Raising Turkeys for Meat

Broadbreasted white on pasture. Note the roosting stick.

Every year, God willing, we raise turkeys. I’ve tried to keep breeding stock but frankly I just can’t because they drive me a little nuts. They are the puppy dog of the poultry world. So I buy poults every year in June and raise ‘em up till Thanksgiving. That’s not a coincidence.

I’ve raised bronze orlopp, broad breasted white, and bourbon red. The heritage breeds take longer, are hardy and have more darker meat. The broad breasted whites get mammoth sized, are done in 5 months and will go “off their feet” (growing too fast in the body for their legs to support them) more often. Bottom line, I do love raising turkeys. They make me laugh with their chatiness. It always surprises people how loud their gobbledygook is.

As poults they are finicky….a slight breeze they die, a wet leg they are done. For that reason alone, lots of people buy them at 3 weeks old. If you are getting day olds, get extra.

They have turkey starter for the first eight weeks which is 30% protein and fortified with vitamins. Then after eight weeks till processing they use turkey grower (18% protein). It can cost up to $30-$50 to raise a turkey depending on its breed . Heritage poults cost more but if you can manage a trio of a Tom and two hens (females) you can expect eggs and become more self sufficient the following year.

Bronze orlopp poses by our pond at a hefty 50 lbs.

I dip the poults beaks in a waterer as soon as I get them that has a splash of apple cider vinegar in it. Their brooder has shavings for bedding, fitted with a heat lamp. We just watch them very carefully the first day or two with the heat lamp. They do not have much time between not feeling well and dying.

Because I raise them on pasture, around 8 weeks I move them to the brooder with the outdoor cage to harden them off. Usually around three months they will be on pasture.

Turkeys cannot free range in your yard like chickens. They are people birds. If you are on the deck they will be on the deck. We once had a carpenter building an addition who had to call me at work because the turkeys would not stop sitting on their boards they were trying to work with.

They roost everywhere at night. They do not go in at night like chickens. They need tposts for sleeping as they are susceptible to mites in their tail feathers, which is easy to recognize by straggly looking feathers.

I find they do so well on pasture. They really enjoy it and thrive in health and taste. Broad breasted whites weigh on pasture , even for big toms (male) around 28 lbs live weight or 23 lbs dressed. I like them around 17-18 pounds dressed. That size fits perfect in the oven. The bigger ones I tend to grind up for ground Turkey to make turkey sausage. I always use the bones for broth. It’s amazing.

The bronze orlopp cannot get too big for meat or they will be really fatty. I once tried to keep one breeding stick so he was 9 months old and he weighed 46 lbs dressed! We had to cut him in half and only cook half at a time. Bigger isn’t always better.

Turkeys shouldn’t be raised in with chickens typically in closed quarters. The turkeys can contract and develop Blackhead disease (spread by roundworms ) which is a quick killer- three days. Usually foamy yellow poop signifies the disease.

Luckily I have never experienced it.

If you want to raise turkeys for sale in Nova Scotia you must have quota from the turkey marketing board. In Nova Scotia, the limit on buying turkey poults is twenty five, without a license from the board. We usually raise at least ten.

We send ours to be processed when I send the last batch of seventy five meat hens for the season.

We take a big cooler and bring them home to freeze some for the winter, grind one or two and make broth with the bones.

One Christmas I even attempted a Turducken -duck breast inside a stuffed chicken inside a stuffed turkey . It was delicious however it took much much longer than I thought to prepare it.

One Christmas I even attempted a Turducken -duck breast inside a stuffed chicken inside a stuffed turkey . It was delicious !

And of course, we have a great big Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. I’m always beyond thankful for the bounty turkeys bring us in spirit and in flesh.

Turkey with all the fixing’s

Love Jenn xx

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