Oh, a baby turkey is on your horizon! But what does it take to raise them to maturity? It can’t be that hard, right? But there are a few very, very important tidbits of information that are needed to raise them successfully. Here they are…
Baby Turkey: How to Raise Baby Turkeys
Maybe you haven’t thought about raising turkeys before, but has the time come to add a little variety to your flock? Chickens are the gateway fowl and can provide eggs, meat, and such special companionship.
You can find a lot of articles here on A Life of Heritage that will teach you a lot about poultry and be sure to check out The Profitable Poultry Bundle–It’s FULL of to-do lists, checklists, record keeping sheets, and resource pages that will keep your flock healthy and YOU organized!
But what can turkeys offer? Although their eggs aren’t a common breakfast dish, they provide a mean turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.
Ready to dive into some turkey talk?
First of all…
What do you call a baby turkey?
A baby turkey is called a poult. A turkey poult is a young turkey that is less than 4 weeks old. During this time, the turkey poult relies on its mother for protection and guidance.
Now that you know the name of a baby turkey, here are the names of grown turkeys:
- Male Turkey: TOM or GOBBLER
- Female Turkey: HEN
- Baby Turkey: POULT or CHICK
- Young Male Turkey: JAKE
- Young Female Turkey: JENNY
- Group of Wild Turkeys: FLOCK
- Group of Domesticated Turkeys: RAFTER
Turkey Egg Facts and Hatching Turkey Eggs
For some, it may be a no-turkey-brainer, but it is important to note that turkey’s do not give birth as a mammal does. It lays an egg in the same manner as a chicken. And life in the egg only begins and continues if it is given the proper, consistent temperature and humidity for 28 days.
Buying Turkey Poults
Where are baby turkeys for sale?
Besides finding a local source of turkey chicks, the most common places are these online sources:
If you decide to raise turkeys every year, keep track of where you got them and all the details of your experience with that particular hatchery. If you weren’t completely satisfied, cross them off your list until you find one that delivers exactly what you want!
Supplies and Equipment You Will Need for Turkey Poults
- Brooder – Examples of what could be used:
- Dog Crate
- Cardboard Box (Line with plastic!)
- Large Rubbermaid Tote
- Spare Bathtub
- Heat Lamp
- Shallow bowl for food
- Shallow bowl for water
- Appropriate bedding
- Poult feed
Setting Up the Brooder for Turkey Poults
The brooder should be set up to give the turkey poults adequate heat (especially heat!) food, water, and bedding.
After you’ve chosen what you will use for a brooder, the heat lamp will need to be placed very securely. It is best to have the area heated up to the proper temperature before placing the poults in. The thermometer, as well as watching their behavior, will tell you if the temperature is adequate and if it needs to be adjusted.
Any spills should be cleaned up immediately. It’s important to keep it as dry as *possible*. The warmth and wetness can become a hazardous case of mold, mildew, and bacteria.
An unused bathtub is a great way for the water to drain out after spills but if that isn’t a possibility, then putting the water dish in another larger, shallow pan may help contain the spills from getting the bedding and food all wet.
Pine shavings, crushed corn cobs or straw are great options to use for beddings.
Tips for Setting Up a Turkey Brooder:
- After three weeks, sand can be used for bedding. This is a great way to keep their brooder dry and can be cleaned like cat litter.
- For the first 5 days, cover the bedding with burlap or cloth to prevent the poults from eating the bedding. After they are proficient at eating their feed from the feeders, the cover can be removed.
- Place colored, shiny marbles in their food and water. This will attract their attention to their sources of food and water and help them quickly get accustomed to eating and drinking.
Preparing Turkeys for the Brooder
Before the chicks are placed in the brooder they need to be inspected carefully to note any abnormalities, sickness or weaknesses. When the poults are placed in the brooder their beaks need to be dipped in the water and monitored carefully to make sure that they are drinking and eating adequately.
Watching the chick’s behavior and actions will be an important part of raising the young poults.
Heat Requirements for Turkey Poults
The temperature in the brooder should be set to 95°-98°F before the turkeys are placed in the brooder. Turkey’s are heat-loving little birds. So watch their behavior in the brooder closely. If they are huddled under the light, they are cold. If they are hugging the side of the brooder, it is too hot. If they are wandering around evenly under the light, they are just right.
