Tell me about keeping turkeys

A friend of mine has been given some turkey chicks* (poults?). As she has never had anything to do with turkeys before she asked me for information - the Google gods have not been kind and I have come up with very little info. So folks I am relying on you to deluge me with info.

Are turkeys vegetarian?

Can you make home made turkey feed (she doesn’t want to use commercial stuff - even if we could get it here which is doubtful)

Any hints, tips, tricks or things to look out for would be appreciated.
[SIZE=“1”]*quite cute [/SIZE]

I shipped a copy of your OP over to my daughter, who worked one summer as an intern* for one of the largest turkey producers here in California.
I’m not sure if we will get an answer, she is a brand new teacher now, and going to Grad school, so she is real short on time.
*She was offered a ranch manager’s job when she graduated, so I think she knows a bit about turkeys. On the other hand, I know some great ways to prepare turkeys for dinner.:wink:

Hi. I raised turkeys for a couple of years in Ohio.
Q1: yes, although I think they may be opportunistic omnivores, ie. they eat bugs.
Q2: I would hesitate to feed only home-made foods because I think commercial feeds are fortified with the balance of vitamins etc. that turkeys need. If it’s bad ingredients you are worried about, you can get antibiotic-free and even organic turkey feed. I always fed my turkeys commercial feed and the occasional table scraps as a treat.

Also, yes turkey babies are incredibly cute, and the reason I raised my turkeys for a few years is because I couldn’t bring myself to kill and eat them. Even when they get big they are cute dammit! They are very curious creatures and like shiny things. They would follow me around the chicken yard when I was feeding and gathering eggs, making their distinctive, inquisitive chirping sound and pecking at the buttons on my coat.

How come people don’t eat turkey eggs?

OP: Turkeys are more omnivorous than vegetarian. They’ll basically eat anything that fits down their throats, including each other when they get bigger.

If your friend has never kept poultry before, then I highly suggest Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry, as it includes other species that she might be interested in later. If she wants something specific to turkeys, there is also a Turkey version in the same series. Also, there are some serious diseases to worry about if your friend is keeping other birds. She needs to research this situation ASAP.

Like Oregon Sunshine said, commercially produced food is a must. It has the proper balance of vitamins and nutrients to insure that the birds don’t get a deficiency. You can get pre-made food that is antibiotic free, but I recommend finding one that has a Coccidiostat (not an antibiotic anyway) to combat the most common intestinal parasites. Your friend can also give the turkeys salad (60% dark leafy greens. 35% chopped veggies, 5% fruit) when their adult feathers start coming in. As their heat requirement start dropping off, she can give them access to a yard with grass.

For the record, NO hormones are added to poultry feed. It has been illegal to supplement poultry feed with hormones since the 1960’s in both the US and Australia.

Any feed store should carry poultry feed. It doesn’t specifically have to be Turkey feed. A 50 pound bag of feed can go a long way depending on how many birds she has, so even if you’re in the middle of no where, it’s worth your time driving to the nearest feed store.

Turkeys have fairly specific lighting, heat, and housing requirements, depending on how many you have and what kind of situation you’re trying to arrange. If you have questions that the books can’t answer, PM me and I’ll find out.

Gonzomax: The only turkeys that are allowed to have eggs commercially are the parents of the birds that are later sent to slaughter. So, the only turkey eggs that are available commercially are the left-over fertile eggs that aren’t wanted for hatching for some reason. Apparently, there aren’t enough of these left-over eggs to really warrant developing a market for. Even breaker plants (companies that take irregular but still eatable eggs and turn them into boxes of just egg whites, pre-scrambled, or whatnot) don’t want turkey eggs because the size difference would require them to recalibrate their machinery.

Folks I know who keep turkeys as pets do eat the eggs they produce. I’ve had them myself. They taste just like chicken eggs.

really hopes she can find a job as a poultry vet in 8 months

Is this an example of successful chicken-farmer-lobbying, or is there some legitimate means for this?

?? I’m confused by your question. Maybe if I give more background on the industry, I’ll answer it anyway.

There are two sides to poultry production: the meat-producing side, and the egg producing side. Chickens raised for meat are genetically very different from chickens raised for making eggs for people to eat.

