So we have been raising poultry for a while now on our farm. We are pretty good at raising broilers. We know when to switch from starter to grower feed, how to watch for pasty butt, how to help them adjust to fluctuating weather conditions and temperatures, and a myriad of other little details you need to know to raise meat chickens. When I proposed that we give raising turkeys a shot for Thanksgiving, it seemed like an easy decision. Besides, they’re just bigger chickens… right???
I’m pretty sure I could not have been more wrong. To give you an idea of how successful our first attempt at raising turkeys was, we started out with 18 birds! We finished with THREE. Yeah. That gave me a 16% success rate… Boy did I feel like an idiot.
Before you start thinking to yourself “how did she screw that up that badly!! Can you believe she killed ALL of those birds??? What a moron.” Let me explain exactly what went wrong.
- I broke one of my cardinal rules of literally everything. I trusted Google. Not only did I trust Google, but I trusted a discussion board that I had found through Google. The saying that “Google knows everything” is definitely true, but that means that Google knows things that are true and untrue and everything in between. It is up to the user to discern which is true and which isn’t. My first mistake was believing the discussion board I found that turkey poults (young turkeys) could be started using just the same starter grower feed you use for chickens. This is false. Don’t try this. You will lose an absurd amount of poults in a very short amount of time. We switched to a feed with significantly higher protein and all of a sudden our poults stopped dying. Unfortunately, within a three day span we had lost like 12. I was bitter because I had just lost about $60 worth of turkey poults because I didn’t think through something all the way. Avoid this mistake. Don’t trust discussion boards.
- I failed to research whether there were any quirks to raising turkeys versus chickens. The answer is there are. First, was the feed difference. That cost me the most. I also didn’t know a ton about turkey behavior, so when they weren’t walking around much as they got older, I just thought it was a product of the turkey putting on weight fast that they didn’t want to stand, which is what chickens do, not a joint infection. Once again, I was wrong. Also, had I read about it at all I would have known that turkeys are notoriously hard to raise.
We had a joint infection come through the flock. This one we didn’t have much control over. Luckily for us, we were able to address the issue quickly and start the remaining sick turkeys with an antibiotic and save their lives. Fortunately, the joint infection hit the herd early enough that the meat withhold was up by the time they went to butcher. We still had to wrestle a turkey every day for a while and give it a shot. Which, btw, is not fun. Also, we lost another 5 turkeys in the 2 days it took us to realize that the first turkey dying wasn’t just a freak thing and come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. This also sucked.
Our remaining three turkeys thrived and reached an acceptable weight for butcher by the date we had them scheduled. We sold two to people outside our family and my mom bought the third for our Thanksgiving dinner. This Sunday she cooked it for our family and it was delicious! All of our struggles had at least paid off in that we got a delicious turkey to share with our family! I certainly learned a lot about raising turkeys, but also about using the internet to learn things in general from this experience. Now I can’t wait to start more turkeys for next year!!