Raising Heritage Breed Turkeys
Grass Fed, Organic , Heritage Breed Turkey for Food and Profit
Many people who begin homesteading get chickens as a source of organic eggs and meat as well as pest control. Increasingly these modern homesteaders are adding other fowl, including heritage breed turkeys, to their barnyards. Not only do turkeys provide meat for the family but the financial benefits from raising turkeys are very appealing.
In some areas organic turkey is sold for an average of $7.00 a lb (2008) and it can go a bit higher during the holiday season. Although all poultry needs some supplemental feed, turkey and other free-ranging fowl will forage for a large percentage of their food themselves. This means that the net profit of a turkey is pretty substantial.
Heritage breeds are key in a small farm operation. These breeds are hardier, breed better, and produce a better quality of meat with less human intervention than is normal for commercial birds. They have been around for centuries and have developed characteristics that help them survive in a variety of conditions.
Not only that, but it is important to protect the biodiversity in livestock - raising heritage breeds is one way to do that.
Raising the Poults
Before you jump on the Internet and order poults you should do your research and decide which breed is best for you. Consider where you live, your goals for your homestead, the needs of your family, and your preferences.
Once you have decided on a breed try to find a local breeder. Getting poultry by mail works well and the companies do tend to have a larger variety than you can find locally but shipping stressful for the poults and you may lose some in transit.
Keep them Protected
You will want to have an enclosed and protected area for the poults to live for their first few weeks. You will need a heat lamp unless it is mid summer in Texas- the temperature needs to be 95-105 degrees day and night for the first several days and then you can slowly drop it by about 5 degrees a week.
Watching the poults activity is the best indication of how you need to adjust the temperature. Cold poults will huddle together - even smothering the ones unlucky enough to be on the bottom. If they are too hot they will get as far away from the light as possible and lay out panting, acting listless. Poults that are comfortable will move around peeping quietly or sleeping peacefully.
Make sure there is plenty of starter mash in the feeders, and that the poults have fresh, clean water at all times. The water should be about body temperature to guard against the turkeys getting a chill. Twice a week sprinkle grit over the mash so that the poults can digest their food properly.
Watch for pasting up, an ailment in which the droppings stick to the backside of the bird and it cannot eliminate. If this happens try to gently clean the droppings of with some mineral oil or warm water.
Moving the Poults Outside
After about four weeks the birds can go outside to an enclosed and protected area as long as the temperature stays above 70 degrees. Continue to make sure that they have fresh water at all times and feed is plentiful.
All the way through the growth process make sure that the poult has a clean living space and humane treatment.
The Top Heritage Breed Turkeys
Beltsville Small White
Good for small families
Prior to 1860
old breed - unknown
8 -13 lbs
Very hardy - good for northern homesteads
Ornamental, good breeders, 10-20 lbs
Differences between Free Range and Pasture Raised
By the tenth week the poult should be ready to be switched from starter mash to a good growth formula. During this time you should change the grit size to a broiler size grit and continue giving it with the mash two times a week. The turkeys will also need greens and other foods added to their diet.
It is important to understand the difference between pasture raised or grass fed turkey and free range turkey, and this goes for all poultry. A few years ago when consumers decided they wanted animals that were treated more humanely, organic, and grown in a natural environment the market came out with a catch all phrase; " Free Range".
Consumers eagerly embraced free range poultry - imagining plump, healthy birds strutting around a pastoral farmyard straight out of Currier and Ives.
Unfortunately the reality is that a free range bird is only NOT a caged bird. It may only have four square feet of range area in a large coop but it can still be called free range.
Grass or pasture fed poultry is poultry that is allowed to be housed on living grasses. Sometimes the birds are free ranging in a large pen that is electrified to keep out predators, or in large, movable, bottomless cages called chicken tractors. Either method allows the birds to eat a natural diet of living grasses and plants, bugs, and even mice and snakes.
The grass fed poultry will need to get supplemental grain and mash daily for optimum health. For the best profits you want to raise the highest quality birds around.
To completely finish a turkey takes about 24-28 weeks, or until the bird reaches approximately 18 lbs or more, depending on the breed. For the very best quality meat the scratch grains should be at least 70% corn by week 20.
You will know that the turkey is ready for butchering when the pinfeathers have disappeared and there is a fine layer of fat covering the body. You will not be able to see the purplish color of the muscle under the skin but the skin will be pale yellow or white underneath.
Continue to allow the bird to be on fresh grass pasture throughout the finishing process until the last 18 hours. During the last 18 hours before butchering the bird should be separated, and given plenty of fresh clean water but no food.
How to Sell the Turkey
You can take the turkey to the butcher and have it killed and cleaned, and have your customer pick it up there in neat freezer bags, or you can sell the turkey live for less money and allow the customer to decide what to do about the butchering.
In most areas it is not legal to butcher the animal yourself for sales purposes because of health regulations so check carefully with your local government.
Growing Your Business
As people try your birds and are rendered speechless by the tender, amazingly tasty meat that you have produced you can expect your business to grow by leaps and bounds. Word of mouth is still an excellent way to advertise.
The Internet is a great place to sell livestock or promote your homestead's products as well because it is everywhere, all the time. The website for our farm cost us less than $100.00 a year but has more than made up for that cost in the sales we make.
Plan carefully and do your research and you will have organic turkey for your table and plenty left to profit from.