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Turkeys For Thanksgiving

Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
Hello All!
This year I want to raise my own turkeys for Thanksgiving. I already have chickens and a coop. [I recently one the right to have them legally, check out my facebook page if you want: www.facebook.com/LegalizeChickensInSantee] I found a thread on BackyardChickens.com http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/270352/if-i-want-to-raise-my-own-turkeys-for-next-thanksgiving They say anywhere from 4-6 months to slaughter. So I'm thinking late April early May? But what else I wanted to know was if any of you have experience with keeping chickens and turkeys together. Some people mentioned bullied to death as well as blackhead disease. Should I not keep them in the same coop? And my last question is I would never just have one chicken because it would be lonely so should I get at least two turkeys so that they can be buddies?

Thanks for your help and information!
Stay in trouble,
-A
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I was not able to raise turkeys for Thanksgiving by starting them in the Spring. I raised Royal Palms, which take a long time to mature. I wanted them for Thanksgiving, but they were so small by then I ended up buying a store turkey. The Broadbreasted breeds might grow more quickly, or there might be a way to get heritage breeds to grow quickly but it was my experience with that one breed they do not grow up fast enough for Thanksgiving when started in the Spring...


Idle dreamer

Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
Dang. I guess I will have to start as soon as possible then. Any particular breeds I should look for? I live in Southern California so it's always warm
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I'm not sure about other heritage breeds because I haven't raised them, but the Royal Palms do not have a "store turkey" shape, they are more streamlined like a wild turkey, with a small breast. If you want a turkey on the table that looks like what folks expect, and not a wild animal, you might want to look at Giant White or Broadbreasted Bronze. The Whites have the advantage of pale feathers so if your job of plucking them isn't perfect, there won't be any ugly pinfeathers on the carcass. http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/giant_white.html

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I should add that I found turkeys to be difficult to raise compared to chickens. I've raised chickens for years, but baby turkeys seem like death magnets compared to baby chicks. I prefer the personality of turkeys to that of chickens, and would definitely raise them again if I thought I could do a better job of it. The babies are so expensive, though, it can be a gamble.

Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
Tyler Ludens wrote:I was not able to raise turkeys for Thanksgiving by starting them in the Spring. I raised Royal Palms, which take a long time to mature. I wanted them for Thanksgiving, but they were so small by then I ended up buying a store turkey.


Hey Tyler! I did Royal Palms too. I did eat them though at Thanksgiving. They were about 8 lbs but for a family of 4 that was perfect! We had enough for Thanksgiving dinner, 1 day of left overs, and soup. I kept a few and they did breed. We had more guests but 2 8 lb turkeys was better than 1 16 pounder because my husband and daughter like the legs and this way there were more to go around!
Lambs & Turkeys Cropped

It's true this doesn't look like a store bought turkey:
Christmas Turkey.2
but it was delish!


My project thread
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
Tyler Ludens wrote:... baby turkeys seem like death magnets compared to baby chicks.


You got that right!
Well, I didn't have any deaths when I bought the baby turkeys but every turkey I hatched died! Every single one. I though I was going to to better than the hen who wound up with 4 surviving chicks. She'll laid 16 eggs, 8 hatched, a 4 died various deaths.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
Alan Stuart wrote:So I'm thinking late April early May? But what else I wanted to know was if any of you have experience with keeping chickens and turkeys together. Some people mentioned bullied to death as well as blackhead disease. Should I not keep them in the same coop?


April to May is fine for heritage breeds, really July is fine for broad breasted.

My turkeys live in a paddock (wings clipped but they roost in trees) so they don't share a coop with the chickens but they hang out together during the day. I think you either have blackhead or you don't. Keep the turkeys separate when they are young and fragile but after 2 months they should be able to mingle.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
I've got a head up on turkeys, especially for Tyler.

That photo was taken last March and the Toms look impressive (they still didn't weigh more than 10 lbs). I slaughtered 2 of them for Passover (sometime in spring) but the breast meat was kind of gooey. I don't know if this happens in Texas but up north killing turkeys in the spring is messy because of what I later found was called "sponge." It has something to do with how they store energy to get through the winter. I guess hunters cut that part away. I cooked them whole but just didn't serve the gooey part. The rest tasted fine.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Comparing to your experience, CJ, I expect I did not feed them enough high-quality food to get them to an eatable size in time, honestly mine were comically small by Thanksgiving. But you know, I don't actually remember what month I started them, it's possible it was later. Thank you for posting encouragement about heritage turkeys!
osker brown


Joined: Jun 28, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
Our local turkey farmer (piedmont NC) raises Bourbon Reds. He told us it takes him 4 months til slaughter size (12-16 lbs). His birds are unbelievably good, I dislike standard store bought turkey meat, but his turkeys are my favorite meat after fish.

