Backyard Poultry

What Do Turkeys Eat? Tips for Raising Turkeys

Starting a Flock : Considering Chickens

Starting a Flock : Environment

Starting a Flock : Chick Nutrition

Starting a Flock : Caring for Chicks

Flock Management : Flock Health

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

If you have chickens, you already know the basics of caring for poultry. Are you looking to take your backyard flock to the next level by raising turkeys?

Turkeys can make a fun backyard addition to provide your family with unique companionship, great life lessons, and nutritious meat and eggs. Raising turkeys is a bit more work than backyard chickens, especially from the start. However, you’ll likely notice fun, friendly personalities and exceptionally quick growth.

Here are a few considerations before raising turkeys: 

Raising baby turkeys

The road to a mature tom (male turkey) or hen (female turkey) begins with raising baby turkeys, or turkey poults. Temperature and brooder setup for raising poults is similar to baby chicks. One big difference is poults need to be warmer than baby chicks during the first week to 10 days. Poults can’t regulate their body temperature very well during this period, so set your brooder at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week. Drop the temperature by five degrees each week until the birds are 6 weeks old. Let your poults’ behavior help guide the temperature and adjust it accordingly – they’ll crowd together if cold and pant or extend their wings if too hot.
Turkey poults require more protein in their starter-grower feed than baby chicks. We created Purina® Game Bird & Turkey Starter feed with a 30 percent protein formula to address the high-protein needs of your poults, plus all the nutrients they require for optimal growth and development.
Ensure young birds know the location of their feed and water, and always have fresh feed and water available. If your poults go without water, slowly reintroduce it so they don’t overindulge. When they are rehydrated, give them free access to water again.
Once poults are 6 weeks old, they can be transitioned from brooder to coop. Poults grow quickly after leaving the brooder, often becoming dominant birds in a mixed flock. 

Raising adult turkeys 

Adult turkeys thrive in spacious outdoor areas as a group of at least three to six birds. Some backyard flock raisers allow their turkeys to free-range with a predator-proof fenced area for nighttime protection.
Because of their size, turkeys need more space than other backyard poultry. Coop space recommendations per turkey depend on age:
  • 0 to 8 weeks: 2 to 2.5 square feet
  • 8 to 16 weeks: 3 to 4 square feet
  • 16 to 20 weeks: 5 to 8 square feet
  • 20 weeks to market weight: 6 to 10 square feet
For free-ranging turkey flocks, you’ll need a considerable amount of outdoor space. It is recommended to have one-half acre for every 12 adult birds. 

Choosing turkey breeds 

Both toms and hens can be raised for meat, with the main difference being bird size. One of your first choices will be whether to raise traditional or heritage turkey breeds.
Traditional turkey breeds are known for fast growth and high production. Broad Breasted White or Bronze turkeys can grow between 30 pounds (females) and 50 pounds (males) in just five months. Both breeds are raised commercially.
Many people choose to raise heritage turkey breeds to help preserve genetic diversity and raise the types of animals their grandparents and past generations raised.  Heritage breed turkeys are defined by their historical origins and tend to be smaller in size. Breeds like the Royal Palm, Bourbon Red or Narragansett turkey provide backyard flocks with a pop of color and beautiful plumage.
For a turkey to be considered a heritage breed, it must meet three criteria as outlined by The Livestock Conservancy:1
  1. Toms and hens must mate naturally to preserve the genetic family tree.
  2. The heritage turkey should have a long, productive lifespan in the outdoors. Heritage hens are generally productive for 5-7 years and toms for 3-5 years.
  3. Heritage turkeys should have a slower growth rate to develop a strong skeleton before building muscle mass. It usually takes seven months for them to reach their mature weight of 15 to 25 pounds. 

What do turkeys eat?

 Young turkeys need a high-protein diet like Purina® Game Bird & Turkey Starter feed from birth to 8 weeks old, while your chicks need a chick starter feed, like Purina® Start & Grow® feed, from birth to 18 weeks old or so.

At 8 weeks old, switch your poults to Purina® Game Bird Flight Conditioner or Purina® Flock Raiser® feed until they reach market weight. These feed options are lower in protein but have more caloric energy to maintain body size and continued growth.
Since most turkeys are raised as meat birds, many people wonder, “Do turkeys lay eggs?” The short answer is “yes!” Turkey eggs are known to be just as nutritious as chicken eggs with a strong shell and larger yolk. Hens lay an average of two eggs per week compared to the almost daily egg of a chicken.
If you are raising turkeys for eggs, calcium becomes the key nutrient they need to stay healthy while laying eggs. If females can be fed separately, feed them Purina® Game Bird Layer feed beginning at 30 weeks of age until the end of laying season. If you are raising males and females together, you can continue to feed them all their current feed but provide an additional feeder with Purina® Oyster Shell to provide a source of calcium for the laying hens.
Once laying season has ended, switch females back to Purina® Game Bird Flight Conditioner or Purina® Flock Raiser® feeds. 

Raising turkeys with chickens

Raising turkeys with chickens can be a delicate topic. Some enthusiasts integrate the two species well while others have noted disease issues. Be sure to research comingling in advance and always follow a bird integration plan.
Ready to start raising turkeys? Check in with your local Purina® retailer for tips on buying turkey poults and picking up the feed they’ll need.  

1 “Definition of a heritage turkey” The Livestock  Conservancy. 3 November 2017.