Pros, Cons and Facts about Raising Turkeys
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Pros, Cons and Facts about Raising Turkeys

Posted by Jennifer Sartell, Professional Homesteader & Blogger, Wed, Jul 18, 2018

If your homesteading situation is set up to a point at which you have the ability to raise turkeys, I highly encourage you to do so! Turkeys are amazing creatures, and though we began our Black Spanish turkey flock with the intention of filling our freezer each fall, I found that turkeys have wonderful personalities and make amazing pets as well.

In my opinion, with the exception of the space that raising turkeys requires, turkeys are easier to keep than chickens. They are docile, regal birds that move across the yard with a certain air of sophistication. They create tight family bonds and are fairly intelligent.

If you’ve raised chickens, then you have a good basis for raising turkeys. Like chickens, they need quality feed, fresh water, a secure living space and run, clean bedding, roosting poles, and ground-level nesting boxes.

Other than that, there are a few differences between chickens and turkeys. Below is a list of pros, cons and helpful facts to get you started on raising turkeys.

PROS 

They are cleaner to keep than chickens

Our turkey pen is always cleaner than our chicken pen, and I believe this has to do with the fact that turkeys don’t have that constant instinct to scratch. Our chickens dig through bedding throughout their waking hours and throw soiled bedding everywhere. When you feed turkeys, their food stays where you put it, the water stays bedding free and the droppings are not scattered like they are in our chicken pens.

They’re delicious!

Our homegrown heritage turkeys have FLAVOR! I’ve always thought turkey was a rather bland meat, especially the white meat. But after raising our own, I realized that turkey can be delicious! I was blown away by the rich stock and hearty gravy they produced.

They have wonderful personalities

Turkeys are gentle and incredibly loyal, which can make processing them an emotional task. Our head, Tom (who became a pet), would follow us around our yard like our Golden Retriever. He just liked to be near us.

CONS

Turkey poults are delicate

Turkey poults are really delicate and sensitive to slight changes including drafts, dampness, temperature changes, etc. They’re slower-moving than chicks and have less of an instinct to run/defend themselves from danger. Because of this, we’ve always brooded our turkey poults separately from our chicks. Our chicks tend to run the poults over and boss them away from feeders.

They need a lot of space

Everything concerning a turkey is bigger. The run, the coop, the nesting boxes…they’re bigger birds, so they need more space. Unlike chickens, which can easily be housed in recycled dog houses, etc., turkeys need more room; a large shed or small barn work well. The more space you give them, the better they do.

They eat a lot

Again, larger birds equal more feed. Turkeys also need to be fed a higher-protein feed, such as a game bird feed, to get them to table weight, which can be more expensive per pound. Breeding pairs can be fed a lower-protein feed when kept for maintenance and breeding.

FACTS

Heritage breeds

If you’re thinking about raising turkeys, I encourage you to research heritage breeds. Heritage breeds may not grow to the huge sizes that the white factory turkeys reach, but they are full of flavor. They reproduce on their own (more about this below) and your breeding pairs will live longer lives. By raising heritage breeds you are also helping to keep these breeds alive. Many heritage breeds are in danger of extinction because backyard keepers aren’t raising turkeys like they were before farm factories were invented. Large-scale farms concentrate on only one or two breeds.

Heritage Breeds (to name a few) 

  • Bourbon Red
  • Black Spanish
  • Royal Palm
  • Narragansett
  • Blue Slate

Heritage breeds can breed on their own

Unlike factory birds, which require artificial insemination, heritage breeds can breed on their own. Our turkey hens made great mothers. They lay only in the spring and early summer, and we would get an egg every day to every other day. Turkey eggs are edible, so if you’re not interested in breeding you can add them to your breakfast omelet.

They can fly

And I mean FLY! This is especially true of heritage breeds. Our turkeys were able to scale our two-story hay barn easily. They may require wing clipping to keep them where you want them.

Blackhead

One of the most common questions I get is: Can you raise turkeys with chickens? The answer is yes and no. We’ve always had good luck keeping our adult turkeys with our chickens, but in some areas of the country there is a disease called blackhead that your chicken flock can carry without any outward symptoms. Your chickens can give this to young turkeys and the turkeys will die from it. Contact your local extension to see if blackhead is in your area before you set up a mixed flock.

Turkeys make a wonderful addition to any moderately sized homestead. If you can raise turkeys…do!

Jennifer Sartell, Professional Homesteader and Blogger

Jennifer Sartell is the primary care taker of all animals on her and her husband’s farm in Fenton, MI. With a passion for living a simple life, Jennifer enjoys creating art, taking in nature, raising animals and has developed a deep appreciation for homesteading. Jennifer and her husband, Zach, currently raise goats and poultry. Her vast amount of experience on the farm includes, but is not limited to: milking, shearing, hoof trimming, vaccine administration, assisting in animal births, dehorning, egg collecting, chick and turkey hatching, feeding, watering, etc. She can also cook a mean farm-to-table meal and when the day is done has documented and photographed their day on the farm.

