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Monday, April 13, 2009

Question from a Reader-Turkeys

My family is considering getting backyard turkeys this year and Dale’s article on turkeys was largely the inspiration for this. I had a couple questions though that I had hoped he might be able to help me with.

Tricia, I have personal experience with turkeys but I am not an expert. I will answer the following questions but I would certainly defer if you found better information.

We have several backyard chickens as well and we only live on 1 acre. I know that chicken diseases can be very harmful to turkeys – if we keep them housed separately and assure that they don’t roam the same parts of the land, will they be ok to share the yard?

We have never had a problem with putting our chickens and turkeys together. We have actually put the poults in a sectioned off area of the chicken coop. If you house them separately and let them roam in a differ area of the yard, I don’t see a problem. I think if there is any problem, it will manifest itself when the poults are young and you haven’t got much invested in them.

2. I keep reading mixed reviews on the friendliness of turkeys. I have three children, will they be ok to work with the turkeys or are the birds too aggressive for kids?

We get the large white hybrid turkeys. They are very friendly. They often approach us and sometime strut but they have never pecked. Heirloom turkeys which are more natural may be more aggressive. I don’t know. We are going to get heirloom turkeys for the first time this year so I will find out.

3. In your article, you mentioned getting large white birds. My personal preference is not white – but I thought you might have some wisdom on why you suggested white as opposed to any of the darker colors.

We get the large white turkey because they grow the biggest and that is what we have wanted in the past. They are also more economical feed converters, but that doesn’t matter quite so much because when we feed out turkeys out to such heavy weights, they are not economical anyhow. The last ten pound to get them up to 40+ pounds takes a lot of feed.

4. How long did you keep your birds before slaughter to get those astronomical weights that you reported?

I think we feed them about 16 -20 weeks. That is a long time.

5. Our plan is to keep the birds in an 8 x 10 metal shed and let them roam our fenced yard during the days. Firstly, will this shed be suitable for 4 birds and secondly, will they fly away or up into our trees if we let them free roam the yard during the day?

The shed is big enough. White hybrids will not fly. I think heirloom turkeys will. You can always wing them – cut the feathers off the trailing edge of one wing with a pair of scissors. As I mentioned one of my articles, you will cut the feathers off the left wing if you are a republican off the right wing if you are a democrat. We are going with heirloom turkeys this year because I am interested in them, they are more colorful and I have heard that they have more interesting taste. I expect it to be more of a wild or gamey taste. We will deep fat fry them. So of course we don’t expect to raise very big turkeys this year. The only reason to dress out a 40+ pound white hybrid is to impress your company which they will. But they are not economical (Over $2.00 a pound to grow) and they are not particularly young and tender. I fix that by drizzling drippings over the meat after I have carved it. That really fixes dry or tough poultry meat. Beware of foxes and raccoons. I will soon have an article up on Backyard Farming about our turkey disaster. Two years ago a fox got three of our four turkeys. I think you will find turkeys fun and fascinating! If you have any other questions, email me and I will blunder my way through them.


ChristyACB said...

Okay...that turkey in the picture is just huge! It sure would be nice to have backyard poultry.

-Sydney- said...

The only thing I remember about my Grandma's turkeys growing up is how MEAN they were. I have no idea what variety she kept(they were brownish) but they would chase us anytime we got inside their pen (which we had to cross sometimes to round up the chickens). Man oh man they scared the devil out of me!

Dale said...

Our biggest turkey was 48 pounds dressed out. The turkey in the picture dressed out at 42 pounds. That Pan is the biggest we could find and the turkey went on the lowest rack in the oven. I savor the Normal Rockwell moment of carving the turkey at the end of the table with my family and guests looking on. See:

However, I have also had a few Clark Griswold moments when I overcooked the turkey.


The white hybrid turkeys are not aggresive. I think this is becuase the agressiveness has been bred out of them (the Irish Setter effect) or because we slaughter them before they get aggresive. I don't have any experience with tradition breeds but I expect they are more aggressive and most poultry will get onery as they get old, especially old roosers and old toms.

In my answers to the questions, I said I wasn't too worried about turkeys getting disease from chickens. I checked with my county Extension agent and he said that it could be a problem. Turkeys may not be immune to some of the diseases chickens are immune to and vice versa. I will probably keep my turkeys and chickens farther apart in the future.

Tivia - A flock of turkeys is more correctly called a "rafter" of turkeys.

Anonymous said...

i highly recomend bronze chested or bourbon reds. Dont confuse bronze with broadbreasted bronze. my tom bronze got to 35 pounds by holiday time.

Anonymous said...

I have a Bourbon Red Heritage Turkey hen. Raised her from a 2 day old chick. She and my Silkie were nest buddies. They still cuddle together. In fact my Silkie lays eggs under the Turkey and my Turkey is Broody and quit laying her own eggs to lay for the Silkie. I have no Roosters or Tom's so I have to fight the Turkey to get the eggs out. She is quite angry when I try to move her. I am concerned that she is so Broody. How long is healthy for her to Brood? She will never hatch any eggs as they are not fertilized. She certainly is a great "Watch Dog" when she isn't Broody. My dogs are fearful of her temper. She accepts me now except when I try to take the eggs from her. But she knows to peck at your fingers or toes if exposed.Still she is very entertaining and my Silkie just loves her. Sleepiing under her wing at night.