We've never raised turkeys but we're going to get 20 poults this year and see how it goes. We're getting Naragansett and Spanish Blacks.

CJ those Royal Palms are gorgeous.

Good luck!


Glorious Forest Farm
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
Tyler Ludens wrote:... I expect I did not feed them enough high-quality food to get them to an eatable size in time,...


High protein feed is important. Higher than broiler feed.
Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
Thanks everyone for your replies!
Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 316
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    3
I raised broad breasted bronze poults purchased at the local feed store. I bought them late March. The first year I ended up with two hens. They did well with my 6 Rhode Island Red hens in a 1/4 acre backyard. I had them slaughtered (yes, I am a wimp) a week before Thanksgiving. They both dressed out at 25 lbs (no water injected weight). We ate one for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas. They were delicious, but I have to admit, it was a little difficult to eat them, but again, they were delicious.

The next year, also in late March, I ended up with a tom and a hen. The hen was crushed to death a few weeks later when the tom tried to mount her. I kept the tom penned and he gained weight fast. He started gobbling in September and I was nervous about the neighbors. About two weeks before Thanksgiving (one week before his scheduled demise) he had a heart attack during the night and died. It was a very warm night and we didn't notice him until late morning, so I decided to dispose of him. The vet wanted $60. The pound would do it for free, so I took him to the pound. He was huge. His breast muscles were as big as my thighs. I had to have my son help me load him in the van. The worker at the pound didn't believe me when I told him the carcass was over 40 lbs and he almost injured his back, letting out a loud involuntary groan when he hefted it out of the van.

That was my last venture into turkey raising. If I do it again, for food, I will get more broad breasted. I like the Bronze, they look better in the yard. I will wait until late May to buy the poults, to get a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. I don't think they gain much extra weight after 4 or 5 months, plus you will likely have less time gobbling and less risk for heart attack. Don't put the poults on newspaper. They can seriously injure their knees. As soon as you recognize hen from tom, separate them. Hens are easier to handle, for the most part. If you get a tom and feed him for more than 4 months, plan on getting a very large oven, or you will have to cut him into sections to cook. Also, consider a good sheltered pen, especially for a tom. You will get better conversion rates in a pen, but it is nice to see them free-range.

The broad breasted are bred to eat (and be eaten), like the broilers. You won't be doing them any favors to starve them. If you time it right, you won't risk an unscheduled demise and you won't torture them by withholding feed.

I like having turkeys in the yard. If I get them for ornamental purposes, I will get a nice heritage breed, like Narragansett. I still worry about the gobbling and aggression of the toms (the hens noise sounds like a small dog yapping, so a 6 foot solid fence will keep the neighbors guessing).

The climate I live in seems to be fairly healthy for poultry. I had my original six hens I bought at the feed store for 7 years before they started to die off. I still have two. I don't know about any health complications in mixing turkeys with chickens, ducks and geese, etc.
kent smith


Joined: Sep 05, 2010
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
by the time I could get around to ordering turkey chicks it was august and all I could get were broad breasted white. Minimum order with the hatchery I use was 15, they shipped 16. I lost one the first day, it looked bad when I got them. I lost 3 more a week or two later of my own mistake. I partitioned our brooder and had them with a batch of cornish cross broilers. the partition fell and 3 turkeys got crushed under the broilers in a corner. The rest grew very well and were geniuses compared to the broilers. I butchered 2 for thanksgiving and they were 22 and 23 pounds. I butcher the rest closer to Christmas and they were 30+ pounds. Here is a photo after I wrestled one out of the movable pen and carried it back across the feild to butcher at my shop. Needles to say I was in worst shape than this hen.

I raise them in the same movable pens that I use for our pasture raised broilers.
kent


Kent
Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 316
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    3
Kent,

That is impressive. What did you do with 300+ pounds of turkey? Did you divvy them out to friends and family? Seems a bit of a shame to freeze fresh home-grown turkey, but still satisfying, to be sure.

I wonder if I would have had heavier hens that first year, if I had penned them rather than letting them free range? On the other hand, I have wondered if I had exercised my tom regularly the second year, if he would have made it to Thanksgiving?

The local feed stores here don't carry poults after Memorial Day. I can't keep more than a few birds on my property without risking a call to the city from the usually tolerant neighbors (no poultry permitted, yet). Those are impressive weights for 3 and 4 months (or even 4 and 5 months, depending on when in August you started). I had not considered waiting until late summer to start, but I may have to reconsider, but only if I can divide an order with 2 or 3 others.

