Raising Broad Breasted Turkeys For The Table
Raising broad breasted turkeys for my family table was the next stop on my homesteading journey after owning laying hens. My friends and peers warned me that turkeys can be fragile in their first few weeks of life and to prepare myself for some of the poults to pass. With a lot of research, the right feed, and the proper living space, I defied that warning and successfully raised them from hatch to table.
At the time I purchased my broad breasted white turkeys, I was already using my main brooder for chicks, so I made a temporary home for the poults in a 4 foot long and 2 foot wide cardboard box in my house. I lined the bottom of the box with a fabric lined plastic tablecloth so any spills would not leak through the cardboard and it would be easier to clean up their bedding every few days. Using an eco glow brooder plate made it simple to provide them the right amount of heat. I raised the legs so the plate was about 3 inches away from the pine shaving bedding and the turkeys were able to nestle in under it like they would with their mother.
To make sure my new poults didn’t get weak, I added some Vital Pack Plus to their waterer. I also added marbles to the water channel because the glimmer of them attracts the poults to their water to encourage drinking. Sometimes day old poults have a hard time remembering how to eat and drink, so it’s important to dip their beaks in several times in the first few days they’re home and provide them low piles of high protein feed like game bird or turkey starter. You want to feed turkey poults a feed that is around 30% protein. In the wild, poults would have their mothers with them for months to learn how to be a proper turkey, so have some patience while they acclimate to their home.
I was able to move my poults into their outside brooder at 4 weeks because of the time of year I was raising them. Poults need their environment to be 95 for the first week of life and that temperature requirement drops by 5 degrees each week. In the heat of the summer, my poults were able to live in their outside brooder with only a heat lamp for extra warmth at night. Poults should not be exposed to colder temperatures until they are fully feathered, which usually happens around 8 weeks. While heritage turkey breeds can roost at night, I found that broad breasted turkeys only do that for the first 10 weeks and after they start to really put on weight and prefer to lay on the coop floor in straw bedding. I put larger logs in their run so they could still be elevated while sunning outside during the day.
One of the reasons I branched out into raising my own turkeys for meat was because I wanted to know what I was feeding my family. I wanted the animals we consumed to have lived a happy life of bug eating and grass grazing. For that reason, it was important to me that I fed them the highest quality food that would bulk them up for our dinner table. For the first 8 weeks they ate 30% game starter and then they were switched to a 18% grower feed until they were processed. Their feed was supplemented by free range grazing until the toms started getting close to maturity and were aggressive towards myself and my young children.
With many new homesteaders choosing to be more conscious about what they’re feeding their families, it may be difficult to secure an appropriate date to take your birds to be processed. I highly suggest getting a date set with your processor even before buying your poults. I did not do that with my first batch and had to process them at 13 weeks, which made for smaller birds for my table. At that age, the processed weight was between 8-13 pounds per bird. If I had planned ahead, I could have gotten a processing date between 16-18 weeks, which would have resulted in larger birds around 15 pounds each.
If you’re considering taking the plunge into raising broad breasted turkeys for your home, get ready for an adventure! My kids will be happy to tell you how much more meat turkeys smell than our laying hens, or how Jerry the dominant male turkey chased them across the yard a time or two, but when we sat down at our table to eat a dinner that we had almost completely raised at home, it was such a blessing that everyone should experience at least once.
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