Comments

Jack Speese 12/02/2020, 3:23:34 PM

Hi Jennifer,
How easy is it to raise turkey poults naturally, i.e., let the hen do the brooding and chick (poult) raising? I find very little information on this specific topic. Years ago I raised commercial broad-breasted poults quite successfully, 15 or 8 at a time. I never tried heritage breeds, though. Back then they weren't readily available. What little information I have found is contradictory. Some say their heritage hens make excellent natural mothers and, like chickens or waterfowl, the mother and poults can range with the flock with no problem as long as everyone has plenty of space, others say the same thing but that they have to pen the mother and her brood separately from the rest of the flock (disease prevention, maybe?), and still others say that they have better luck removing the poults from the hen once they are hatched and raising them in a brooder. There's tons of information about raising (in most cases commercial) poults from a hatchery... as I said I've done this myself... but almost nothing on raising your own poults from heritage breeds.

Tracy 12/11/2020, 8:20:21 PM

This spring our turkeys will be a year old. We have 2 toms and 3 hens. Any advice on how to proceed after breeding would be appreciated. I've read several articles on turkeys, I am still very confused on to leave our toms with our hens or separate them.

In reply to by Tracy

tony 04/02/2021, 1:51:18 PM

hi tracy. i keep 3 different breeds and keeps the toms with up to 3 hens all year long. my problem is when i pasture them and keeping the toms away from each other during spring and summer breeding

Cathlee 01/20/2021, 10:15:04 PM

Hi I have four turkeys, one all white Tom, one black Tom one red heritage Tom, and one black hen. My big boy black Tom is sick with swollen legs, I am assuming its MI, have you ever treated a Turkey for this, if so did it survive?
Kindly Cathleen, :(

Linda 02/21/2021, 11:20:06 AM

HI Jennifer I Inherited a Royal Palm tom turkey when tenants left quickly. He was left behind with a rooster. They seem to have a love hate relationship. The rooster goes with the flow but the turkey will chase him an literally peck out his feathers . Although I have a stable where they were kept in deplorable conditions. They refuse to use it.
Not being able to stand how they were being treated I did most of the care. I told them they must have a coop. That was the least of what they did not do. All the chickens @least18 were killed by foxes and eaten by the tenants along with the turkey hen. Thus Mutt and Jeff left behind. I have desperately tried to make an enclosure I even purchase one on a local site which was a piece of garbage over priced, immensely. I can't even put it together because they started to and did not
follow. I was given the directions but my goat promptly grabbed them and before I could pry it out of his mouth he had swallowed 1/2. What part was put together was not done correctly. Cardboard would be stronger than this 1/8 th inch stuff they call wood. It is of no use for the turkey and the rooster wants to be with the Turkey. I have locked him in to what I was ab and to make into a hutch but the next night I have to fight him to get him out of his crate and in it. I gave up!
The pair have decided to roost on top of an old Bronco. They refuse to stay anywhere else for the night. Once winter came I tried to no avail to put them in other places out of the weather but the next night they are back to their Bronco. I put a huge box covered with a tarp. The rooster is easier to persuade to take Shelter but " Horton" remains on the roof through wind, rain snow and sleet, temps as low as 19 degrees, faithful to his Bronco "100 percent." I have convince the rooster to roost in an air plane approved dog carrier covered with heavy plastic and a tarp but the turkey refuses to get in or under any protection. I cannot reach him or carry him once I get my ladder in place an usually he'll fly away while I'm in the process. I am afraid he will get frostbite. I hopefully have someone coming to make a coop but I'm not sure when or even if he'll come or what he'll charge. I live alone and up until RA and other bone and problems set in and Age(70) I had no problems taking care of my Critters. It is so hard to accept the fact I can't do what I want to or used to do.
If you have read this far I apologize profusely for the length of this post but I can't sleep at night worrying about my guy. My animals are my everything. Thank you for reading this post and God Bless you . Linda.

In reply to by Linda

Susan Palmer 06/09/2021, 11:42:11 PM

I’m about where you are. I’m thinking of you and feeling your distress cause I’m right there with you
I hope things work out for you. I’m looking at my farm and considering what I can downsize myself. It’s difficult as all of my stock knows me and depends on me. Trusting them to someone else is a very difficult thing for me to do.
Sending you prayers my friend

In reply to by Linda

Pamela Remme 03/13/2022, 8:54:07 PM

Turkeys from what I am discovering only like a roof with open sides. No mater what the weather is. Weird....Huh???

