Turkeys are large impressive creatures and are fascinating to have around. Before you get some make sure you are allowed to keep them. Check your deeds and make sure there is nothing there to exclude you keeping livestock. Even a pet turkey is looked upon as livestock by the local authorities. Think about your neighbours. Stag turkeys cry of "gobble gobble" in reaction to any sound and hen turkeys "peep peep" make quite a noise. Therefore it would be courteous to consult them before actually purchasing any birds. It will save on a potentially costly neighbourly dispute.
Any poultry needs to be looked after 365 days a year; finding help for holiday cover may be a problem if they have to look after the turkeys as well. Its a little different than feeding the cat or dog. Do not leave it to the last minute to arrange turkey care in case it is difficult to find. Under The Animal Welfare Act it is your responsibility to care for their welfare.
Why do you want to keep turkeys? If you are intending to raise turkeys for the table especially Christmas dinner then working out how they will be dispatched, this should be resolved before you even buy any. It is against the law for anyone to kill a turkey unless they have been trained to do so by attending a course or being shown by a suitably experienced person. You may find your local butcher will offer this service (kill, pluck and gut about £8 (2009)) But you may only get this November as they are busy with there own turkeys December.
About six turkeys can be housed in an adapted good quality 8ft x 6ft garden shed. We cut the door in two make the bottom part a ramp and the top a stable door. This is ideal for overnight and shelter but not for rearing them in. It needs a ventilation area to be made near the roof, covered with small mesh wire. You need a perch, use a 3 inch round pole placed about 2 ½ ft off the ground . Turkeys are not too bright so it is essential that they are safely housed at night to avoid becomming a meal for foxes. You need to be one step ahead of them come dusk because if you have left it too late they will have flown up and perched on the roof or high up on some other fence or building (mainly the younger turkeys). Do not leave them there, they will be affected by severe weather in the winter and light mornings in the summer will mean an early breakfast for the fox.
Depending on where you live you may have to fence an area for the birds. 6ft high wire is recommended, but we use 3-4 ft chicken mesh topped with fruit netting but it is still possible for hen turkeys especially to fly over. If they have enough room and enough to interest them they should be well behaved
The 8 x 6 housing also applies to pet turkeys or turkeys kept for showing, if you have access to a large shed or barn it is a good idea to house the birds during the winter. Turkeys need to be kept clean, dust-free shavings make a good litter. The cleaner they are kept the healthier they are likely to stay. Stale faeces allow bacteria to build up and turkeys will then succumb to respiratory and fungal diseases.
Blackhead disease is the main worry for turkey keepers. This is caused by a protozoan worm that chickens can carry but turkeys, pheasants and peafowl suffer from. If you have kept poultry on the land before or if the turkeys are to be near or with other forms of poultry then worm everything on a regular basis; every six weeks, which then interferes with the life cycle of the Heterakis worm, which causes severe damage to the liver and is usually fatal. Use Flubenvet which has a pack brought out especially for the smaller poultry keeper. Each pack is sufficient to treat up to 20 birds at a time and is available from veterinary practices, licensed agricultural merchants or on-line veterinary pharmacies.
Turkey eggs are wonderful to bake with but you can fry or make scrambled egg with them to. If you want to hatch them they take 28 days to incubate. This can be done either in an incubator or under a broody hen or broody turkey. Turkeys make good mothers but they must be put in a quiet, safe, isolated area and must not be disturbed by other birds around. During natural incubation the hen turkey needs to be taken off the nest once a day for a wheat feed, drink and to empty herself. You will have to supervise her or she will run back to the nest at the earliest oppurtunity. If you use an incubator, once hatched, dry the poults ( leave in the incubator 6-12 hours) they then need to be moved to a secure and draught free area with a heat lamp. Young turkeys will need heat for around six weeks, depending on the time of the year and weather conditions.
Feeding turkeys correctly is vitally important, they grow into big boned birds and need a higher protein ratio than chickens. Turkey starter crumbs contain 26-27% protein, which is higher than chick crumbs. Chick crumbs should NOT be given, some contain coccidiostats that are harmful to poults and its too low in protein. A little chopped up hard boiled egg mixed in with the crumbs will soon get turkey poults eating. Dip a poult's beak into the drinking water to show it where to drink and how. Around 4-5 weeks the poults can be moved onto either turkey rearer pellets or turkey grower pellets. The rearer pellets are slightly lower in protein than the starter crumbs and the grower pellets contain 21% protein which is slightly less than rearer. From 9 weeks to adult the poults remain on turkey grower pellets. Treats for turkeys include apples, plums, sweetcorn, sunflower seeds and cabbages. They will love to graze on grass and will chase insects and eat berries, so beware that there are no poisonous plants or berries in the area where they will be living. Turkeys destined for the table are put on turkey finisher pellets between 12-16 weeks but if they are being kept for exhibition, conservation, breeding or as pets then a turkey breeder pellet is given. Wheat is not given until the birds are 12 weeks old and then a little wheat is fed in the afternoon. Grit is vitally important and a little is given on a weekly basis either separately or with the feed from young poults onwards. Chick grit then mixed poultry grit is given but never oyster shell alone as this can become compacted in the crop.