We just butchered six of our heritage turkeys last week. For the first time we raised our very own Thanksgiving Turkey! I will be cooking one next week, and I know it will be the best turkey I have ever had. Hand over the gravy and garlic potatoes, thank you. After butchering day was done we were reflecting on the last 6 months of raising them, and discussing if we wanted to raise them again.
Lessons We Learned About Raising Turkeys
Turkeys Are Not chickens
Yes they both fall under the poultry category, but the only thing similar is their anatomy. We had to borrow a special huge pot to scald them in before plucking the feathers. Our cull cones were too small. We had to buy turkey sized freeze bags. I knew they were bigger than chickens, that is obvious, but I didn’t realize we would need all new equipment. Their size is a little intimidating. Our turkeys were also terrible at eating food scraps that we tried to give them. Lastly, turkeys need a higher protein feed than our chickens so we had to keep them separate. Which leads us to my next point.
We Kept Them in a Pen
The only feasible way for us to keep our birds on different feeds and let our chickens free range was to raise the turkeys in a coop, which makes me sad. I really prefer to provide more space for our animals. We chose to keep the turkeys locked up instead of the chickens for a few reasons. First, we have heard many stories of turkeys drowning in water troughs. Turkeys can jump higher than chickens, and are not as respectful to fences. Turkeys would also much rather roost on the fence (coyote bait) or in the neighbors tree, than their nice cozy coop.
Automatic water needs to be checked
Like our rabbits and chickens, we had our turkeys set up with an automatic feeder and water bucket. These work great, unless you forget to check on them. Just 3 weeks ago our turkeys ran out of water and we lost a hen. It is so very sad to lose an animal, and dehydration is a terrible way to go. We raised that hen for 6 months, just for her to die weeks before we had planned to butcher them. Their water bucket only needed to be filled up every other month or so, so we didn’t check it often enough. Our mistake, a lesson learned the hard way.
High Protein Feed Mix Up
I mentioned above Turkeys need higher protein feed. Unless you have a bug farm to supply them with that protein, the other option is to use feed that has soy. We avoid soy (read why here) so in an effort to reduce the amount of soy in their meat we switch them to a soy free feed a month before we butcher. Well my dear husband put the last of a half bag into their feeder the week before we butchered them with the wrong feed. Woops!
Overall the lessons we learned were mild, and we kept a hen and tom back to hatch some chicks for us to try again next year. We are prepared now to butcher a bigger bird, and are talking about moving them to a new area where they will have more room to roam, but also keep them safe. Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and support a local farmer during the holidays!