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My Ups and Downs of Raising Turkeys as a Chicken-Keeper

For many who get the chicken bug the day will come where the cute little turkeys at the feed store will infect them with the turkey bug. As a lifelong chicken tender the turkey bug bit me 5 years ago at Rural King in Butler PA. I had thought about it for years until I finally purchased them. Since then I have learned to appreciate the personalities and utility of turkeys and am going to share what I picked up along the way.

Little Cody holding his first Silkie. I’ve had chickens continuously since as early as I can remember and the Silkie is my favorite “pet” chicken. By the bracelet on my wrist I believe this was taken 2001-2002

This isn’t a care article per say but after 5 weeks old my care for chicken’s and turkeys is identical. They get their own living quarters separate from the chickens these days but until we moved to the current farm they lived with the chickens. There is debate over co-habitation of turkeys and for 4 years I had zero issues (the rooster was mad the turkeys wouldn’t let him be top of the pecking order but luckily I’m writing this and not him). Be warned though that housing chickens and turkeys together can lead to Blackhead. Going from chickens as a hobby to running a chicken farm a lot changes in regards to biosecurity and keeping your ‘pets’ separate from your flocks is a topic that deserves much more detail.

Turkey chicks are finicky!!!

I had read that turkey chicks are finicky but I didn’t treat them any different than chickens as chicks. Within 48 hours I had 2 babies die and was super confused, I was doing everything right (or so I thought); I had a heat lamp, they had the proper chick waterers and feeders. Up to this point I had never truly looked at brooder temperature; I believed the birds would self regulate by getting closer to the lamp if cold and further away if warm but until I put them in my GFQ brooder versus my cute little brooder box I constructed I lost 1 a night (July in my non-airconditioned garage ~70’s F and no real drafts).

After placing the chicks in the GFQ start and grow no more chicks died. I am attributing it to the better temperature control than a standard heat lamp.

Turkey’s are great foragers and will gladly provide free pest control

Meat Turkeys Aren’t the Best Selection For Pets

Our Broad Breasted Bronze at 4 months old, shows how fast these birds do grow

After my early Turkey mortalities I ended up with 3 turkeys that grew to adulthood. 2 turkeys that were a dual purpose breed. I was told they were golden turkeys but they turned out black with a gold sheen in the sun. 1 Broad Breasted Bronze turkey (I named her Hamburger); Hamburger was the biggest sweetheart. Her personality was unbelievable, she was practically a part of the family and would give turkey hugs all day. After I decided she was staying at Thanksgiving I began a calorie restricted diet by rationing feed; she could still forage anything she wanted but feed was restricted. This kept her weight down until year 3 when she must’ve gotten very good at foraging. From May to July she went from 22 – 37 pounds and unfortunately she did end up getting a leg injury.

“Hambaby” ie “Hamburger” our broad breasted bronze hen pictured at a healthy weight

Turkeys have a personality

Every chicken keeper will tell you that their chicken’s have personalities and they certainly do. However, turkeys have chicken personalities x5 and are very fun characters to be around. I have never raised a tom so I can’t comment on them (besides when my one turkey pretends to be a tom, pictured below).

Speedy one of our hens puffing up like a tom

You can tell a lot about how a turkey is feeling by their neck and snood, when happy you will see blues start to show, when upset they become a dark red.

Another thing, my turkey’s are very emotional. If I wake up late and don’t let them out until lunch I believe they get upset. They no longer follow me and Speedy has been hiding out somewhere overnight only on days I am late.

Speedy puffing up at her reflection on a chrome bumper right out of frame

Turkey Eggs

Before moving to the farm the turkey’s didn’t lay much, 2 weeks in July is all I would get. This year moving to the farm each turkey has laid ~5 days a week even now in December.

Our turkey eggs are basically XXL eggs, they are white with light little freckles if you look close. I have noticed no difference from chicken eggs besides size.

Do I Recommend Turkeys

While I recommend chickens to almost anybody with a yard I cannot recommend turkeys to everyone due to complexity of care, size, and the area needed to free roam.

Turkeys are not a beginner bird, they are harder to raise as chicks and thus far the only birds I’ve raised that had me weighing them monthly and having individualized meal plans.

Being a larger bird turkeys are harder to handle. I got my first chicken at ~3 years old and cared for her myself; I wouldn’t recommend turkey’s for children; everything is larger with turkeys feeder, waterer, yard, cage, etc.

If you don’t have a large yard I also would not recommend turkeys; I always raise free range and I believe everybody should. In my opinion 1 open acre is the minimum for turkeys and I wouldn’t go more than 10 turkeys per acre long term. I can say that having my 2 turkeys free range on over 50 acres vs 3 they had before I can see an improvement in their moods, feathers, and eggs. They no longer flock to people for food now they flock to the fields/woods and act much more like they would in the wild (I still spoil them).

All and all turkeys are not for most.

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