To make eating egg production cost effective, practical, and safe for the chickens and the food industry, birds need to be kept in cages. Otherwise, because they are kept in high numbers for long periods of time, they are very likely to get seriously ill with parasites and other diseases, to beat up on each other, or to lay their eggs on the ground in the muck.

Birds raised for meat are bred to produce lots of muscle very quickly. A meat chicken goes from baby to your Sunday dinner in about 6 weeks. They are raised on the floor of a large building where they can all run around inside.

Trying to keep a bird bred for making muscle in a cage is nearly impossible because they are too heavy. Depending where you are, meat birds can weigh anywhere from 6 to 9 pounds. Birds raised just for making eggs for people to eat, by contrast, weigh about 2 pounds. I suppose, if someone did the breeding work, we could have a line of turkeys that are kept just to make eggs that people will eat. As it is though, the main reason turkeys are raised is to make meat. So, they are heavy bodied-birds. A full grown male turkey can weigh up to 80 pounds, and the females can be better than 50. The turkeys that end up as your Thanksgiving dinner weighed only about 20 pounds alive. They were juveniles though, and hadn’t started laying eggs yet.

So, in a round about way, the reason we don’t have an industry designed to produce turkey eggs for people to eat is because 1. there is no demand and 2. the current birds are too big to keep in cages.

Does that answer your question?

I have a few things to add to Pullet’s excellent info.

You can reduce the likelyhood of losing turkeys to disease quite a bit by raising them on wire, as oppsed to on range.

“In the range method, great care must be exercised so that disease is not spread through soil contamination. Under no circumstances should turkeys be permitted to run on ground that has previously been occupied by chickens, and pastures or ranges must be changed continually if the birds are to remain healthy. These pastures should be changed at least every ten days (if they are small) for once disease strikes control is most difficult and sometimes utterly impossible.”

From Mother Earth News’ excellent article here.

We raised turkeys both ways when I was a kid and had decent luck with both. We never lost a single bird raised on wire, and only lost a few raised on range.

Butchering turkeys is quite an undertaking, especially if you let them get big. We had one turkey that was 55lb and we had to cut it in half to get it in the oven. It’s a 3 person opperation to butcher them at that size, as one person has to hold each wing to keep them from bruising the meat. You could probably build a killing cone to do the same thing, but just handling a bird of that size is risky. They can be quite nasty when they don’t want to be caught.

Pullet’s answers pretty much cover everything. I would add that I had an omelet this spring made of chicken, turkey, and a goose egg all from my gf’s farm. It was delicious, however you would never guess it was something other than chicken eggs.

BTW Pullet, if you see this: Does the name Evan L. Stubbs ring a bell?

Yes, it answers my question. When you said “allowed” it seemed as if it were a regulation. Actually, maybe my question isn’t answered after all. Your answer explains why it’s not reasonable to produce turkey eggs, but not why it’s not allowed except in the circumstance you described.

Remember, a Turkey is for Christmas, not for life.

Thanskgiving if you’re an American of course

Allowed in this case means that your T-giving meal was slaughtered before reaching adulthood.
No regulations involved, just economics.

Thanks for the link, masterofnone. The article they post has some good points, but it’s considerably out of date, which makes it hazardous in some ways.

For example, the specific disease they are talking about in the excerpt you posted is called Histomoniasis, or Black Head. It is caused by a microscopic parasite called Histomonas meleagridis that is carried by another parasite, an intestinal worm common in chickens called Heterakis gallinarum. (Parasites of parasites - Ain’t biology grand?) The eggs of intestinal worms are themselves transmitted by earthworms. If a turkey eats an earthworm that is carrying Heterakis eggs, and if those eggs are infected with Histomonids, the turkey is very likely to get sick and die. Chickens, on the other hand, don’t usually die from Histomoniasis. That’s why we don’t generally keep chickens and turkeys together, or even on the same ground consecutively.

The article you posted says “Sand is considered the ideal litter for starting poults.” A layer of sand on top of normal, earthworm infested soil is a great way to get lots of earthworms on the surface where birds can eat them. I’m not sure exactly when the transmission cycle for Black Head was worked out, but I’ll bet it was after Mr. Widmer wrote in 1949.