The temperature can be lowered 5° (by raising the heat lamp) every week until the brooder is the same temperature as the outside temperature. Do not let the baby turkeys get damp or chilled. Allow for adequate air flow but not drafts within the brooder.
Space Requirments for Turkey Poults
There are proper space requirements that need to be adhered to carefully. Given the proper space, the young birds will remain healthy. Lack of space promotes health issues and disease.
These are the space requirements needed for the different stages of growth:
- 0-4 Weeks: 1.25 Square Feet Per Bird
- 5-16 Weeks: 2.5 Square Feed Per Bird
- 16-29 Weeks: 4 Square Feed Per Bird
- Turkey Breeder: 5 Square Feed Per Bird
Plan ahead. Many hatcheries have a minimum order of chicks, so you will need to plan for that many growing turkeys. When you are setting up your brooder, make sure you’ve given the chicks adequate space to be healthy and grow. If they aren’t given the space they need, they have the much higher potential of getting sick, not getting enough food and pecking at each other.
Turkey Poult Problems and Health Issues
There is nothing more frustrating than the strong pushing out the weak. On a daily basis, I watch this happen with our horses, cows, goats, pigs, and chickens and nothing makes me feel crazier. Poults are known to “starve out” the weaker chicks by pushing them away from the food and water. So a young poult can actually starve even with food available.
Again, during the first weeks, it will be so important to observe carefully what is happening in the brooder and act quickly if this is happening to prevent any sickness or dead birds.
Another area to keep an eye on is your young chicks posteriors. Any sign of diarrhea or vent pasting, where poop sticks to their butts, can actually block passing poop. It can be a serious problem and needs to be fixed quickly.
If you see these problems you need to quickly do these things:
- Up the Temperature. Check brooder temperature and make sure it is hot enough.
- Remove any pasty butt. Soak the area with a warm rag or paper towel to soften the poop, and carefully pick off and remove the dried droppings.
- Sprinkle chick grit on their feed.
Growing is a hard job for little chicks, help them during this time by keeping them warm, dry and give them the proper feed, to aid in proper digestion and elimination.
Three diseases to watch for as your turkey poults grow is coccidiosis, blackhead, and airsacculitis.
Keeping your turkeys and chickens separated will help in the prevention of a blackhead outbreak and although a personal decision, feeding medicated feed to your young turkeys will help with coccidiosis, along with clean sanitary practices. Buying turkeys from breeders who test for airsacculitis is also the first step in prevention for that.
Feather picking can be a bad habit for a turkey to start and a hard habit for them to break. Here are a few reasons and solutions as to why your poults may be picking at the growing blood quills:
- Heat too Hot. Solution: Lower heat
- Lack of Nutrition and Protein. Solution: Give proper nutrition
- Light to Bright. Solution: Reduce light (lower the wattage or use a red-colored bulb)
- Space too Small. Solution: Increase brooder space
- Bored. Solution: Give leafy greens or marbles or something to pick at.
- Broad Solution: Free range older birds when appropriate
Feeding Turkey Poults: What Does a Baby Turkey Eat?
Turkey poults are much like game birds in that they need much higher protein levels to aid in their proper growth.
Because of this higher protein need, feed a wild game bird feed or poultry starter specifically made for turkeys. This will be absolutely necessary for the first 8 or so weeks.
Here’s what your feeding program may look like:
- 1-8 weeks: feed a starter with 28% protein
- 3 weeks: begin to sprinkle their feed with chick grit
- 8 weeks to 6 months: 24-26% crumbled protein turkey grower/developer
- 6 months+: 16% – 18% layer pellets, crumbles, or mash.
- Adult laying hens only: Offer free choice calcium and grit. The toms will benefit from the grit as well.
Remember that feeding greens, garden trimmings, bread, and scratch are great for treats. But should be limited. Feeding turkeys “snacks” would be like feeding my kids a ton of junk food all day. They would fill up and not eat their nutritious meals and not reach optimal health.
If you are raising broad-breasted varieties, which are usually used only for meat, they will only be raised to about 16-20 weeks of age.
