Friday, April 3, 2009

Raising Turkeys for Fun and Profit: Basic Facts and Terminology

The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of raising turkeys is Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Many folks raise turkeys for eating, but many also just enjoy having them around the farm to keep as pets. Others still, may do both; raising some for eating and others as pets.

Raising turkeys is a good side-line business for small farmers. Most farmers look for "recession buster" residual incomes during economic times like those today. Turkeys may be rotated through farming cycles like other cash crops. All you need are a few acres available to rotate pastured turkeys on and you're in business. Raising turkeys on a small farm is fun and profitable if done correctly.

It's a good idea to know the terminologies and a good knowledge bank of facts about raising turkeys before setting out to raise them. There are several great resources available on the market today. Educate yourself so you don't get confused or lost when involved in conversations or while researching related materials.

Some Basic Facts About Raising Turkeys

There are many different breeds of turkeys, but only two varieties: domestic and wild. An understanding of their differences and similarities is useful to know:

* Obviously, wild turkeys live and breed in the wild; although some are kept as pets as permitted by law.

* It is said they are more intelligent than their domestic counterparts. Wild turkeys also have the ability to fly.

* The domestic turkey is commercially raised for food

* Domestic turkeys cannot fly.

* The two varieties are physically different. Domestics being much larger than wild turkeys.

* Wild turkeys have brown tips on their tails, domestic breeds are white.

* Wild turkeys are much faster than domestic breeds. They can run up to 35 mph, while domestic turkeys are more docile and slow moving.

* Wild Turkeys have better hearing and eyesight than their domestic relatives.

* Only male turkeys gobble, females make clucking sounds.

* Only males can fan their tail feathers, females do not have this ability.

The white, broad-breasted breed of turkey is what commercial turkey producers' raise today. These birds were introduced into commercial production in the late 1950’s. By the end of the next decade, they were the most popular breed tended commercially.

Many factors affect the cost associated with raising turkeys. These include:

* Buildings

* Equipment

* Labor

* Feed costs

* Interest on loans

Feed amounts to almost two thirds of the cost of raising turkeys. Geographic location of the operation, amount of automation and size of the farm are all contributing factors to the costs of raising turkeys.

Basic Terms Associated With Raising Turkeys

* Tom: mature male turkey of breeding age

* Hen: mature female turkey of breeding age

* Poult: young turkey yet to reach maturity

* Snood or Dew bill: sometimes called the waddle, this fleshy mass hangs near the base of the beck

* Caruncles: fleshy protuberance on the crown and neck. It is usually pink or red and appears at about five weeks of age

* Dewlap: large, dropping flap skin seen immediately below the chin

* Bread: long, course blotch of hairs attached to the upper chest region (primarily on adult males)

* Strut: ritualistic mating posturing performed by male turkey when "in strut" or breeding season

* Shooting the red: development of the caruncles; considered by many as the most difficult time in young turkey's life

* Debeaking: debeaking is done traditionally at one-day old to 3-5 weeks of age. The beak is clipped off about half between the nostrils and the tip of the beak. Poults are debeaked to control feather picking and cannibalism.

* Desnooding: to prevent head injuries from picking and fighting, the snood or dewbill is removed. Performed from day one to about three weeks of age

* Detoeing or toe clipping: done at day old to prevent weapons for fighting later in life. The tip of the toe is removed just inside of the outer most toe pad; to include the entire toenail.

Of course, this is just an introduction to all you must know to begin successfully raising turkeys on your homestead. You can get more useful information from agricultural extension offices in many states. There are also a few good resource books on the market that will get you started out on the right foot. Just try not to eat too much come Thanksgiving, it's so hard to get off in the New Year. Bon apatite.


  1. Cool terms list... that clears up some of the confusion. any links to turkey resources like raising deseases breeding etc. I am a beginning Turkey farmer and wish to breed my own turkeys. I currently have one Tom and 4 Hens of the Bronze breed. They look alot like wild turkeys but these are very cals and domesticated. Thanks for the Blog. Dave Maynard

  2. I definitely need more information about raising turkeys. My family and I have some chickens for eggs but we want to add turkeys for eating throughout the year.

  3. Because they are friendly turkeys are easy to befriend, that makes them hard to butcher ...
    Don't let your kids around them, don't name them, feed them with your eyes closed if you are subject to sympathy, or the cute little buggers will capture your heart strings...enjoy..

  4. This morning I went out and to my horror, I discovered that A large tom turkey of mine had all but tore a hen all apart with his spurs. Her insides were comming out, and her back was all mangled. She was still alive, and I had to put her down. Has anyone ever experianced this and what should I do? I'm horrified.