Raising turkeys is easy if you know how to go about it. Turkeys can be raised for eggs, meat, exhibition, as rare breeds, pets or for business venture. Whatever your reason for choosing these fascinating birds, you need to know how to raise them properly, from planning their birth to how to raise them properly and make a profit.
Getting started with turkeys
The easiest and least expensive way to get started with turkeys is to buy day-old turkeys. Another way is to buy turkey hens and a tom (adult male turkey). Either way the aim is to have vibrant flock of turkeys.
The incubation period is 28 days in turkey. There are two methods of incubation. You can choose to incubate the eggs naturally or artificially. Naturally turkeys are good brooders and the broody hen can hatch 10-15 eggs. Select clean eggs with good eggshell and shape for brooding for high hatchability and healthy poults.
Although there are many places to order turkey poults (baby turkeys), it is important to investigate and decide which breed is best for you. Getting poults locally is better and less stressful for the birds. Day old poults are available at Nyonjoro Nightngale in Naivasha.
Brooding in turkey takes 0-4 weeks. Turkey poults need double hover space as compared to chicken, at 1.5 ft2 per bird. Brooding day old poults can be done using infra red bulbs, gas brooder or traditional brooding systems.
You will need to set up a brooder area before the birds arrive. Line it with about 1 inch of wood shavings and provide a source of heat to keep the birds warm. Keep the birds warm and dry (see Temperature control for brooding broiler chicks ) in a round design of the brooder to keep them from piling in a corner and suffocating each other. Temperature at the floor level for the first week should be between 32o and 38o C. Thereafter withdraw the heat source to reduce the floor temperature by 2oC degrees each week for the next 4 weeks.
Common litter materials used for brooding are wood shavings, saw dust, paddy husk, chopped saw etc. The thickness of the litter material should be 2 inch at the beginning and may be increased to 3-4 inch in the course of time by gradual addition. The litter should be raked at frequent intervals to prevent caking.
Give the birds a larger area to roam in the second week. A 20 cm-by 20 cm space per bird will be enough for the next three weeks. When the birds start perching on the top of the waterer or on the brood walls provide a 1 to 2 inch roost 1 foot off the floor.
If temperatures are conducive you can let birds 6 weeks and older to go outside for a while each day but keeping them confined when it is rainy and cold. The birds will be ready to go on pasture by 8 weeks.
It takes about 3.25 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of live turkey weight.
A feeder and waterer for every 25 birds is needed. Start your turkeys on starter mash. Make sure there is plenty of starter mash in the feeders, and that the poults have fresh, clean water at all times.
By the tenth week the poult should be ready to switch from starter mash to a growers mash. Include grit and continue giving it with the mash two times a week. The turkey will also need greens and other foods added to its diet. In intensive system, greens can be fed up to 50% of the total diet on dry mash basis. Fresh Lucerne is first class green feed for turkeys of all ages. Foods such as cracked maize grains and soya bean meal are also great choices. Other supplements such as vitamins and minerals when should be added. This will ensure that they stay healthy and grow up without any problems.
To avoid leg weakness and lameness in free ranging birds, calcium should be supplemented at the rate of 250gm per week per bird in the form of oyster shell. Ten percent of feed can be substituted with vegetable waste to reduce the cost of feed. Turkeys are very good scavengers consuming earthworms, small insects, snails, kitchen waste and termites all rich in protein and this can reduce the feed cost by fifty percent.
Make sure that they have fresh water at all times and feed is adequate. Water should be about body temperature to prevent turkeys from cold.
Turkeys don't add fat until they are 22 weeks. Turkeys are ready for slaughter when the pinfeathers have disappeared and there is a fine layer of fat covering the body. It takes about 24-28 weeks to completely finish a turkey. This usually comes about when the birds reach 8 kg or more depending on the breed. For the best quality meat grains given to the bird should be at least 70% maize by the 20th week. Also allow the birds to be on fresh grass pasture throughout the finishing period until the last 18 hours. Separate and give plenty of fresh clean water without food in the last 18 hours before slaughter.
Breeds and breeding turkeys
Turkeys are not classified into breeds. Nonetheless seven standard varieties are distinguished - Bronze, White Holland, Bourbon red, Narragansett, Black, Slate, Beltsville small white. In Kenya the two common varieties are the Bronze and the White Holland types.
Broad breasted bronze
The basic plumage color is black and not bronze. The females have black breast feathers with white tips, which help in sex determination as early as 12 weeks of age. This fast-growing modern bird has plenty of breast meat, usually two to four times the amount of breast meat as a wild turkey. They reach a dressed weight of 7 to 11 Kg in about 24 weeks.
Broad breasted white
This is a cross between Board breasted bronze and White Holland with white feathers. White plumage turkeys are suitable to hot climatic conditions as they have better heat tolerance and also good and clean in appearance after dressing.
In natural mating the male to female ratio is 1:5 for medium type turkeys and 1:3 for large types. On average 40-50 poults is expected form each breeder hen. Toms are rarely used for mating after first year due to reduced fertility. Toms tends to develop an affinity towards a particular female therefore change the toms every 15 days.
Rearing systems for turkeys
Turkeys can be reared under free range or intensive system. Read Examples of housing systems for poultry.
Under free range conditions, one acre of fenced land can accommodate 200-250 adult turkeys. Provide shelter during the night at 3-4 ft2 per bird and protect from predators such as dogs, foxes and raccoons during scavenging. Planting of trees is desirable for providing shade and cooler environment. Rotate the range on a weekly basis to reduce incidence of parasite infestation. You can build a moveable turkey roost which can be moved to fresh range as needed. Using moveable roosts will keep manure from building up inside the pen. A 5 by 8 ft roost will shelter up to 20 turkeys.
When turkeys are reared under deep litter system, the general management conditions are similar to that of chicken but care should be taken to provide adequate floor, waterer and feeder space to accommodate the large bird.
Husbandry practices of turkey
Poults should be debeaked to control feather picking and cannibalism. Debeaking can be done at day old or 3-5 weeks of age. Remove the beak at about a half the distance from the nostril to the tip of the beak.
Removal of the snood or dew bill is done to prevent head injuries arising from picking and fighting. It is done when they are one day old by using the thumbnail or finger pressure. At 3 weeks of age it can be cut off close to the head with sharp scissors.
Clipping of the toe is done at day old by removing the tip of the toe just to the inside of the outer most toe pad including the entire toenail.
Catching and handling of turkeys
Using a stick drive the turkeys to a darkened room where they can be picked up with both legs without any injury. Mature turkeys should not be kept hanging for more than 3-4 minutes.
Be aware of the common health problems that turkeys face so you can be prepared when your turkeys get sick. Turkeys in the free range system are highly susceptible to internal (round worms) and external parasites (fowl mite). Hence deworming and dipping once a month is essential to improve the growth of the birds.
Turkeys are also susceptible to fungal diseases, viral diseases, and bacterial diseases of poultry such as Arizonosis, Blue comb disease , Chronic respiratory disease, Erysipelas , Fowl cholera, Fowl pox, New Castle disease, Paratyphoid, Turkey coryza, Coccidiosis, Turkey venereal disease and others.
New Castle Disease – B1 Strain
4th & 5th Week
New Castle Disease – (R2B)
8 – 10 Week
The dressing percentage of turkey is 80-87%, which is highest of all farm species.
A market study shows that a male turkey at 24 weeks of age weighing 10 to 20 kg is sold for an average of Ksh 500 per Kg and it can go a bit higher during the Christmas holiday season. The net profit of a turkey is pretty substantial.
You can package turkeys in neat freezer bags or sell the turkey live for less money, the choice is yours.