Spring is in the air here in Maine. Spring chic's, piglets and turkeys are starting to be come available at local farm supply stores. I thought I would check in with Harris Turkey Farm to see what it takes to raise my own turkeys. Here's what they had to say.
We buy our turkey poults at one day old. If you are looking to raise a few of your own turkeys here are a few things to keep in mind to grow a healthy flock.
- You should buy poults from a flock that has been tested free of diseases. Ask if the hatchery or farm has been NPIP tested. This voluntary program helps ensure the flock is free of 2 types of Salmonella infections.
- Keep them babies warm!!! We can't stress this enough, the first week of life they need to be 95 degrees. If they are too cold, they will pile up together and suffocate. If you are using a heat lamp, make sure it is secure. Many house, barn, garage, and shed fires happen every year from heat lamps that are not secured properly. As they grow, you can decrease the heat by 5 degrees each week. Remember to check the temperature at their level.
- Provide 24 hour access to food and water, and have enough space to all eat at once. If there isn't enough space, the less aggressive birds will eat smaller amounts and not grow as well. Only use watering containers they CANNOT get into. Turkey poults don't swim! If they get wet, they will be chilled and may die.
- Not all food is created equal, turkeys need a high protein and energy food with balanced vitamins and minerals. As babies, do not feed them any food other than what is designed for them. No table scraps, no sunflower seeds, no scratch feed. You can supplement their diet when they get older. We use and recommend Blue Seal feeds.
- When is the best time to get your poults? That depends on how big you want them. For Thanksgiving, we raise broad breasted whites for 13-15 weeks. The toms (males) will be 20 +/- pounds and the hens (females) will be around 13-16 pounds. If you want a larger turkey, plan to raise them for 16-18 weeks. A tom that is 22 weeks old, could be 40 pounds dressed at Thanksgiving!!! You had better plan for some left overs. Heritage breeds will take 5-6 months to reach 15 pounds.
- The best dressed award goes to... You! You don't have to process/butcher the birds yourself, but there aren't too many places that offer turkey processing the week of Thanksgiving. We do not process turkeys for other people for biosecurity reasons, and our state licensing doesn't allow us to do that.
- Only allow poults to access the outdoors when they have primary and secondary feathers (usually 3 weeks.) Don't kiss your poults, they can carry bacteria and viruses that don't affect them, but can cause you to get sick. Be sure to wash your hands after handling them and filling their feeders and watering containers.
- You need to provide 1-2 square feet/bird for young poults. As adults, if you choose to raise them in an enclosed building, they need 4-5 square feet per bird.