Turkeys are awesome. They are charming and personable. I love having turkeys. As I’ve said before, Hank is one of my favorite pets. Yes, we have turkeys for pets. Duke, the she that we thought was a he, is the more vocal of the bunch and also the most dominant. She is also prone to shenanigans. Tater is the most submissive and shy one. She hangs back in the crowd.
But having three pet turkeys is completely different than raising additional turkeys for meat. They lose their charming tendencies. They fight relentlessly with each other regardless of how much space they have – and here they have a lot of space. The older ones particularly enjoy picking on the smaller ones so we had to separate them into smaller flocks to keep everyone safe. The “tots” are living with Hank, Duke and Tater because they are the bigger troublemakers. Hank, being the dominant male, seems to have a calming influence on them and keeps them from fighting excessively with each other. Duke’s offspring live with our chickens since they are smaller. Mr. Jenkins, our rooster, is larger than they are so he easily keeps them in line.
There is also the whole lot more maintenance involved. Wing clipping, a totally painless procedure involving trimming feathers (similar to trimming your fingernails) is a regular occurrence. Because they are still growing, so are their feathers. This means we have to clip their wings about every 10 days. With the adult birds (except for Hank who is too big to fly so he gets to keep his feathers intact) you only need to clip once a year, which is a lot handier since they are such large, powerful animals. I don’t even know how many shirts of mine they have destroyed with their feet from kicking me when I pick them up.
Surprisingly though they don’t eat much feed. This could be because they are good foragers, while also being a lot easier on the landscape compared to chickens. While they love to give themselves a good dust bath they aren’t prone to scratching like chickens. And while chickens will continue to eat a plant down to a nub, turkeys are more like drive-by eaters. A nibble from this plant and they move on to the next. Well, except for grapes. They nearly killed our grape vines. And they really love blackberries, but just the fruit.
Now just to be clear, the turkeys we have are not the big Butterball turkeys (which were just exposed by Mercy for Animals as being HEAVILY abused – Warning: Graphic) you get at the store. They don’t grow so fast they have leg, joint and heart problems and they don’t grow so big that they can’t naturally mate. No, what we have are heritage breed turkeys. They are smaller, don’t have gigantic breasts and have kept their natural behaviors, which includes being a lot more active, hence the shenanigans. We also gave quite a few away to be raised by friends so we had substantially less that what actually hatched.
Will we continue raising turkeys for meat? Yes, but we will only be breeding one of our hens next year instead of both so we have fewer to deal with.