I curious though: When you were raising birds on wire, did you use metal wire, or plastic? Were these the birds that you let get so heavy? If so, how did you deal with massive birds on wire, and did you notice any foot problems? Also, you mentioned that you had more birds die when they were on range, but do you know what they died off? The birds on wire were, by necessity, enclosed, and so were protected from predators and other problems.

Balthisar: Sorry for the poor word choice. Like Rick figured out, I meant “allowed” in that the majority of turkeys are sent to slaughter before they are sexually mature. There are no laws stopping anyone from producing turkey eggs for people to eat. There are only practical and economic factors.

Vetbridge: Evan L. Stubbs didn’t sound familiar, but, in Googling, I see he is Pennsylvania’s version of our A. Rosenwald. It’s neat that the whole of modern poultry production can be traced to a handful of individuals. But, it’s kind of sad that the industry is running down towards those same numbers now. Alas. Why do you ask?

I took that to mean that the sand was used in the brooder, not on range, but I may be misreading it.

IIRC, the wire we used was 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth. As your reply suggested, raising them on wire can cause foot problems, but I don’t recall any, perhapse because of the small openings in the wire. I don’t recall exactly how large we let these birds get, but I strongly suspect they were not the monster ones, because of the small size of the enclosure.

The birds we lost on range were lost due to some health issue, though I’m not sure what exactly it was. I just remember coming across the dead ones (with no signs of injury) from time to time. We never had them checked to see why they died, we’d just pull out the dead and bury them. My father built the enclosure, and there is no way any predators would have gotten in. Having taken apart some of his construction, suffice it to say that unless the predator was very handy with a crowbar or sawsall it just wasn’t happening. I’m sure he had the wire burried at least 2’ under the ground, and probably backfilled with boulders.

Thanks for your helpfull advice earlier this year. We ended up with all 4 hogs and 36 out of the 40 hens making it to slaughter. No predator issues at all, amazingly enough. We lost “Lefty” to that foot problem, one didn’t stay under the heat lamp when we transferred them from brooder to coop, one had an infected breast blister, and one I just found to be non-motile. I tried moving it to the food and water, but it just got shoved around and died a few days later. They took a few weeks extra to get to market weight, I suspect due to the cold weather. I’m starting them later next year.

Glad to hear it :slight_smile:
Mmm. Now I want roast turkey. And mashed potatoes.

Hmmmmm… Now I’m wondering if this “blackhead” disease is something Australia has avoided (Quarantine Matters! - well yes I have been indoctrinated by advertising).

And I spose this puts the nix on raising earthworms as a nice high protein turkey food.
Just to be very clear these turkeys will be/are pets.

Well, considering thatAustralia was thinking of banning a treatment for blackhead in 2007, I kinda doubt that you’re free of the disease. Guess you’ll have to muck about with the rest of us :wink:

But yeah, probably don’t have to raise earthworms specifically for protein. Commercial feed will get them what they need, and any other bugs they find in the yard will be gravy. If you’ve really got your heart set on it, you could toss them some meal worms. But, I think there’s nothing cuter than poultry eating salad scraps. Yeah, I’m weird.

At the moment, the incidence of the disease is fairly low (thanks to modern drugs, most of which are slowly being taken away from us to use, but I digress). You have reasonably good odds of never having an issue with blackhead. But don’t worry: there are a bunch of other diseases to keep an eye out for :smiley:

What kind of poults did she get?

What eats turkeys? I know a lady that kept pet chickens and she lost one to an owl, one to a hawk (or something like that) and a couple to sneaky foxes.

But turkeys are bigger so maybe they aren’t subject to those kinds of preditors

I think she said Bronzes or Bronzwings something like that (the bubbas were so cute n chirpy n cuddly n squeeful I wasnt paying a lot of attention to what she was saying)

Predatory birds will definitely take turkeys when they are young. Fox, weasel, bobcat, racoon, coyote, ferral dogs, and fisher cats will all eat them too. I’m sure I’m forgetting some predators. It’s not much of a problem once they’re decent sized, but they’re very vulnerable when small.