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Raising your own turkeys for meat is worth the time and effort and makes for a rewarding experience. You know what the turkeys have been fed, you put in the hard work, and the output is the best tasting meat you’ve ever had! Before you select the species of turkey to raise on your homestead, you’ll want to know the how long they take to reach maturity and can be processed for eating.
|Typical Time to Butcher
|Time to Full Maturity
|6 months(25 weeks)
|6-8 months(25-30 weeks)
|Broad Breasted White Turkey
|4-5 months(16-20 weeks)
|9 months(36 weeks)
|Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey
|5 months(20 weeks)
|5-6 months(20-24 weeks)
|Bourbon Red Turkey
|6 months(25 weeks)
|7-8 months(28-32 weeks)
|7 months(28 weeks)
|6-8 months(25-30 weeks)
I’ve added more important information below to help you decide between turkey types and some differences in their meat and time it takes to becoming mature birds.
How Long Does It Take To Raise A Turkey to Butcher Age?
16-20 weeks is the norm for harvesting broad-breasted domestic turkeys, with 18 weeks being the prime time. However, you can get away with 12 weeks, if you just want a 12-14 pound turkey. Heritage turkeys take 25-30 weeks to before they will be ready to be processed for eating.
The time it takes to raise a turkey to a good, ripe age will depend on several factors:
- What species and type of turkey you’re raising?
- How big you want the turkey to be
- How you want your turkey to taste
There’s a limit to how long you want your turkeys to live if you intend to eat them. The broad-breasted domestic turkeys, in particular, will keep growing until you process them. If you wait until they are fully matured, you will never be able to fit them in your roaster or your oven unless you cut them in half. That wouldn’t be any good because you would expose the meat and end up with a dry turkey for next Thanksgiving.
Thanks to the fact that broad-breasted domestic turkeys were specifically bred to be meat birds, they grow considerably faster than other turkeys. This is good news for you because it means you don’t have to wait as long to harvest them.
It’s not recommended to harvest heritage turkeys at 12 weeks due to the fact their immune systems haven’t fully developed, allowing you to harvest a healthy turkey. Lastly, heritage turkeys, which will naturally take longer because they weren’t developed with the specific purpose to be farmed, can take up to twice the amount of time as a broad breast turkey.
What’s Different Between Raising Domestic Turkeys And Heritage Turkeys?
If you are debating with yourself about which kind of turkey to raise, it would be helpful to know if you have to raise them differently.
The first notable difference is that heritage turkeys will require more food. Their meat is much richer, richer in nutrients, and much more flavorful than domestic turkey, but since they take double the amount of time to mature, you’ll need more feed.
The second major difference is that heritage breeds do not like to tolerate small spaces like domestic breeds can. Heritage breeds are turkeys that have been able to live out in the wild. They’re half-wild and are used to wide, open spaces without boundaries. If you are considering getting heritage breeds like the black turkey or bourbon red, make sure you have at least an acre for them.
You’ll usually have to really look for the eggs of heritage turkeys because the hens prefer to have secret nests in order to protect their young. They are also fiercely defensive while they brood, so armor up. The males of heritage breeds are also extremely territorial, so if you want males and females, make absolutely certain there are enough for each male so that they don’t feel the need to fight for their mating rights.
What Tools and Equipment Do You Need To Raise Turkeys?
- Pre-made turkey runs or the materials for one
- Turkey feed
- Additional grit
- Water dish
- A brooder/heat plate
- Meat freezer
A few items on this list are fairly straightforward. Your turkeys will need food and water and all poultry need grit to assist their digestion. Get more details on why chickens need to eat grit in my recent post. There are great feeding and watering methods that are simple and effective like gravity feed PVC feed kits that turn any bucket or pail into an automatic feeder for your turkeys and chickens.
A brooder and height adjustable warming plate gives you the option to raise chicks or Poults. A brooder warming plate mimics the warmth and protection of a mother bird and is much safer and efficient than using a heat lamp.
What To Know Before Raising Turkeys?
Whether you are considering raising turkeys from poults, A.K.A. babies, there are a few considerations to keep in mind before you get started.
- Find out if raising turkeys is legal in your area
- Determine if you have the time and money
- Select a location for the turkey to live
Before purchasing turkeys, you have to find out the specific laws for raising different poultry or breeds in your particular municipality. Nothing is worse than taking months to prepare the perfect homestead only to discover you aren’t allowed to have one.
Turkey poults typically cost between $6-$12 per poult while feed bags cost between $15-$20 per 50lb bag. That’s not bad, especially if you only want 3 or 4 turkeys.
Next, decide where you are going to raise your turkeys and where will you put your brooder, if you’re starting with poults. Are you going to have a confined run? Let them go free-range all across your property? Or are you going to enclose them in a pasture?
There are definitely pros and cons to each of these options, and the answer is usually turning your backyard into a chicken run because most of us don’t actually have acres or a pasture to let the turkeys roam.
Letting your turkeys enjoy roaming the confines of a pasture has the best of both worlds: it keeps your turkeys safer than if they were free-range, but gives them much more space than a backyard. It’s even great foraging grounds for your turkeys so that you can save on feed.
Is It Hard To Raise Turkeys?
It isn’t especially difficult to raise turkeys, but it’s a bit different from raising chickens. Still, you’ll be happy to hear that turkeys are in fact one of the easiest farm animals to raise, even more so than chickens or ducks. That’s because turkeys are more disease resistant, giving you healthy meat more consistently, and don’t smell like ducks do.
You don’t even need a special feed for turkeys since they can eat whatever you feed your chickens if you’ve got them. Poultry just has the same needs. Get more information on what to feed your birds in my recent article.
Before getting turkeys, you should make sure you want to raise them. Can you live with an animal you can’t stand for nearly a year? If possible get some first hand experience with someone else’s turkeys before you get your own to start getting a feel for what to do and get some expert advice from the farmer. That will make your experience even smoother!
Preparing for your new flock as much as possible is naturally the easiest way to transfer yourself into homesteading and is just a responsible thing to do for your turkeys. After all, a happy bird is a tasty bird!