You were using movable pens. Did your turkeys eat acorns, along with grass and bugs? I couldn't get mine to eat them unless I shelled them first (I and my son tried for some time to teach them to eat acorns whole, first). They would run from the other side of the yard if they saw me leaning over and reaching for the ground. I assumed they were spoiled with the mash and pellets, and no adults to mimic in the yard other than laying hens. The second year, my son prepared the acorns and put them in with the pellets for the tom.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
Michigan re introduced wild turkey a while back and we now have tons of them all over the place..but in recent years my family has come to realize..we really don't care for turkey !!


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
kent smith


Joined: Sep 05, 2010
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
I was very pleased to see how much grass the turkeys would eat. Each morning when we moved the pen they would ignore the feed and graze the grass down quickly. I think in the future I might move the pens twice daily. I fed out the standard 20% broiler feed that our local farmers coop / exchange makes when they are young. As they grow I start mixing into their feed more ground corn. I also do this with the broilers but not as quickly. From what I have read as they grow they do not need as much protein but more carbs. Last summer broiler feed was $9.50 for a 50 pound bag, but ground corn was $12.00 for a hundred pound bag. I also think they get some additional protein from what they graze. I also do throw in some sand and small gravel into the feeders. I was surprise to see how big some of the gravel was that they had in their gizzards when they were butchered. Some of the turkeys are pieced up before going to the freezer. we prefer the dark meat, so a package of legs will give us a meal, some of the breasts we grind for recipes, and we typically put the rest of the carcas into a stock pot for a few hours. From the stock pot we well take meat off of the bones for another meal, can several quarts of broth, and take the less desirable parts and skin and some broth as a base for dog food. We have seen a huge health benifit in the dogs when we changed over to feeding them this way. My wife was figuring the calaries between the home made pet food compared to commercial pet food, home made is less than half the calaries even with all the fat and skin from the turkeys and chickens. After working for a large pet food manufacturer and seeing what we put into dog food I am not surprised. We also figure that the home made dog food is cheaper if we watch what we put in it. Typically we will buy a large bag of white rice, cheap green beans, pea or carrots, (local menenite scratch and dent store) and cheap yogert.
kent
Jim Lea


Joined: Aug 01, 2011
Posts: 114
Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
We have 5 hens and a rooster that our two Naragansets seem to coexist with just fine. A tom and a hen. We got the turkeys with the idea of harvesting them for Thanks Giving. We missed the timing and they were not large enough in time. We did get a Black Norfolk at the same time as the Naragansets. The black was a tom. When the toms matured they started to both compete for the hen. We sold him to regain peace. All is well now and we will breed the Naragansets in hopes of multiplying their numbers. Maybe ranged heritage turkey next year?

Beautiful pictures everyone thanks for sharing. When I get the phone upload issue resolved here Ill post some of our flock.
Jim


CA, Southern Sierras, alt. 4550 feet, zone 9ish. (still figuring it out), 3 mo. grow season. Regular wind to 20 mph. SANDY soil with scrub oak,pine,and juniper. 2 seasonal creeks.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 2978
Location: woodland, washington
    
  49
I told the feed store in town last February that I wanted turkeys. they said they would order toward the end of April or beginning of May. when they still hadn't ordered any by June, I gave up and ordered them myself. got five Narragansett poults in the middle of July. one died after a week. the other four did fine. two hens, two toms. sold one tom to a friend for Thanksgiving. it was right around 13 pounds (I only have a bathroom scale, so that's approximate). it was just about 22 weeks old. another ten weeks probably would have been better, but the report was that he was delicious, and 13 pounds is plenty big. I imagine the hens were eight or less pounds by Thanksgiving. still a reasonable and manageable size.

the remaining three will be my breeding stock for the next few years. I'm hoping to raise twenty or so each year. they're a lot of fun, though fond of escaping. the neighbor kids love to make noises so the tom will gobble. I don't think it's stressing him out, though it does look like it takes a lot of energy to stay all puffed up like that.

the "sponge" business is interested. I was just thinking our tom's breast was pretty mushy when I gave him a cuddle yesterday (he's not very affectionate, but he's so soft).


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Nicole Henry


Joined: Jun 29, 2012
Posts: 1
Turkey being the most common main dish of a thanksgiving dinner, thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called “Turkey Day". This year I also want to raise my own turkeys for thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving turkey is, perhaps, the most famous symbol associated with the Thanksgiving holiday.
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1186
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  46
I am raising broad breasted whites in moveable pen with some broilers and layers. There were two toms and a hen. One tom is very aggressive , he attacks my hand every time I reach in to change the feed. They were only ten weeks old and the two toms were fighting already . One day last week one of the toms was dead . I believe he may have jumped up into the metal roof . I heard this but did not see it. I did not think domestic turkeys would be so macho. Otherwise raising them with chickens worked out well . I believe the layer chicks helped the poults to get with it quicker and the poults helped the broilers to move around a little . They made a good peer group . I have seen no blackhead disease. I wonder if moving them daily discourages that.


