. But alas, I’ve done it and butchered the heavy breasted broilers of my own! I’m now going to do it with BBwhite turkeys! : )
That’s great Karen! Did you have both male and female cornish cross for the parents? Or did you have a male of another breed? I’m curious, because I wondered if the males would have trouble breeding.
Let me know how your broad breasted turkey breeding goes!
I really like your post. Its been so helpfull.
Great post! We plan on raising turkeys for Thanksgiving next year. I’m hoping to be out of this house as I only have the tiniest of backyards (it works fine for the chickens and the rabbits), but if I’m not then it will be maybe 2 or 3 turkeys 🙂 I’m planning on Bourbon Reds, I think the pin feathers are lighter… guess I’ll find out!
I hope you are able to find a larger homestead and raise your own flock of turkeys! Something to keep in mind if you have a smaller place, turkeys fly more than chickens do, especially the heritage breeds (like the Bourbon Red). So you might want to clip the wing feathers to keep them in your back yard. 🙂
I haven’t raised Bourbon Reds, but they are a beautiful bird. I’d love to have them. But I do think that it will be a bit harder to get a clean carcass for the table. If I get a chance to try them, I’ll let you know!
We have considered raising Turkeys. Your information is very helpful!
Thank you 🙂 I hope you get a chance to try turkeys on your homestead!
We raised turkeys for the first time this year (although we had them on the farm when I grew up) we got 5 and they all turned out to be toms. we butchered the first three and were all 21lbs, our thanksgiving one was 31.5lbs! yup he was huge but very tasty! one left but I don’t believe he will be as big. I think next year we will try the white variety, because I noticed the same thing about the feathers. So nice to see your article! I do everything pretty much the same as you 🙂
That’s wonderful, Val! Thanks for sharing your experience! I would like to order some heritage turkeys next year…but I’m wondering about which breed will have light colored feathers to make dressing easier. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one that got tired of picking black feathers!
We processed our turkeys this past weekend. My granddaughters hatched them. They were supposed to be Spanish Black/Wild cross. We got 6 eggs to incubate and 3 hatched. They were all toms. One looked like a wild turkey, but the other 2 were white with black markings. 3 toms is not a good thing, since they just have to fight. Two ganged up on the other a few months ago, and I had to go ahead and butcher him then. Things were ok until last week, when the fighting got out of hand. My son put some plastic fencing around the bottom of the trampoline and separated them. That one kept finding a way out to try to get back to the fight. I don’t know what they weighed dressed, but they are pretty big. I butchered the first one by myself, but with these two, my daughter was there to do the heavy lifting. One will be roasted tomorrow and the other is being smoked today. Grandkids are excited about our homegrown Thanksgiving dinner.
We actually live in the city on 2/3 acre, so I am amazed we got away with them. And the ducks, and the hens, and the broilers, and the rabbits, lol!
Oh my goodness, Deborah! You are so subversive! 😉 Good for you! That’s great that you are ‘flying under the wire’ 🙂 I raised and butchered rabbits in the suburbs, but no poultry! Thanks for stopping by!
I wish you would do a post telling us a little more about raising rabbits!
It’s funny you should say that. I’ve thought about it many times. I no longer have rabbits because the guys would rather eat chickens, ducks, and turkeys. I would love to share a rabbit butchering post…I just don’t know if I want to get into rabbits again and I have no pictures from those days. I’ll have to tell the story about that experience sometime. 🙂
Hi! My family raised two turkeys this year. It was our first time. I am concerned about cooking our BB bronze. It is so huge it will not fit into one pan. Obviously next year we won’t let them get so big. I am planning on braising the legs tomorrow and I was thinking on roasting the breast but I am worried it will dry out since it is enormous. Any suggestions?
Your predicament reminds me of two stories…but let me answer you question first and then I’ll do my story telling! 🙂
If you can soak your turkey over night in a brine solution, that will help keep it juicy. I also put large pats of butter under the skin that covers the breast meat to keep it tender. Did you weigh your turkey? Obviously, the larger the bird, the longer it will take to cook…so you will want to start it in the oven earlier. I like to start the bird on a higher temp (about 425 F) for the first half hour. This browns the skin and that helps to hold more moisture in (according to what I’ve read, and it seems to work for me!) …then turn down to 325 or 350 F…however you usually roast your bird.
