Three years ago, while I was pregnant with my son, my husband brought home our first turklings (as I referred to them). I have since learned that baby turkeys are called poults, but to me they will always be the turklings. He picked up these two day old poults at the local feed store, and we didn’t know the first thing about raising turkeys. At the time I was working full time with a 45 minute+ commute, each way. By the end of the day I was much to tired to concern myself with the birds. My husband placed them in a dog crate with some sawdust, feed, and water. He set the kennel next to the heater in the kitchen, and cleaned it out once a week. When they started to stink he built a small pen in our horse shelter (we don’t actually have horses), and moved them outside. He tried letting them out to free range on our pasture during the day and penning them back up at night, but that quickly became a bother so the birds came and went as they willed. Looking back it is a miracle that any of them survived. Actually, we lost one to a fox, we butchered two, and they last one after watching the demise of his comrades took off.
Since then we have learned a few things about raising turkeys.
Two weeks ago our new poults moved in to the kitchen. This time we were prepared. Our brooder is just two card board boxes taped together to make one box approximately 2’W x 4’L x 2’H, complete with a chicken wire lid and a small roost bar. We use a heat lamp with a 250w bulb to maintain an even temperature. New poults need a constant temperature of 95 degrees. Before picking the poults up from the feed store we set everything up including a feeder with medicated chick starter (I use medicated feed for the first two weeks before switching to non-medicated) and a waterer filled with lukewarm water. During the first few days I monitor the poults closely to ensure that they were eating and drinking (they aren’t terribly bright and might need help finding their food and water at first). Every morning my son gets up and says good morning to his turkeys before he has breakfast. When we ask him if we are going to eat his turkeys he says “no, you no eat my turkeys”, so we will see about that. Free range turkey tastes so much better than the birds you get at the supermarket that you will never go back.
Poults grow very quickly and can eat a surprising amount, so check their food and water frequently to make sure they don’t run out. Yesterday my husband placed a block of wood under the waterer because they were kicking litter into their water. I will probably have him place a block under the feeder as well, but I will need to come up with a way to secure it to the block so the don’t knock it over(the weight of the water keeps the waterer from tipping as long as I keep it full). As they have grown I have gradually raised the heat lamp higher to wean them off of the heat. This weekend I will switch to a 150w bulb and lower the lamp again. If the poults are huddled together under the lamp they are too cold and the lamp needs to be lowered. If they are scattered to the far corners of the brooder, raise the lamp.
We are now working on a turkey pen so that we can move the turkeys outside in two weeks. We need to move the poults out of the kitchen so the chicks can move in (chicks and poults should not be brooded together). At first we will probably place a heat lamp in their shelter at night to make sure they are warm enough. As I once read a cold poult is a dead poult. Once their feathers are fully in and the nights are up above freezing they will be fine as long as they have shelter from rain and wind. At around eight weeks of age we will start letting them out to free range. During the summer we don’t feed our turkeys at all because they forage so efficiently. We will continue to try to bring them in at night but often they insist on roosting on the fence posts and staying out all night. They will reach about 25-35 lbs before butchering and we have not had many problems with predators as they get bigger. In the fall we will begin offering them feed in the pen again to bring them in. I will be sure to update you as we go.