Heritage turkeys have a range of breeds that are recognized by the American Poultry Association. Heritage turkeys are more closely related to wild turkeys, and claims are that they are descendents of the birds found naturally in our country. There are several recognized breeds that are common, such as the Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Narragansett, as well as ones that are less common, Blue Slate, Royal Palm. We raise many of these standard breeds, but we also let them interbreed, making a naturally bred turkey that does not meet the visual standards of the above mentioned breeds.
Broad Breasted Turkeys
Broad Breasted turkeys are what most folks envision for their Thanksgiving dinner. A large turkey, with a big, rounded breast that looks fabulous on your dinner table. These breeds of turkey (they come in white and bronze) are a hybrid breed that can not naturally reproduce. Their bodies actually grow 2 breast muscles on each side of their breast, and due to the girth of this muscle development, their reproductive components do not physically fit together to allow natural fertilization.
Due to the inability of broad breasted turkeys to naturally reproduce, we do purchase these chicks from hatcheries that specialize in breeding these birds. The heritage breeds, we can breed on our own, and often do. It depends on the ability of the ladies to lay eggs, and lay them where they are safe. Turkeys have a natural drive to go off into the woods to lay their eggs. Since we have no forests near our farm, they sometimes substitute large tufts of cheat grass in our neighbor's field, which leaves them and their eggs vulnerable to predators. If our turkey hens stay home and lay eggs in their coop, we can successfully hatch our own.
My incubator can fit 100 or more turkey eggs at a time. It takes 28 days to hatch a turkey poult. Hatching turkeys is a little more difficult than hatching a chick, as the humidity and thickness of the shell make a little more difficult for the poults to successfully pip and hatch from their shell. Turkey poults are put into brooder boxes inside the house, until they are strong enough to go to the big brooder in the barn.
Growth and Feeding
When baby poults are in the brooder, they have access to fresh water and grain. They are fed a special crumble grain that is small enough for them to feed on and digest, and gives them a higher level of protein, so that it can support growth.
When they are big enough to go outside, they are then able to access grass and bugs on the ground, and can forage for these things as they like. To ensure the right nutrition and protein, all birds have access to a growth crumble until they are at least 6 months old. Turkeys are also given a special finisher feed to help them grow, and maintain proper bone and joint support as they get older. Our turkeys are all hormone-free, and none of them are ever fed medicated feed. Our birds are also antibiotic-free. We only feed medicine if a bird is ill. We have not had any illnesses on the farm since 2013, so we are again completely antibiotic free. Our birds free range in our gardens, pasture and orchard, and we never spray any chemicals anywhere on our land, so they are not exposed to pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.
We feed 28% Game Bird feed to our turkeys and quails, and baby chicks
We feed a 20% layer pellet to adult birds.
A Few Turkey Statistics
In 2016, we successfully hatched 376 of our own mixed heritage breed turkeys!
Heritage breed turkeys tend to weigh, after processing, about 6-10 pounds for hens, and 10-18 pounds for toms.
Mature Broad Breasted turkeys can weigh from 15 to over 40 pounds!
In 2016, we sold 135 Thanksgiving turkeys to our customers!
Turkeys prefer to sleep in trees, and don't want to live in a coop. Last year, our flock of breeding turkeys spent all winter in a tree, even in snow and wind!