How to Raise Meat Turkeys
The turkey (Meleagridis gallopavo) is a large, domesticated Galliformes, is an iconic native poultry species in America. As with many Galliformes, the male (tom) is larger and more colorful than the female (hen). Rearing turkeys can be a fun, profitable addition to a small farm or homestead. Turkey grows faster like broiler chickens and becomes suitable for slaughter purposes within a very short time. Raising turkeys for meat production is most popular than egg production from turkey.
Turkey meat is a very much rich source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and the amino acid tryptophan. Light, skinless roasted turkey contains low saturated and total fat. It also contains less cholesterol compared to other meat. Turkey is consumed at any time of the year including special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today many people are starting to raise their own turkeys. While raising turkeys does not require a lot of time each day, turkeys do require daily care. It’s more important to select a suitable breed for specific purpose because meat birds are a separate breed from laying hens.
Selection of a Suitable Breed
Broad-breasted White is the most commonly domesticated breed of turkey. It’s an excellent choice to raise Broad Breasted White turkey poults for meat. This breed produces more breast meat and meatier thighs and is recognizable by their white feathers and pink legs. The hens commonly reach a live weight of 18 lb. at 14 weeks of age, and toms (males) weigh about 30 to 40 lb. at 20 to 24 weeks. Other variations, such as Standard Bronze and White Holland are also popular breeds for meat production.
The first few weeks of a poults life are most critical to raise a healthy flock. It’s essential to provide a good brooding environment throughout this time. Turkeys that are started well have greater chances of finishing well. The brooding management includes factors like housing, temperature, ventilation, good litter materials, and many more.
The brooding period of turkey is about 4 to 6 weeks. When comfortable the birds will be equally distributed under the brooding area. If the brooding area is too cool then the poults will huddle themselves under the light. And when it’s too hot the poults will move further from the light. Once the brooding period is complete turkeys can be grown in confinement housing.
Housing and Spacing
It’s required to thoroughly clean and disinfects the brooder house before poults arrive. Remove all equipment and wash the house with soap and water, rinsing, and sanitizing with a sanitizing agent. Fumigation is a standard process to destruct all kinds of microorganisms from the house. Let the house dry for a minimum of three days before placing poults.
Each poult requires about 1.5 to 2.0 square feet of floor space for the first six to eight weeks of age. Providing adequate space will prevent crowding and result in better growth performances.
Poults need to be raised in a warm, draft-free environment because they are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first 10 days of life. In the brooding area, it is important to maintain a 100°F temperature, measured two inches above the floor (that is, at the level of the poult) for the first week. Reduce the temperature by 5°F each week by raising the height of the infrared bulb or adjusting the brooders. A 250-watt infrared bulb works best as the red light warms without disturbing the poults while sleeping. The bulb should be placed at least 18 in. above the floor. The poults won’t need any supplementary heat after 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Ventilation conditions of the house are key to the maintenance of a good litter. It is necessary to cover the floor with 3 to 5 inches of clean, dry absorbent litter. Wood shavings, pine shavings, crushed corn cobs, peanut hulls, chopped straw or other materials can be used as bedding materials. For the first few days, the litter need to covered with paper to prevent the poults from eating the litter.
A brooder guard is needed to keep the poults near heat, feed, and water. Brooder guards can be enlarged to provide more space for the poults as they grow. It can be removed after the first week. An 18″ tall brooder guard of cardboard arranged in a circle four feet from the center of the brooder will work well.
Feeding and watering
Feed and water need to be available to the growing turkeys at all times. If the young turkeys have trouble to find the feed and water, they will be dead due to ‘starve out’. It’s necessary to ensure that your poults find the feed and water. This can be done by spending some time with them for the first day or so. The feed can be placed on temporary cardboard feeders or directly on paper for the first few days to get poults eating quickly. Dipping their beaks in the water helps will help them to start drinking. It’s recommended to use a small one-gallon chick waterer rather than open pans because poults may fall in, get chilled, and die.
It’s required to provide one linear inch of feeder space per poults. As the poults get older, feeder space may need to increase to 2-3 linear inches per bird. Adequate feeder and waterer space ensures that all the poults in the flock have an opportunity to eat and drink. The turkey requires a high protein diet because they’re fast-growing. Turkey’s starter diets typically contain 28% protein in crumble form. It’s suggested to use turkey starter diets for the first four weeks. A turkey grower diet typically has 26% protein.
Turkeys grow most rapidly during about the first 24 weeks. As the turkeys grow, they become taller and their necks get longer. The height of the feeder needs to be adjusted according to bird growth. The edge of the feeder trough should be at the level of a turkey’s back. To avoid the feed wastage, it is important to not fill the feeders too full.
Turkeys are very much susceptible to disease than other poultry species. They are more prone to diseases like Blackhead (Histomoniasis), Newcastle disease, fowl cholera, fowl pox, and Haemorrhagic enteritis. That’s why it’s required to have a higher level of management skill while rearing turkey. It’s most important to maintain a proper biosecurity level on the farm to keep birds healthy. Additionally, a good vaccination with a deworming schedule at a regular interval needs to be maintained to prevent bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases. It’s recommended not to raise chickens and turkey together to prevent the transmission of diseases.
Consult local authorities before beginning any farming operation. Laws and ordinances in some communities may restrict or prohibit such activities in your neighborhood. Also, consider the impact of your home poultry operation on your neighbors. It’s important to develop a plan for manure management that will prevent odor and pollution problems.