Raising Turkey Poults in a Healthy Brooder Environment
Keeping Turkeys is Rewarding, Especially When You Start with Poults
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Raising turkeys is enjoyable and a wise decision for meat purposes. But keep in mind, raising poults is not the same as raising chicks or ducklings. They are much more delicate than other poultry species. Here are a few tips and tricks for successfully raising poults to maturity.
Raising Turkey Poults with Chicks
Add a chicken chick or two to your order when purchasing turkey poults. To protect your young flock’s health, choose chicks that have never touched the earth’s surface, such as from a hatchery or feed store, to minimize the potential of blackhead disease. Read on to learn more about blackhead disease and how it can affect a flock of turkeys.
I’ll be quite frank; turkey poults are not the smartest of the bunch. Chicken chicks have an instinct to survive and seek food, heat, and water without being guided. Poults need constant reminders where to find those. Without the incorporation of chicks, you become the caretaker and responsible for keeping the poults alive.
Within a few days, the poults will be more independent and can care for themselves. Chicks can then be removed from the brooder and raised separately or remain with the poults until ready to move into their separate coops.
To ensure poults remain close to heat, water, and food, restrict them to a smaller brooder space for a few days. A rafter of young turkeys can become confused in a large space. This can cause them to starve or catch a chill.
To minimize workload, construct a brooder that will accommodate the growth of the young flock. Poults often remain in a brooder until they are fully feathered, roughly six to eight weeks of life, potentially longer depending on the weather. During the time in the brooder, it is imperative to provide adequate space to ensure livability without hindering the growth of the birds. This requires a minimum of two square feet per bird; however, three to four square feet guarantee the birds will not be overcrowded and allows them to stretch their wings comfortably.
There are multiple options for brooder bedding, with pine shavings as the most common. Straw is also a favorite among poultry keepers and is available chopped (designed for brooders) or in bales. Other options include peanut hulls, chopped cardboard, and crushed corn cobs. Refrain from using shaved cedar in bedding; the oils are drying and can harm the young birds.
Add three to four inches of bedding and replace it each time you clean the brooder. This amount allows the birds to dust bathe without reaching the brooder floor and cushions their landing if roosting bars are added. Spot clean the brooder daily, especially where the feed, water, and heat source are located. Deep cleaning a brooder can be reserved weekly or as needed. Keep in mind, an extremely dirty brooder runs the risk of respiratory issues and is a breeding ground for coccidiosis. A brooder should never have an ammonia smell permeating from the bedding.
Feel free to compost the bedding. How long it will take to decompose depends on material used.
Brooder heat is necessary for the first four to six weeks of life. This time will vary based on where you reside. A good rule of thumb is that, once a bird is fully feathered, a heat source is no longer needed. Two available heat sources include an infrared bulb or a heating plate designed for brooders. Both work well; however, a heating plate is a safer option, and it resembles a broody hen’s body temperature. A heating plate temperature never has to be regulated; simply adjust the legs’ height as the poults grow. This allows them to come and go from under the heat source comfortably.
When using an infrared bulb, the temperature under the bulb must maintain 95 degrees F for the first week. After that, raise the bulb, lowering the temperature by five degrees each week. Watch your daily to ensure the temperature within the brooder is right:
- Poults huddled tightly together indicate the brooder is not hot enough.
- Birds resting away from the heat beam indicate the temperature within the brooder is too hot.
- Poults resting comfortably under the lamp indicate the heat within the brooder is perfect.
For safety reasons, secure the lamp to prevent it from being knocked down. Infrared heat lamps are the main cause of coop fires.
Young turkeys need a high protein feed to thrive and grow efficiently. Turkey poults require the most protein during the first eight weeks of life, making a whole grain feed (28% protein) the best option. However, a broiler chicken feed consisting of 23-24% protein is efficient. Between nine and 24 weeks, you can decrease to 18-20% protein or offer a fermented feed.
Blackhead Disease and Raising Turkeys with Chickens
Many people house turkeys separate from other poultry due to their size and fear the birds may contract blackhead disease. This disease is common in chickens and turkeys but often leads to death when a turkey contracts it. There is no way to eradicate the disease, but with good biosecurity practices, you minimize the risk of turkeys contracting it.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Before moving the poults from the brooder to a coop, make sure you research raising adult turkeys. We have raised turkeys for five years and have established a system that works well for our homestead. Adult turkeys are housed in their own coop; however, the birds are fed and free-range in a community setting.
Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.