If this was a sad story, it’d go something like this:
Turkeys all die.
Get chickens instead.
But since it’s not – it’s going to be helpful and turkeys WILL stay alive – it’ll go like this instead…
How to raise turkeys on pasture (and keep them alive)
Turkeys are notorious for dying quickly, but, there are tricks to the trade that keep them happy, healthy and upright. (if you’re a list person, check out this post of what you need before your turkey poults arrive)
Turkey poults (chicks) are particularly fragile and sensitive to change. And not the most intelligent things out there – though some heritage breeds contradict that. So, to beat them at their own game, here are a few tips to put into practice.
- Raise them with layer or meat bird chicks. The chicks will be their teachers, showing them where food, water and heat are. A good ratio is 10 chicks to 1 turkey.
- Be extra cautious about added stress, especially when poults are small. Try to eliminate as much stress as possible. (temp changes, feed changes, more people looking at them, noise levels, etc) Try to keep life the same until they are a couple of weeks old.
- No drafts! Turkeys are particularly sensitive to chills when small. Though, once mature they’re quite hardy.
- High protein feed. Up to 26% protein for young poults, going down to 20% as they mature, and finishing off at around 17% protein. Don’t skimp on feed quality.
- Heat. Your brooder should be set to 95*-100*F with high humidity.
- Round the corners! Don’t leave corners where turkeys can pile in on top of each other and smuther other poults.
- Offer grit. Even young turkeys need grit in their diet so they’re able to process food in the gizzard.
- Check young poults frequently. They like to flip onto their backs and get stuck. No body said they’re bright! 🙂
- Give them roosts. Turkeys LOVE to roost, so if you don’t provide one, they will find one.
Raising turkeys on pasture – moving them out
Once your turkey poults have fully feathered out and can maintain their own body heat, they are ready to move out to pasture. Move them out after the dew has lifted but not during the heat of the day. Wet poults newly introduced to the outdoors do not do well. Move them after the dew lifts until they are about 3-4 months old. As they get older they handly moisture much better.
Turkeys, especially as they mature, will browse for a large portion of their diet. The amount of grass and pasture they will consume is astonishing compared to chickens! But, they still need a high protein diet, which for domesticated birds comes from grain. Turkeys are a North American bird and adapt quickly to being outdoors. Once they are a couple months old they are quite hardy and continue to become hardier as they mature.
Movement is key when raising turkeys on pasture. Moving them every day is best, especially if they are going behind cows, sheep, or goats. Daily moves keeps them clean, on fresh pasture, and more bug options. Space requirements change as they mature, so keep an eye out for bullied birds.
Space recommendations for turkeys
There are plenty of space and square foot recommendations out there, so take everything with a grain of salt and look to your birds to tell you what they need. When using cackellacs for turkeys, they can be used by themselves or combined with electric netting to get more space; using the cackellac as a rain/sun/night shelter and therefore being able to use it for more birds. How many turkeys you can fit in a cackellac also depends on what size you want to raise them to.
Remember, most space recommendations online are based in stationary pens and they need more space then to keep from hurting each other out of sheer boredom. Turkeys – any species really – on pasture, getting moved daily, do not get bored and mean. Two rules of thumb are 4sq ft per bird and 10 acres to 200 turkeys.
Recommended turkeys per cackellac is as follows: 812: 15-20 turkeys. 1312: 50-60 turkeys. 1822: 150-175 turkeys. Adjust as needed. (remember – these are recommendations)
If you’re worried about your turkeys flying away, simply keep them inside a cackellac instead of letting them out into an electric netting. If you only have a few birds, clip their flight feathers.
What turkey breed do you recommend?
This depends totally on your market, space, and what you want. Heritage breeds are slower growing but hardier. They can fly but are also good at raising their young. Industry standard breeds are heavier – AKA no flying or very little – and grow faster. But, they are not as hardy and can sometimes be more tricky to get started. Both need lots of protein, space, and proper care. I recommend researching it to see what fits best for you.