With Thanksgiving approaching, our family will be getting ready to enjoy a truly homegrown feast. Raising turkeys for meat is a rewarding experience and everyone can be involved.
Several years ago, our good friends helped us get started with raising turkeys for meat. The girls picked out four little poults (baby turkeys) and brought them home. We have since raised a few turkeys every summer.
We typically have eight turkeys. Our daughters participate in 4-H and raise turkeys for the state fair so that leaves five or six for us. We plan to have one on Thanksgiving, one on Christmas, and the rest for smaller cuts of meat to eat throughout the year.
Raising turkeys isn’t that difficult and can be an enjoyable experience. This is how we do it here in Alaska every summer.
Reasons to Raise Turkeys for Meat
We have several reasons why we continue to raise turkeys every year.
- Know where your meat is coming from-This is a great reason to raise any type of food yourself. You know exactly where it came from, how it lived, what it ate, as well as how it was processed. If you aren’t able to raise your own turkeys (or any meat for that matter) buying it from a local farmer is always the next best option.
- It’s rewarding-Taking the time to raise an animal that will feed your family gives you more appreciation for your food than if you had no hand in it at all. Sitting down to a meal that your family worked hard to put on the table together makes it all the more special.
- Great experience for kids-Our girls take great care of our turkeys. They feed, water, clean, and walk the turkeys around daily. Keeping track of weight gain and overall health is a learning experience as well. They also do much of the butchering process. Caring for an animal and helping to provide food for your family is one of the best learning and growing experiences for kids.
Challenges When Raising Turkeys for Meat
- They can pass easily-Unfortunately, turkeys are known to not always thrive. We were warned about this so we started with four turkeys just in case we lost one. Well, only one ended up making it to butchering! We lost one as a chick, which happens sometimes with all poultry. Another got out of our fence (I don’t recommend chicken wire for turkeys!) and was taken by a fox during the night. Then we found one shortly before butchering that had passed in its sleep. So we only ended up having one turkey for meat that year. Now every year we get extra turkeys just in case and wouldn’t you know, we haven’t lost one since!
- It’s expensive-If you’re looking to save money by raising your own turkeys for meat, you won’t. Buying a turkey from the grocery store is much cheaper. It costs about $100 a turkey from start to finish where we live here in Alaska. The cost may vary depending on where you live and what feed you have access to.
Getting Ready for Turkeys
You won’t need much to get started raising your own turkeys for meat. The basics include:
- Space-Turkeys are much larger than chickens so require more space. Plan for about 20 square feet per bird.
- Fencing-Use heavy wire fencing (not chicken wire) to set up a predator proof perimeter for the turkeys. We use t-posts every few feet to wire the fencing onto. Make sure to bury a few inches of the fencing into the ground to keep predators out or use sandbags to block any possible openings.
- Housing-Turkeys should have a space, whether it’s part of a barn, an old shed, or just some pallets, to go into during rainy weather or to get some shade.
- Feeder-A basic, large poultry feeder will do to contain the turkey’s feed.
- Waterer-Turkeys need access to fresh water at all times. A large poultry waterer will work but we have found that our turkeys enjoy a large tub for their water so they can easily drink from it without being crowded. It’s also easier to fill and clean using a hose.
Starting With Turkey Poults
Once you have decided to raise turkeys for meat, you’ll need to get some! Plan for at least two. Turkeys need companions so a turkey would not do well all by itself.
Our local feed store opens up a chick barn every spring and they sell turkey poults (chicks). They typically cost $15 each and are only a few days old.
You can also order turkey poults online to be sent directly to you through a hatchery. Lastly, you might be able to find someone local who hatches their own turkeys and sells them.
Keep the poults in a small container where they are safe from any predators. They should have good ventilation and lighting. A small container to hold their turkey starter feed and a small poultry waterer are needed as well. Pine shavings work well for bedding.
Depending on the temperature in the spring where you live, the poults might need additional heat until it warms up. Because it’s still well below freezing when we get our poults here in Alaska, we keep ours in a small brooder box in our heated garage and still have to use a small heat lamp.
Check on them daily and give them fresh feed and water. Placing marbles in their water dish will help attract them to it and get them pecking and drinking more. Clean any messes and add fresh bedding as needed. Our girls like to hold them a little every day and once the weather warms up, they start taking them outside more and more to acclimate them.
Once they have their feathers in and the weather is above freezing at night, they can be moved outside to their permanent home.
Caring for Turkeys
Once you have your turkeys all set in their new home, they are easy to care for until it’s time to butcher them, which is around five to six months of age.
Turkeys require fresh food and water each day, usually in the morning. Once the sun is up, they can be free to roam around and graze and enjoy the day. If it’s raining, they will usually gather under their shelter and just hang out.
Be sure they are secure and safe from predators at night and all gates are locked. Keep an eye on them for any health issues such as a turkey not getting up and walking around. Our girls like to walk around with the turkeys to make sure each of them can move around easily, especially as they get bigger.
Turkeys should be fed a high-protein game bird feed that will provide the nutrients that they need. One turkey will go through about two bags of feed total so that will help you calculate how much feed you will need depending on how many turkeys you are raising.
We start the poults (turkey chicks) on a starter feed and then switch them to the adult feed when they’re between six and eight weeks old.
Besides specially formulated turkey feed, they also enjoy eating grass and other greens. They love to wander around outside and graze around the yard. Although they can eat kitchen scraps just like chickens, we have never had any luck with ours doing that! We try to give them kitchen scraps but they just leave them. So we just allow them to graze in the grass and they especially love chickweed, which we have all over.
Turkeys can eat high protein layer feed so if you are also raising chickens and want to keep them together, it’s ok to give them the same feed.
Once the turkeys are ready and fully grown, which takes about five months, it will be time to butcher them. A good way to tell is to wrap your arms around the turkey and feel the breast meat. You should be able to feel a bone between the two breasts.
We butcher and process our own turkeys together as a family. My husband dispatches them and then the girls and I clean, gut, and process them.
We always keep one whole for Thanksgiving, completely plucking, gutting, and wrapping up to freeze until we eat it.
The rest we cut up. We remove the breasts for cooking or canning. The wings and legs/thighs are removed for grilling or cooking. I keep and freeze the carcasses to make stock with.
Raising turkeys for meat is a great experience and the gratitude at the Thanksgiving table is multiplied when your family has worked together to provide a truly homegrown meal.