The first thing you need for raising turkeys is a coop or pen to keep them in. Turkeys can still fly a good distance, so until they learn that they will get food and water and be safe from predators inside their pen, you need to keep them cooped up. Generally they learn their boundaries early on as chicks. If you have a good-sized chunk of property, you can eventually let them run loose. In rural areas, it’s still a good idea to keep them penned up at night because of predators, but very quickly both chickens and turkeys will learn their daily routines and will actually wait in the evening outside of their pens until you let them in.
The pen doesn’t have to be really big, but it should have a place for the turkeys to roost and a place for them to get food and water. If you’re keeping chickens with the turkeys, you will eventually need individual roost boxes so that the chickens feel comfortable laying eggs. If you’re raising turkeys for meat to sell, then you need at least an eighth of an acre for a penning area. This will hold about a dozen turkeys. For chicks, you also need a heating lamp along with the coop. The heating lamp will actually be required into adulthood, but the heat is dramatically decreased for adults compared to chicks (or poults, as young turkeys are called).
If you’re raising more than a dozen poults, you need several lamps because the poults tend to sleep in piles and this leads to accidental smothering. If you don’t want a significant number of your poults to die from being smothered, make sure they aren’t piled up under one lamp.
For food and water, turkeys will need an automatic watering system that holds several gallons of water, as well as a feeder with standard turkey feed. Both of these can be found at any co-op or farm supply store. Dried corn is also a special treat for turkeys and chickens as well. It shouldn’t be their standard food, but a little treat at night scattered around the outside of their pen before they go in will make your fowl very happy. To prevent the diseases common in homegrown turkeys, supplement your turkey’s water with acidophilus and vitamins. Both of these can be found at a co-op and are water-soluble. Raw milk can also be supplemented for acidophilus.
Poults, adolescents, and mature turkeys will need different feed, and they can all be found at your local co-op. Again, feeding turkeys grains and corn will make the meat taste better, and the turkeys very much enjoy their taste.
Trouble With Raising Turkeys
Like any animal, there are some issues with raising turkeys that you should be knowledgeable of so that you don’t lose your whole flock to disease or other dangers. Turkeys are susceptible to a couple of different diseases, and it’s almost impossible to raise truly organic turkeys without the flock becoming infected with at least one of them. The two most common maladies are blackhead and coccidiosis. Both of these diseases are very common in flocks of turkeys, and you can bet that a few in every flock will die of them. When your birds start to show signs of either disease, it’s important to isolate them and treat them with antibiotics. You can find out more about these diseases in a book about turkey raising, which you should definitely buy if you’re considering turkey farming.
Generally the poults you buy from a farm or co-op will be treated with their first round of antibiotics even before they have a chance to get sick. That’s how likely turkeys are to get these diseases. They are caused by damp pens and through vitamin deficiencies, which turkeys are very susceptible to. To avoid these diseases, make sure the pens you keep the turkeys in for the first seven or so weeks are very spacious, warm, and have bedding that is changed often.
Malnutrition is a big killer of adolescent turkeys, and you may not see the warning signs until it’s too late. When malnutrition happens, affected turkeys gain adolescent weight and break their own legs because of weakened bones.
Another common problem among adult turkeys is cannibalism. As gruesome as that sounds, it’s a fact that you have to be prepared to deal with. If you give your adult turkeys plenty of space, it should take care of the problem. However, always be on the lookout for aggression. If you see aggression between certain turkeys, simply separate them into different groups.
Despite some of these maladies and aggression towards each other, turkeys are actually very docile and gentle birds that like to be around their owners. Like chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl, turkeys learn the sounds of their owner’s voices and will often come running when you call them. Turkeys have even been known to become ill and listless when they don’t have interaction from their owners. Sadly, if you’re growing them for meat, this can become a little depressing, but that’s the price you pay for growing delicious animals.
Prone to blackhead disease. Blackhead "disease" is actually a parasite. It is carried by chickens that are not susceptible to it. It causes the turkeys to get yellow spotted and enlarged livers and is fatal to the turkey. Not all chickens are carriers of this parasite, however, some are. Some types of domestic turkeys grow too heavy to fly and the males usually get so large their legs cannot support their own weight.