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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How about turkeys!?

If you want to bring real excitement into your backyard farm this summer, consider turkeys. They are easy, entertaining, and delicious. Before getting too excited, there are some important issues to consider. If you order from a hatchery, most require a minimum order of 10 -15 birds. So you may need to find some other backyard farmers with which to split the order. You must also begin with the end in mind realizing that you will have to dress them out or find someone to do it for you. Call your agriculture Extension Agent and see if he or she knows someone who will dress them.

While you have your Agent on the line, see if the Extension service is sponsoring 4H turkey projects that you can get your children involved in. If so, Extension may order poults for you. If you order from a hatchery, I suggest you get the largest white breed they offer. Half the fun is putting a turkey on the table at Thanksgiving that is twice as big as anything you can find in the store. Your guest’s jaws will drop when they see it. This past year, our Thanksgiving turkey dressed out at 42 pounds (our record is 48). We use the lowest rack in the oven and the biggest pan we can find.

You will want to raise at least 3-5 turkeys. Turkeys are social creatures who want the companionship of other turkeys. Let’s suppose you start with five. One dies. You name the other four “Thanksgiving”, “Christmas”, “Easter”, and “Homeless” (you will donate Homeless to the homeless shelter or a needy family in your neighborhood.)

Turkeys are great for scavenging insects in the yard. It is hilarious watching older poults chase after a moth. They will eat grass and weeds. However, you will need to supplement with commercial feed. Fence them out of the vegetable garden if they start doing too much damage. Occasionally turn them in the garden. They will clean out the bugs before they start on the plants. Keep in mind that raising turkeys is more expensive than buying them when they are a loss leader at the store for $0.69 a pound.

Turkeys are not shy. They will run to you when you walk out the door and follow you around the yard. Don’t be surprised when they brush up against you as you are gardening. Don’t be afraid either. They rarely peck.

There is nothing quite like seeing two Toms trying to out strut each other. Their appearance doubles in size as they puff out their feathers. Their heads, snoods (flap of skin that hangs over the beak), wattles (flap of skin under the chin), and caruncles (growths on the throat) turn brilliant shades of red and blue (how patriotic they look!)

They gobble occasionally but it is not annoying like rosters crowing or laying hens cackling.

The biggest problem you may have is getting too attached to them. It can be a little distressing loading them in the pickup for slaughtering. But if you keep things in perspective and give them the names I suggested earlier, these emotions will be short lived. Turkeys are one of the best ways to teach your children and to remind yourself where your meat comes from.

Click here for more information refer to the following Extension fact sheet.

Dale Maurice Johnson


Anonymous said...

I'd love to get some for Thanksgiving/Christmas time - when should I start? Also, the fact sheet seems a little overwhelming - are they really that much harder than chickens?

Mike said...

Could you venture a guess on how much it costs per pound to raise a Turkey. I understand there are a lot of unmeasurable benefits of rasing your own turkey (healthier, life lessons, better life for the animals) but I was just curious if you new the cost. I have chickens and have read that if I can provide my chickens 20% of their food from table scraps I break even on the cost of eggs.

Anonymous said...


Last year we got 5 poults on May 9. One died and a fox got three. I will tell that story sometime. The remainging turkey was slaughtered on November 14 and dressed out at 42 pounds. We put it in ice water in a cooler until thanksgiving. You have flexibility if you have a deep freezer (which I think is a must for backyard farming). But these large turkeys take up a lot of room. A couple of years ago we raised 4 turkeys and they took up a third of the freezer. Turkeys are a little more fragle than layers but are alot hardier than broilers or capons. If you treat them good like any chick, you wont have much problem.


Anonymous said...


The greatest value of turkeys is the entertainment value. We have had horses, goats, rabbits, layers, broilers, capons, dogs, cats, tropical fish, and assorted vermiin. But turkeys are the funnest. It is fun to watch them. It is fun to show them to friends. And there is the incomparable Normam Rockwell moment of carving a home grown 30-40 pound turkey at the Thanksgiving table. I would guess that it cost $1.00 to $2.00 per dressed pound to feed turkeys out to these heavy weights. The larger your yard, the cheaper the cost. Turkeys eat all kinds of plants and bugs.

Our table scraps go to our layers. We have 28 layers and average 24 eggs a day. That is a $5.00-6.00 value for the eggs. Our feed costs are about $2.00 a day. When the layers go out on pasture this spring we will drop the feed costs 30-40% and the eggs will have less cholesterol, less saturated fat and more vitamin A, beta carotine and Omega 3 fatty acids. Raising backyard layers is economical. My mantra - Liberate the Layers. Grow your own eggs.


Anonymous said...

I just had 3 turkeys this year ,24lb,26lb and a new record 55lbs,I had to have him cut in half.This sunday is superbowl he will be on the treger

Mike J said...

I am thinking about raising a few turkeys this year. I have 4 chickens that I have to keep penned so they do not destroy the lawn. Will turkeys destroy the lawn if I leave them loose in the whole backyard? How bad will the poop get on the backporch and in the yard?
Mike J

Dale Johnson said...


Turkeys do not destroy lawns because they do not scratch like chickens do. They simply cut your lawn for your and they really clean out the insects. Turkeys are very friendly and they will come up to your back porch and poop all over it. If you yard is small, there will be enough poop on the lawn that it is somewhat of a problem.

Turkeys are social animals and it is best to get at least 2-3.


Anonymous said...

Have mum dad and 2 boys 4 girl turkeys. Now males are fighting want to keep theum how do I handle them.

Anonymous said...

You said the largest white turkeys. What breed do you suggest? Am I too late for this year?

Eric said...

What white breeds do you recommend and is it too late for this year to have a bird ready for thanksgiving?

Dale Johnson said...


Each hatchery has its own particular white breed. For example McMurray Hatchery calls them Giant Whites. They are all very similar no matter which hatchery they come from. There is still plenty of time to grow them for Thanksgiving.

Unknown said...

Ok. My question is this. We have two Whites and right now they are living in a screened porch area turned coop. Now that they are getting larger I want to put them outside. Our yard is one acre and we have eight foot chain link fencing around the perimeter. We have tons of trees and the lots on three sides of ours are uncleared. If turkeys like to go up in the trees, do I need to worry about them flying away? I would hate for that to happen.

NaijaBizCom said...

I found your blog very interesting.Turkey rearing is very exiting and a very good source of generating income. Keep up the good work.

Cherry Mama said...

After finding out that the local "organic" turkey and chicken producers are feeding wheat to give their birds "flavour" I decided to raise my own turkeys in the backyard. Thanks for the great information! Have one concern: neighbourhood cats. Are they a problem for the birds? Also how much backyard space would each bird need if I wanted them to eat as much of their natural diet as possible. My yard is small but completely fenced in. Thanks.