Free Range Turkey

Nothing tastes better at a holiday meal than a turkey you’ve raised yourself!  Turkeys can be easy to raise with just a few tips.  They are also characters and can be a fun addition to your homestead.

Turkeys arrive from the hatchery as day old poults.  They will need feed and water just like broiler chicks.  Turkeys are not over bright and may need help to find their food and water.  They are comparatively fragile for the first 7-10 weeks.  They don’t need to have a medicated feed, though most commercial feeds have sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotic added.  We use our broiler feed and careful management and they do fine.  We often have a small group of broiler chicks with the turkeys and have found that this improves the process greatly.  The chicks teach the turkeys how to eat, drink, and come in out of the rain.  With their chicken mentors, the turkeys can move to the pasture sooner and with greater success.

After seven weeks, about the time the broiler chickens are ready to move on, the turkeys are big enough that they need to separate from their mentors.  The turkeys can be bullies and start to hurt the less ambitious chickens.  They are now ready to be pastured on their own.

Turkeys, like layer hens, like to wander and need head room.  A chicken tractor, while preferred by the mentor chickens, is not a happy place for an older turkey poult.  They prefer a place where they can roost up off the ground but have some shelter overhead.  If you only have a couple of them, they can range around the yard like hens.  They do like cabbage and red tomatoes, so the garden should be protected or they should be contained in a fence.  They need around 3 months to reach about 12-15 pounds dressed weight.  We usually figure 4 months for the Thanksgiving turkeys and they dress at about 15-22 pounds.

Here’s a video Mark made of the processing of turkeys: