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!!!! Breeding turkeys?

 
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After Thanksgiving the family voted unanimously to raise heritage turkeys again as they were so superior in flavor to even the broad-breasted turkeys I raised using the same feed and access to grass/foraging.  Given how expensive the poults are, and the fact that they can breed naturally, that gives rise to the question of whether I should retain a tom and a couple/three hens from the next order of poults to breed our own.  

If anyone has done this, are heritage turkeys (and we're looking mostly at Bourbon Reds, and maybe some Blue Slate poults) good at raising their own poults?  Can we give the eggs to a broody chicken and let her hatch and raise them?  I'd like to avoid the need to get an incubator.  If I can at least get the turkey hen (or a chicken as a surrogate) to incubate the eggs I'm OK with taking the poults and raising them in a brooder until they're big enough to go back outside.  

Clearly we'd have to construct a coop specifically for the turkeys.  They won't fit in the chicken coop, and probably want a different set up anyway. They would need that to overwinter, and it would give a secure and warm place to sit on the eggs.  Is there anything else specific to turkeys (vs chickens) I need to be aware of to keep them safe, happy, and laying?  How many poults can each hen be reasonably expected to produce, assuming a suitably broody hen (turkey or chicken) is available to incubate?
 
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Hi Andrew,

How expensive are the poults?  Certainly not discouraging raising your own, just thinking if it is about the cost of the poults, would it end up as a wash (or maybe even more expensive) to feed several adult birds all year, plus a couple of poults as well, and build the facilities, etc...?

Then again, I have no idea how expensive the poults are!
 
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I raised Royal Palm Turkeys and they were ok moms, but not great.  The babies still got into trouble.  Making sure the coop and run doesn't have anything they can get stuck in or stabbed by is crucial.  Some of our babies managed to get stuck in the chicken wire and died.

I think it is worthwhile trying to breed heritage turkeys but they need a bit more attention than chickens.  I would definitely like to raise them again some day.  The initial stock is a substantial investment, though, and need plenty of attention and the right feed.  Heritage turkeys must have sufficient protein in the diet or they will grow very slowly.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Artie Scott wrote:I have no idea how expensive the poults are!



At Murray McMurray Hatchery, unsexed are $12.80 per bird.  https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/turkeys.html
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Artie Scott wrote:I have no idea how expensive the poults are!



At Murray McMurray Hatchery, unsexed are $12.80 per bird.  https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/turkeys.html



Yeah, that's pretty typical.  Not sure if that includes shipping, but $12-15/each with shipping is about the going rate.
 
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We have raised both royal palms and  bourbon reds here.  We let them hatch out and raise their own. The key we found is they need to stay warm.  We keep stealing the eggs until mid May so they won't hatch to early.  We let them hatch on may 30th one year and the ground was frozen here.  They can't make it a foot away from their mothers when it is that cold.  The other thing we found is the need a calm place to start out growing.  Dogs barking or trying to attack the pens will make them try to get away and usually will be their demise.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, if the mom gets frightened in a pen, she can trample the babies, so the pen needs to be secured from any kind of disturbance from dogs and other varmints.

 
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Im debating whether to continue.

Turkeys are not like chickens. You cannot let them out of a coop to forage and expect them to come back to the roost at night. They would rather fly up a tree. This is the main difference between chickens and turkeys. I don't feel like i give them a happy life in confinement.

Natural hatching has been intermittent. Year one the turkeys dressed out at 15 pounds(i didnt hatch, they were babies I raised and all males). I kept back some to breed. Year 2 they bred but when dressed out the week before thanksgiving they were 5 to 6 pounds. More like a chicken. This is fine but not if the goal is a 12lb+ turkey for T day. Year 3 they laid on the eggs and none hatched. I bought baby bronze breasted and the female dressed out at 19lbs the males at 40lbs.

I look back and think it has not been dependable and they are not happy. A coop run that now has no grass. If i procede it will be 3 coops that i can rotate in, or do seasonal buys and dress than all, giving time for the ground to recover.

When i talk to my father in law, they raised them outdoors and let them fly in the trees to roost. They stayed around because of the food and water. Maybe if you spend enough time with them, they can be caught in the open to harvest them. I do have a breeder female that will eat out of my hands.

I do like turkeys over chickens in that 20lbs vs 4lbs is a lot less work for the meat in killing, plucking and gutting. It makes more sense to me. We just want poultry in our diet. The type is irrelevant.

The breed i have is native to our area in Texas.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Christopher Shepherd wrote:We have raised both royal palms and  bourbon reds here.  We let them hatch out and raise their own. The key we found is they need to stay warm.  We keep stealing the eggs until mid May so they won't hatch to early.  We let them hatch on may 30th one year and the ground was frozen here.  They can't make it a foot away from their mothers when it is that cold.  The other thing we found is the need a calm place to start out growing.  Dogs barking or trying to attack the pens will make them try to get away and usually will be their demise.



I'd have to check, but IIRC last frost for us is typically around late March/early April (county extension says April 15).  In Ohio I'm a little surprised you're still seeing freezing overnight temperatures into late May.
 
Tyler Ludens
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wayne fajkus wrote: You cannot let them out of a coop to forage and expect them to come back to the roost at night.



I was somehow able to get them to go into their pen at night after foraging in the yard all day but I don't remember how I did it!  I think I must have lured them back in with food, because they wouldn't necessarily go in automatically at night like chickens do.

I prefer the turkey personality to that of chickens - turkeys don't fight, at least mine didn't, and the males didn't grab the hens, they did a courtship ritual with the hen eventually sitting down and letting the male approach.

They were definitely more difficult to raise than chickens.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

wayne fajkus wrote: You cannot let them out of a coop to forage and expect them to come back to the roost at night.



I was somehow able to get them to go into their pen at night after foraging in the yard all day but I don't remember how I did it!  I think I must have lured them back in with food, because they wouldn't necessarily go in automatically at night like chickens do.

I prefer the turkey personality to that of chickens - turkeys don't fight, at least mine didn't, and the males didn't grab the hens, they did a courtship ritual with the hen eventually sitting down and letting the male approach.

They were definitely more difficult to raise than chickens.



My toms would compete for the hen (unfortunately for her, she was the only one, with 3 toms and 1 tom that didn't develop sexually).  But the "fighting" wasn't especially violent.  

My chickens come like a group of Minions when they think there's scratch corn to be had.  Otherwise they prefer to be off doing their own thing.  The turkeys on the other hand wanted human attention and interaction.  I never had to really chase the turkeys, they'd just follow where I went.
 
wayne fajkus
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

wayne fajkus wrote: You cannot let them out of a coop to forage and expect them to come back to the roost at night.



I was somehow able to get them to go into their pen at night after foraging in the yard all day but I don't remember how I did it!  I think I must have lured them back in with food, because they wouldn't necessarily go in automatically at night like chickens do.

I prefer the turkey personality to that of chickens - turkeys don't fight, at least mine didn't, and the males didn't grab the hens, they did a courtship ritual with the hen eventually sitting down and letting the male approach.

They were definitely more difficult to raise than chickens.



That is good to know. I may try it out.
 
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Mine willingly follow me into their yard after a day’s free ranging... me with my bucket of assorted seeds. If I’m late, I’ll come home to find them roosting on the chicken tractor, the chicken coop (which is currently dedicated to them, plus my extra roosters, 4 drakes & 4 geese) and any of several nearby fence roosts they’ve taken a fancy to. They don’t use the big coop. There’s a smaller coop that most of the roosters stay in at night, but turkeys like roosting outside. Only rarely will they roost in our many tall pines though there is a nearby group of young wild turkeys that often roost in the pine trees.

If you don’t want them to fly, either pinion them (one wing) as soon as they arrive from the hatchery/breeder, or trim back the long flight feathers of one wing. I’ve never done this, but I may at some point if I find it necessary. So far mine seem very willing to stay at home. If I can get good (warmish) weather I’ll butcher some of the males soon. So far I’ve only butchered 3 BBWs which I bought for the speed. First one—very nice though chewier than grocery store birds, I roasted for Thanksgiving. I gave it a long rest in the fridge both before freezing and after thawing, until the rigor passed, so that’s not the reason. To be fair, it weighed 38 lbs dressed. I might have kept it a little past its prime tenderness. My larger heritage birds are nearly seven months old now, so it’s time.

I have Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts, Blacks—all from Cackle Hatchery (min order 15), and a younger group of 13 Sweetgrass plus one each Tri-color Mottled Black and Tri-color Mottled Gray. The breeder I got the Sweetgrass+ from sometimes allows his turkey hens to incubate the eggs and other times uses an incubator (depending on how bad he wants the poults and whether the hen is proven). He never allows his ladies to brood the chicks, though. Judging from the stories I’ve read on the Turkey Talk thread at Backyard Chickens, turkey hens often don’t do a very good job at mothering poults. Sometimes they do, of course. Technically you wouldn’t want your chicken mamas raising the poults because chickens can be a vector for Turkey blackhead (if that’s a problem in your area.) I haven’t read of anyone giving poults to their chicken hens to raise—none that I can recall, at least.

I do not find the turkeys difficult to keep at all. They’re fun and comical and decorative and a great source of protein. None of my ladies are laying yet. Typically, I’m told, they will start in spring once sexually mature.

If you’re finding that your turkeys aren’t growing well, it’s likely your feed. They need 29% protein while growing. In nature they’d get it from foraging a wide swath of territory. If you have trouble providing that high level in their rations, you might consider feeding them meat scraps, fish, raising mealworms for them, etc. They do need the high levels of protein... especially if you intend to breed them.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Cindy Skillman wrote:Mine willingly follow me into their yard after a day’s free ranging... me with my bucket of assorted seeds. If I’m late, I’ll come home to find them roosting on the chicken tractor, the chicken coop (which is currently dedicated to them, plus my extra roosters, 4 drakes & 4 geese) and any of several nearby fence roosts they’ve taken a fancy to. They don’t use the big coop. There’s a smaller coop that most of the roosters stay in at night, but turkeys like roosting outside. Only rarely will they roost in our many tall pines though there is a nearby group of young wild turkeys that often roost in the pine trees.

If you don’t want them to fly, either pinion them (one wing) as soon as they arrive from the hatchery/breeder, or trim back the long flight feathers of one wing. I’ve never done this, but I may at some point if I find it necessary. So far mine seem very willing to stay at home. If I can get good (warmish) weather I’ll butcher some of the males soon. So far I’ve only butchered 3 BBWs which I bought for the speed. First one—very nice though chewier than grocery store birds, I roasted for Thanksgiving. I gave it a long rest in the fridge both before freezing and after thawing, until the rigor passed, so that’s not the reason. To be fair, it weighed 38 lbs dressed. I might have kept it a little past its prime tenderness. My larger heritage birds are nearly seven months old now, so it’s time.

I have Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts, Blacks—all from Cackle Hatchery (min order 15), and a younger group of 13 Sweetgrass plus one each Tri-color Mottled Black and Tri-color Mottled Gray. The breeder I got the Sweetgrass+ from sometimes allows his turkey hens to incubate the eggs and other times uses an incubator (depending on how bad he wants the poults and whether the hen is proven). He never allows his ladies to brood the chicks, though. Judging from the stories I’ve read on the Turkey Talk thread at Backyard Chickens, turkey hens often don’t do a very good job at mothering poults. Sometimes they do, of course. Technically you wouldn’t want your chicken mamas raising the poults because chickens can be a vector for Turkey blackhead (if that’s a problem in your area.) I haven’t read of anyone giving poults to their chicken hens to raise—none that I can recall, at least.

I do not find the turkeys difficult to keep at all. They’re fun and comical and decorative and a great source of protein. None of my ladies are laying yet. Typically, I’m told, they will start in spring once sexually mature.

If you’re finding that your turkeys aren’t growing well, it’s likely your feed. They need 29% protein while growing. In nature they’d get it from foraging a wide swath of territory. If you have trouble providing that high level in their rations, you might consider feeding them meat scraps, fish, raising mealworms for them, etc. They do need the high levels of protein... especially if you intend to breed them.



I fed mine a game bird pellet that was 24 or 26% protein when they were fairly small, the switched them to the 19% broiler ration my meat chickens got.  Towards the end, especially when I knew the hen was starting to lay, I switched them to the 16% layer pellet the hens get.  At 34 weeks old the toms dressed out in the mid-teens to low 20's.  The hen was little though, 7.5lbs dressed.

They all would fly over the electric netting until I clipped wings.  Found the hen on the roof of the house once too.  After clipping they mostly quit trying to fly much.

I don't think blackhead is a problem here.  Mixed the turkeys and chickens with no real issues.  

How do like the Narragansetts and Sweetgrass turkeys?  Any significant size difference vs the Bourbon Reds?  
 
Cindy Skillman
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Mine fly onto the coop roof or fence rails but that’s about it. They don’t fly that well. I thought they did until I saw one of the wild ones flying across the field and up into the pines on the other side. I had seen it before, but it had been a while. They’re a lot smaller so that makes a difference (the first round of wild poults were dying in the wet and cold “spring” while mine were in a nice warm brooder and then coop), but still... mine are soft. My hens are a lot smaller than the toms. I’ll definitely be processing the black hen and a couple of the Narragansetts. I think I’ll keep my bourbon red female, or one of the males... I’ll try and remember to let you know how it all goes. I’m just not sure what they’ll weigh. The girls aren’t that heavy to carry. They look bigger than my Cornish Cross did, but they feel lighter (if I’m remembering accurately.) I haven’t picked up any of my Toms in a while. They look huge, but all those puffed out feathers! Just from looking, all the toms seem about the same size. The Sweetgrass are jakes & jennies yet, so I can’t make much of a comparison there.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Looking like we'll get around 10 each Bourbon Reds and Blue Slates.  Might get 3-5 Narragansetts too.  Plan is to sell at least 4 to friends, maybe a few more but not sure.  Probably keep the rest alive until they're big enough and then slaughter one at a time as we want to eat them (saves freezer space).  Keep the single best Tom out of the bunch, and maybe 3-5 or so hens and let them breed.  

Looking like we'll also get 25 broad-breasted turkeys.  We'll sell at least a few to friends, and likely freeze 3 for future roasting.  The rest will be made into smoked lunch meat.  The breasts and thighs I smoked (2% salt, plus spices) were so amazing that I have to do a lot more.  The drumsticks and wings will be frozen and will make some great meals on their own.  Carcasses will make fabulous stock.  Obviously can't breed them though.  Planning on 100 broiler chickens too, and will hopefully be able to slaughter all of the broilers and BB turkeys the same day since I'll have the plucking equipment rental.

Now to build some outdoor brooders, and something of a coop for the holdovers.
 
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I'm in my 3rd year of raising Narragansetts.  I retain a 2 toms and a few hens each winter.  I keep them with Guinea fowl and chickens, and they are generally quite healthy.  They prefer to sleep outside on roosts even in sub-freezing temps.  Roosts are ones that I constructed out of tree trunks, rather than in the coop that I made for them.  They lay pretty well in the summer, but I have not had success getting these to brood their own eggs.  As a youth, I had black spanish that would hatch their own (they also hatched ducks and chickens for me) so it might be a genetic thing.  I hatch with an incubator, and I could hatch more, but I simply don't want to raise and process that many turkeys.  Their run has netting over it, and I don't let them free-range.  As a youth, our black Spanish ended up on the roof of the barn far too many times- headache to get them down in the dark to prevent owl attacks.  
I'm sure that they are a money drain, even though I can source a lot of free feed.  I just like having them.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Cindy Skillman wrote: My hens are a lot smaller than the toms. I’ll definitely be processing the black hen and a couple of the Narragansetts. I think I’ll keep my bourbon red female, or one of the males... I’ll try and remember to let you know how it all goes. I’m just not sure what they’ll weigh. The girls aren’t that heavy to carry. They look bigger than my Cornish Cross did, but they feel lighter (if I’m remembering accurately.) I haven’t picked up any of my Toms in a while. They look huge, but all those puffed out feathers! Just from looking, all the toms seem about the same size. The Sweetgrass are jakes & jennies yet, so I can’t make much of a comparison there.



The Bourbon Red hen that processed only dressed out at 7.5lbs.  More like a big broiler chicken than a turkey in terms of size.  Though she still tasted every bit as good as the big toms.  My toms dressed out from the mid to high teens at 34 weeks old (hen was also that same age).
 
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