If you have a large jelly roll type of pan, you might be able to use that for roasting your turkey. Just open the oven and take some of the juice out every now and then to keep it from leaking over the edge of the pan. Cover the bird tightly with foil and baste it carefully to make it even juicier. Save the juice for making your gravy.
I hope these suggestions help! Now for my stories…
My younger sister, Colleen, lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. She has friends who have raised their own turkeys for the table. One year she went to their house for Thanksgiving dinner and their turkey was a whopping 40+ pounds! It was so big that it didn’t fit in their oven well enough to shut the oven door. It took so long to cook that I think they didn’t eat it until something like 9pm that night (after starting it very early in the am). Lesson learned…don’t wait this long to butcher your Thanksgiving turkey! I think a dressed weight of around 20 pounds is a very nice size for cooking…but a bit hard to handle if butchering by yourself (for this old lady anyway!).
I’m not sure if my son had heard this story when he was little, but it’s possible that it had something to do with my next story. When Joe was in kindergarten, his teacher pulled me aside one day and asked if I had cooked Thanksgiving dinner the week before. I told her that no, we had gone to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving so I didn’t cook. She laughed and said that Joe had come to school claiming that we had a turkey that was so big that we couldn’t fit it in the oven, so we had to cook it over a campfire! He had been very disappointed that I didn’t prepare Thanksgiving dinner at our house that year…for the first time in his life. So maybe telling a tall tale was his way of making up for it. 😉
I hope your turkey roasts up wonderfully and you have enjoyed your turkey raising experience! Let me know how it comes out. Best wishes and a very Happy Thanksgiving, Kim!
Always cook breast down and I turn over the last hour to hour and a half
This will make the breast meat much juicier! Be very careful turning your turkey over.
Lisa, do you know if the bronze broad breasted turkeys really can’t mate naturally?? I have a male and female and was so hoping they would have babies!
The broad breasted males get so large in the breast area that they have trouble mounting the female. Almost everything I have read says that they cannot mate naturally. However, I was reading a comment from a customer on one hatchery’s page for the broad breasted white turkeys. They reported that they had a successful mating and hatching from the young broad breasted whites they bought from the hatchery. I can’t confirm that this is true, but can pass along their anecdotal account.
The hatcheries use artificial insemination to produce offspring to sell. If you want to try mating your turkeys, I recommend that you do NOT give them the meat producer feed and, instead, give them a regular grower feed until the hen is close to laying age (the spring after she was hatched is usually when she’ll start to lay). At that point, switch her to layer feed with a little extra protein for good measure (field peas, split peas, black oil sunflower seeds are good).
You will have a higher feed bill with the broad breasted turkeys than you will with the heritage breeds. If you can find a heritage tom, you might be able to keep him with the broad breasted hen and they are more likely to mate and be productive.
I hope this helps. Best wishes!
We are tuly inspired, Lisa, and look forward to raising our own turkeys next year. We will definitely be consulting your website. Your directions and pictures are very helpful, and your turkeys are beautiful– I’m sure they taste great, too! Love your captions!! Thank you! Blessings~
Thank you! I look forward to hearing about your experience! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 🙂 We will be having one of them for Thanksgiving dinner this week! I hope this post helps when you get your little poults next year. Just let me know if you have any questions!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
We have so many wild turkeys around here that I feel I should learn to hunt turkeys before I raise my own. But it’s an excellent article, Lisa, and well timed! What you are able to do on your one acre of land amazes me! I finally started a FB page for my blog, and this post will be one of my first shares on it. :o)
I would love to hunt wild turkey, but it is hard to find a place that will allow you to hunt, that is far enough from homes. We just had a rafter of turkeys in the field next door…at least a dozen of them and I’ve seen up to 50 at a time in the field way back! But we don’t own the land and the owners aren’t too keen on hunters. Such is life!
Thanks for sharing! Happy Thanksgiving!
If you want to hunt wild turkeys come to south central Kentucky we had got loads of them……lots of farmers here will let you hunt
Maybe someday! Thanks for the invite 🙂