Jack 03/02/2021, 11:12:59 PM

I have 10 chicken and six turkeys all 16 are about a week old. My turkeys keep pecking at my chickens when they are laying down. My ? Is this behavior ok for this to let all 16 birds stay or should I split them up right now I have them living in my living room because it is cold outside what should I do. The one turkey seems to be the bully to the chickens when they are trying to sleep any help would be greatly appreciated thanks

In reply to by Jack

tony 04/02/2021, 1:53:59 PM

i would separate them if you could or try using a red heat lamp and by throughing some grass clippings or romaine lettuce leaves in the brooding area. i place marbles believe it or not and the more aggressive birds take out their pecking energy out on them

Jane 04/13/2021, 7:07:48 PM

I have 2 heritage white hens that are now a year old with 6 chickens and all are happy pets on our ranch. They free range during the day and locked up in 10x10 coop at night. The turkeys have been great friends and laid eggs every day or two the past few weeks. They started chesting up and fighting with each other today for the first time. I don’t know if hearing the wild turkeys having their spring orgy by the creek is stirring them up or what. Any suggestions to get them to knock it off?

Linda 04/27/2021, 8:44:39 PM

We were gifted a 4 year old turkey hen. She lays eggs about 4 to 5 times per week. After having her for about 3 months it's now mid spring and she is suddenly nesting and refuses to move off of her nest. She will barely eat. Worse, her last 2 eggs she has either stepped on and broken, or put a hole in with her beak. I know that hens often nest for as long as 28 days. Is there anything else that I might need to be doing for her? She is a love and gets treats at night (lettuce, fruits or veggies) and a heatlhy diet each morning with plenty of protein (game feed and cat food-her previous owners only fed her cat food). Her water is freshened twice daily. She has a large pen and plenty of roosting poles in her house as well as a run. We also have chickens but they are in another hen house. Is she lonely, or do I just let this run its course? I'm sorry, I know nothing about turkeys and don't want anything to happen to her.

In reply to by Linda

Terrie Ball 06/26/2021, 8:06:24 AM

Shes gone broody,as far as stepping on the eggs I'm sure it's the giant feet. The holes from the beaker I'm not sure about. I'd let her have a few days and see if she has some eggs that aren't broken or cracked and let her do her thing. I should have asked first,do you have a tom? If not then ignore my advice and ask someone how to break her broody hormonal spree. Or,I gave mygirls some hen eggs that I knew were fertile. She now is sporting 2 tiny chicks and you'd think she won the lottery. Shes a very proud mom!

Lenore O'Laughlin 05/15/2021, 7:55:26 PM

Hello I have been raising a pair of turkeys and this have been a great experience with their personalities. Daisy use to nip me any chance she could cause she was jealous of me around my husband (daddy's girl) and Louie would puff up and dance when we sang to him. He loved attention. They use to watch TV cartoons when they were younger. They also were babysat per say by our great Pyrenees dog Aaron he just love them to death would sit by them and keep an eye on them until now for Aaron is sick of them and his feelings are hurt I believe because now that they are mating Luigi and Daisy Lily is trying to pick fights with him all the time he fights with him but doesn't hurt him. I would suggest to anybody to at least raise a couple turkeys they're even funny also and they talk back to you they're better than most pets we have them trained in their own building now with their own bed Daisy is now laying eggs and they're both sitting on them.

Terrie Ball 06/26/2021, 8:10:53 AM

I had 2 hen sisters who sat on eggs together and all was well until the chicks hatched and now they are trying to fight to the death over who will raise the babies!! It's an ugly custody battle!

Terrie Ball 06/26/2021, 8:11:09 AM

I had 2 hen sisters who sat on eggs together and all was well until the chicks hatched and now they are trying to fight to the death over who will raise the babies!! It's an ugly custody battle!

Nkululo 07/02/2021, 10:45:11 PM

I had 19 poults which developed a growth that was full of pass on the head. I think this was a kind of a disease but sure did not know how to deal with. It grows so big that it closes its eyes. When eyes are closed, they can't see the feed and therefore wouldn't eat, then die from starvation. I am worried about this and would like to understand it so that I can prevent in my next batch. Please advise.
Nkululo

Laura Marcoux 07/03/2021, 4:51:35 AM

I have 3 RP I raised since poults. They are 9 weeks old now. One of them never grew like the others. I separated it, treated for coccidiosis, poop looks more solid now. It doesn't eat much but eyes are still bright. It's not very active. Question, what do you think could be wrong with it?

Nana 07/10/2021, 7:20:16 PM

We have acquired a pet turkey. She is white.she has diarrhea.what can we give her to stop it? She mother's all nine of our chickens.

Noble 07/17/2021, 2:13:51 AM

I have a small backyard poultry farm which is now getting bigger but my question is, what will be the effect brother and sister turkey mating, especially on fertility of eggs and chicks that's hatch

Torerai Tadio… 07/27/2021, 12:05:34 PM

I want to learn more on how to keep turkys.
Blessings
T T Chipere

Adeshina 08/05/2021, 10:44:42 AM

How can we get it

r3r3r 11/18/2021, 1:28:57 PM

add more prosand cons please

Cyndi 11/28/2021, 8:25:48 PM

Where can I buy a tom turkey for a pet and friend for my female turkey, Matilda?

Edward Moore 12/01/2021, 7:04:44 PM

I just got a Turkey it appears to be a hen I would like to know when I can breed her with a Tom if I find one

Jacob 01/11/2022, 9:49:52 AM

kindly, furnish me on basic assumptions for raising turkeys.
Regards

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