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Jeanine Gurley
steward

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1385
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
    
    6
Wayne, I did have to separate the Toms, WAY APART. They just could not even think about breathing, eating, or sleeping - if they could even see each other they could only think about fighting. As for aggression towards people -- that can be fun . Kind if in a mean way that only a woman would think of:

My husband just wants to give them a swift kick - but that is just two males fighting.

Everytime my Tom or Goose thinks of being aggressive I grab them in a big bear hug. I hold them, pet their head and neck, talk baby talk, scratch thier backs, tummy and under the wings. Every once in a while I'll even sit down on the ground and hold them for a while. They absolutely HATE this.

When they see me coming they know it is 'hugging' time and they get as far away from me as possible.


1. my projects
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 1832
Location: Vermont
    
  31
wayne stephen wrote:I have seen no blackhead disease. I wonder if moving them daily discourages that.


No. You either have it in your soil or you don't. Moving them is good for other reasons.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 2978
Location: woodland, washington
    
  49
the two toms I had last year were best buds. they were only four months old when the first one was dispatched, but they never showed any aggression toward each other or any of the other animals. the only problem we had was with the surviving tom treading a chicken hen when she got stuck in the fence daily.
Parker Free


Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 12
Location: Olympia, WA
Hi everybody, this is my first post.

I raise Narragansetts, and keep an assortment of chickens around for their eggs and for entertainment. They are kept together - ranging about over a couple acres during the day and coming into my horse pen at night (where my hound dog keeps them safe from racoons).

They do fine together health-wise, but a few "interpersonal problems" did have to be worked out. The chickens I have are adults, and the poults (baby turkeys) get picked on a bit when very young, mostly by the roosters. It never gets bloody, but I keep an eye on them. I do have well-behaved roosters, as the bad actors are butchered. As the poults grow and get about the same size as the chickens, they start standing up for themselves, and the bullying stops cold.

My turkeys, both the toms and the hens, are gentle and pleasant to be around. Partially it's due to the breed characteristics, partly from lots of gentle handling. I've not ever been much of a turkey-hugger, as contact like that can cause dominance issues as the (toms especially) grow older, but I hand feed them treats, and spend time in and amongst the flock on a regular basis. They know to come when called, which is very convenient.

Adult turkeys eat grass and weeds happily. It's a preferred food. The chickens are more predatory and will go after meat of all varieties much more readily. Narragansetts, along with all the other true heritage breeds, forage for food, breed naturally (needing no artificial insemination like the broad-breasted varieties do), generally are good brooders and mothers, and grow MUCH more slowly than the "meat" birds we are used to seeing in the stores. They should have a nice heft to their breast, but will never compare to the broad-breasted type. They take a year or longer to reach maturity. I prefer the heritage breeds for these reasons (well, I don't worry about how long it takes them to get really large, as I don't need a big bird for my solitary eating). I refuse to have an incubator or brooder, as they take electricity, plus I value animals that retain the ability to care for themselves and their young. Raising these birds helps ensure the survival of these traits in a world of factory farming and intensive growth methods that select only for huge-breasted meat birds.

All of the broad-breasted varieties will succumb to heart-attacks or leg and joint problems if allowed to get too big/old. Another reason they cannot reproduce on their own. They are perfect for one thing only - to serve as dinner for a crowd, and they do that admirably. They would be the way to go if you want to raise your own holiday bird. If they are allowed to forage a natural diet in addition to giving them a high-protein diet, you'll have yourself a delicious dinner

Hope this helps someone!
Parker



Dirt-lovin' tree hugger type, with a few vices....
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 2978
Location: woodland, washington
    
  49
Parker Free wrote:Hope this helps someone!
Parker


do the toms ever tread the chicken hens?
Parker Free


Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 12
Location: Olympia, WA
Hi Tel,

By tread, do you mean mount, or just sort of step on? My boys didn't ever mount the chickens, and any stepping was purely accidental as far as I could see. They mount the female turkeys (not lots, but enough, if you know what I mean!). They will on occasion go after the roosters, but no bloodbath ensues....it makes me chuckle, since the roosters were such schoolyard bullies before

I am by far the worst offender of stepping on any of my animals, be they chicken, turkey, dog, cat or rabbit. I'm sorta clumsy that way, and the darn critters are always milling about my legs. You'd think they'd learn! Thankfully I have a filly who is large enough for me to avoid her toes

Parker
 
 
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