The heritage turkeys will take about 6-8 months before they are fully grown to be at a proper eating size.
What NOT to Feed Turkey Poults
As always, there are a few items to keep in mind to NOT feed your young turkeys. Here’s the list and why they shouldn’t be fed:
- Oyster shells and other forms of calcium. Calcium at high levels are toxic to poults and can cause liver, bone and kidney problems (and even death!)
- Chicken layer pellets and breeder mash. Calcium levels are too high. See notes above.
- Avocados, potato peels, rhubarb leaves. These items are toxic or can be toxic with too much consumption.
- Scratch. Don’t feed scratch before 8 weeks of age and again, in limited amounts.
Be mindful of what you put in the brooder with your turkey poults. You don’t want to end up with sick or dead chicks just because of a lapse of memory.
How to Raise Friendly Turkey Poults
It is possible to raise friendly turkeys. There is no magical answer though. It will just take some down-to-earth-good-and-honest time and effort starting from day one.
And it will revolve around you feeding the baby turkeys out of your hand as often as possible. You will want them to associate you with food, which is a great way of reinforcing to them that you are safe and good things happen when they are around you. Hold them as often as possible while they are little. After they are fully grown, holding them won’t be an option but if raised with lots of love and feedings out of the hand, they will be willing and comfortable to come up and look for a treat from you.
If at any point before they are fully grown, there is a rough spot and they begin to act frightened of you, don’t get discouraged. Keep feeding them and holding them as often as possible. Keep at it! It will be worth the effort.
When to Add a Roost for Turkey Poults
Turkeys love to roost just like chickens do. But they will prefer a roost that is something like a 2’x6′ laying flat on its side. They like a flat roost that a board on its side can give.
And a roost can be made available at about 4 weeks of age and each young bird will need about 6 inches of roost space. When they are grown, the roosting space needs to increase to 24 inches per bird.
But take note that broad-breasted varieties do not need and should not be given roosts but should be given 3-4 inches of bedding.
Preparing Turkey Poults for Outside Living and When They Can Go Outside
Like all young birds, turkeys are very prone to becoming chilled before their feathers are fully in. Before full-time-regular-outdoor-living, they need to be fully feathered and acclimated to the temperatures. This will be after 8 weeks of age and of course within reason.
If the temperatures outside are not suitable for young birds, postponing their outdoor adventures may be wise. And even then, if the temperatures are still chilly, providing a heat lamp to keep them warm at night will be important in keeping them warm and dry.
Shelter for Turkey Poults
When the turkey poults have grown considerably, are fully feathered, and the temperatures are decent outside, they are ready to move into their new home. But there are a few items to consider. Their shelter should include:
- A house to allow each bird 4-5+ square feet each. More is always better, if possible!
- A house that is built securely enough that predators can’t dig under the walls to gain entry.
- Good ventilation. Birds breathe out a lot of moisture and excess moisture can cause health problems.
- Roosts set up with the flat side of the board facing up.
- Straw is a good choice for bedding because it holds its form when wet but also doesn’t mold as well as hay or shavings do.
- Windows not only allow in natural light but also can be opened to allow in fresh air.
- At about 8 months of age, a turkey hen will begin laying and will need a 2’x2′ nest box set up in their house at about 5 months of age to encourage her to begin laying in the next box.
- The door should be wide enough for the large birds to fit through.
- Solid latches on the doors are important as well. And if there are known predators lurking about at night, they will need to be closed in and protected.
- A ramp is also necessary if the door is off the ground.
- **Turkeys and chickens shouldn’t be housed or raised together. The chicken is a carrier of an organism called blackhead. Chickens usually are not affected by this but in turkeys? It is 100% fatal if they contract it. But they can be housed together if strict sanitary practices are practiced.
- Cleanliness is a key factor in raising fowl of any kind. Practice sanitary measures all the time to prevent disease.
- Feeding turkeys their feed in the pellet form will be the best way to prevent waste. Turkeys are known to waste a lot of feed. And hanging feeders to the height of the turkey’s back will also help reduce spills and food waste.
Gobble, gobble baby turkey!
After all that information, you are well on your way to raising your own turkeys…even if it is only a seed of thought at this point!