How to Raise Turkey
The turkey is native to America and all strains and breeds originated in the Unites States. Raising turkeys is easy, since they are friendly by nature and they have been known to become pets. However, raising turkeys entails maintaining perfect living conditions.
The original was the wild Bronze turkey, from which about eight varieties of turkeys emerged.
Broad Breasted White (Large White) is used mostly for commercial purposes. It is said to have more meat than other breeds.
Broad Breasted Bronze (Large Bronze,) which was popular some time back is not as appealing anymore, because of the black pin feathers which are noticeable on the dressed bird.
Beltsville White is the third variety, which is a small white-feathered bird.
Eggs, Poults or Adult Birds?
Once a decision is made on the breed, it is time to decide on getting either eggs to be incubated, poults (baby turkeys) or breeding-age adult birds. The buying and maintenance of adult birds is very expensive.
Brooding will take place whether eggs are bought or one-day poults. Since poults overheat quickly, they are brooded at lower temperatures than chicks. Poults need plenty of room and do not thrive in overcrowded conditions.
Approximately 100 square feet (10 x 10 feet) is required for raising a small group of 10-12 day old poults. Pens should be planned in such a way that provision is made for enough space for their growth. A good idea is to have a sun porch that is 8 x 10 feet for every 20 large or 30 small turkeys. It should have 1 x 2 inch welded wire flooring with chicken wire sides and top. The porch should be at least one foot above ground level and should have a 10 x 10 foot brooding area.
Young poults should be kept warm and dry. Shavings, straw and crushed corn cobs make excellent litter material. Cover the litter material with burlap bags, cloth or rough paper for the first few days and by then the birds would know where the feed and water is and will not eat litter.
For a large number of poults, a 250-watt heat lamp hung a couple of feet above the floor level can provide the heat. This provides the warmth required as well as a cool area outside of the light. For fewer birds, a 100-watt bulb and a large cardboard box are sufficient.
A hanging feeder can be placed on the floor to enable day-old birds to eat from. As the birds grow, a covered and raised feeder, with mash at one end and grains at the other end works very well as the feed does not spoil by getting wet.
A chicken water fountain can be used for the first couple of weeks. A water can-pan with a wire guard works well as they grow.
If raising turkeys commercially, there are around four different feeds to give the birds as they are grown from day-old to market: the starter, grower and finisher feeds.
The starter ration should be used for the first eight weeks. After that, the grower rations should be given. At 14 weeks of age, along with the finisher rations, they should also be able to feed small grains, such as corn, heavy oats, wheat, barley, emmer or spelt, in a separate feeder, which accommodates mash as well as grains. This mash and grain mixture should be fed up to 20-28 weeks, which is the age of slaughter. They can also be allowed out within the fencing, if there is good pasture.
Turkeys grown on commercial feed programs may grow faster but this feeding program will also produce good turkeys. Plenty of water, small grains, mash and good pasture should be provided at all times.
Diseases And Cannibalism
Disease can be controlled with proper care, isolation and sanitation. It has been said that turkeys look for an opportunity to die rather than living in bad conditions.
Turkeys may suffer from coccidiosis, airsacculitis and blackhead, which are caused by organisms specific to each disease. Isolation ensures that these organisms do not come into contact with these birds.
Blackhead, a disease more common to the chickens may not harm the chickens but is fatal to turkeys. Several drugs for prevention are available for continuous feeding.
Coccidiosis organisms grow when litter gets wet. This can be prevented by growing the birds on a sun porch, with dry litter and well-drained soil.
Airsacculitis is a respiratory disease that affects the air sacs. There is no good treatment for airsacculitis and the only way to prevent it, is to buy the poults from a hatchery that test for this disease in the breeder flock. This disease is transmitted from the egg to the poult.
With turkeys, cannibalism is a problem but this can be avoided by providing enough space to the turkeys. Things that seem to trigger cannibalism are too much light, too much heat, too many birds in a small area or too long without feed and water. A good remedy for cannibalism is debeaking, which entails removing a portion of the upper beak and little of the lower beak, which can be done easily on young birds.
With proper care, healthy turkeys should be ready for the market by 24 weeks of age, weighing about 25 pounds or more.