Care for baby turkeys PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Written by Cirrus Hill Farm, Meaford Ontario   



Starting baby Beltsville Small White turkeys:

Before you take delivery of your baby turkeys, a.k.a. poults, you should have a plan, and the following materials on hand for the initial brooding period. The basics are the same for all artificially hatched babies.

20% un-medicated waterfowl starter feed

"chick" grit

chick waterer and feeder

A big box.

This could be card board or a large plastic tub, or wooden crate with a wire bottom, each has its advantages. Or if you have a secure barn, garage or coop with electricity, a round enclosure of cardboard, 18" tall and 4' around will confine the babies to the area warmed by the brooder lamp right on the floor. Corrugated can be bought for this, but pasted together cardboard boxes can work better if you leave some flaps on for support. Fashion it to avoid square corners, make it a rounded shape.

A "brooder" heat lamp. Choose bulb wattage proportional to size of brooder box, number of poults and ambient temperatures, an ordinary incandescent lamp will do for warmth in a small brooder indoors, if safely installed.

A thermometer for air temperature

Bounty paper towels

Planer shavings, straw or hay for bedding under the paper towel layer, not necessary if you are brooding in the house in a plastic tub or a cardboard box protected with a waterproof layer to start.

Screen cover for the box for turkeys or heritage chickens in week 2

Predator management plan (household pets indoors, and rats, weasels and coons in the barn)

You are now a mother, with big shoes to fill, because turkey Moms do everything for their babies at first. They ensure that each individual baby knows where to drink and what to eat, and they keep them warm and secure.

If you are not doing your job to their liking, your poults will call to you, chirping anxiously if they are too cool or fall out of their brooder, or are in some other trouble. Listen to them. A quiet, but active baby is happy. You're a good Mom.

If you do not personally see them eat and drink, they may not learn and may literally starve in the first week. I ensure poults have found food and water and mark them as they do, before sending them out, but if you have hatched them, it's your first job. Once they are over this initial hurdle, there is no stopping the little devils, and they will charm your socks off, perch on your fingers, eat from your hands... go ahead and play with your turkeys. Don't feel silly, you're bonding. :)

Set up your brooder box with large, planer shavings or straw or hay covered by paper towels. I like "Bounty" for this job because it is thick and grippy underfoot, and you can just roll it up and replace it when soiled and compost it. No newspapers or sawdust. You can also use a "Sterilite" translucent type storage tub for up to 12 for the first week or so, nice and tidy and really needs no other bedding, but they will outgrow it quickly. Small commercial feeders and waterers meant for chicks will do, or you can use ramekins or small flat-bottomed crockery. Scatter some feed and grit on the paper toweling as well as in the feeder, they will find this first. A few highly reflective marbles in the water will draw their attention.

Babies need mother's warmth. You will need at least a small heat lamp and protection from chilling drafts. They should have about 90 degrees initially on average. If they are peeping, they are cold. If you are new to this and have only a few poults, I suggest you keep them in a warm room indoors, even a bathroom with a space heater until you are confident that your heat lamp and location are good, and you understand the basics of baby turkey communication. A larger group of poults will help to keep each other warm, so are more resistant to chilling. As they grow, they will be happy with lower temperatures over all, and will seek the brooder lamp if they feel cold. Just listen to them.

By 10 days they will be flying out of your box, so if you didn't need a screen top to keep the cat out, you do now to keep the poults in. They like to have a perch, and greenery, grass, clover, dandelions, lettuce or kale to pick at. From this point, you just keep a clean, warm little home for them, however works for you, until they reach the point where you are ready to move them on to the coop, barn or pasture. This could be 2-6 or more weeks, depending on your accommodations. When they are able to handle larger particles, about 4-6 weeks, I switch feed to un-medicated 18% waterfowl grower.

You now need to decide on your management philosophy, if you haven't by now. You can confine them completely in an adequately large structure, and bring them all of their food and carry away a lot of compost. This is called "intensive management".

You can fence them into an open enclosure with a secure night house, in one spot or you can drag the structures and fencing around bringing them to the pasture food resources. You may call this "pasture rearing" or "extensive management" and in this case you might consider clipping one wing and/or keeping roosts away from your perimeter fence to limit them from gliding out.

Or to be completely politically correct, you can go all the way and allow them to "free range" at complete liberty. If you choose the last option and have a large acreage, set them up far away from your house. Predator control will be your challenge, and every property is different. If you choose "free range" read on:



This is the fine print:

If you bonded and fell in love with them as babies, you now have pets and you are hopelessly screwed. They will be part of everything you do, and they will "do" everywhere. If you try to hide, they will find you. They will dance, sing and recite epic ballads for you. They will try to stow away in the trunk of your car, peer forlornly at you through the windows until you come out to play, and will enjoy nothing more than accompanying you as you do your chores. Grandchildren should love you like this. They will accost all visitors on arrival, and generally make your home, their home, and do their unwitting best to keep it "visitor free". If you keep them past puberty, they will find your ample tush, upended in the garden, the most appealing vision of female pulchritude since their first go with the propane tank. You will dine out on your comical turkey stories for years. You will get to know the guys at the car wash really well. Do this with more than a couple of turkeys only if you really prefer the company of birds to people, and your partner conveniently believes he is St. Francis of Assisi. You will need to have someone else take them to be processed. That may be your partner, finally cured of both his delusions of beatitude, and his remaining affection for you. Plan to stay home and polish the liquor cabinet that day.