Thursday, October 15, 2015

How We Do Turkeys

I am writing today from a coffee shop in Bloomfield, IA. We are marking the end of our poultry production season for 2015. I thought today I would go into some detail about how we raise our turkeys.

We started our turkey pullets (chicks) back in late April by ordering them from the hatchery. We use Schlecht Hatchery out of Miles, IA (North of Clinton, IA). They have always given us good birds and they are a small family business that we want to support. Our pullets arrived in mid-June. Like almost all domestic poultry, they spend their early growth period in the brooder. The brooder is there to protect them from drafts, keep them warm, and keep them safe from predators. Our current brooder is simply a five-foot round metal stock tank that has a few small holes in the bottom and no longer holds water. The round tank is nice because it does not have any corners for the chicks to crowd in and smother each other. It can also be drug out of the building and dumped onto the compost mound and left to sterilize in the sun. We have a lid made of wood and hardware cloth as well as a few heat lamps. We do not use medicated feed. All of our feed is GMO-free. The only supplement we give them is some gatorade in their water for the first day. This helps the chicks get over dehydration from shipping.

Turkeys in The Brooder

The turkeys spend about five to six weeks in the brooder. This gives them time to develop feathers, and become much more durable. This early period is often the most challenging. I am happy to come out of this period with mortality rates of 10% or less. We usually schedule our fall locker run around this time, because the turkeys seldom have significant complications after this period of time. We often supplement their feed with beef liver, and fruit clippings.  From the brooder, the turkeys move outside to the chicken tractors, floor-less pens that get moved frequently. Our pens are ten by twelve foot and are moved every morning. 

Turkeys in the Chicken Tractor

The Turkeys will spend another four to five weeks in the chicken tractor. They will spend enough time in the chicken tractor to get large enough that aerial predators (hawks or owls) are no longer a concern.  We use short raccoon electric fence from Premier One Supplies to keep ground predators (raccoons, opossums, weasels,foxes,  and some dogs and cats) away from the pen.

Turkeys Ranging

From the chicken tractor, the turkeys will move to our ranging system. They will have a sizable area to move around in surrounded by Premier One's electric poultry fence. I am not a huge fan of poultry fence, as it is very saggy and requires a lot of additional posts to hold up. The turkeys will roost at night on a portable wood structure with a tarp strung out over their head. The roost keeps them off the ground (safer from ground predators), and helps to huddle them together so they conserve body heat at night. The tarp primarily keeps them dry, but can also reduce drafts. A cold very wet turkeys no matter how larger it is will struggle with hypothermia and possibly die.
We try to move the whole set-up about every week.

Turkeys Roosting at Night

Turkeys will spend six to eight weeks ranging. When it is all done, we will come by after dark and collect them one or two at a time and load them into the trailer. A piece of advice, always load poultry into trailers at night. They are more docile and much less mobil. From there, it is a very early morning trip out to the locker outside of Drakesville, IA. 

Poultry Locker

Last Days on Pasture

Freeman and Sara own Valley View Poultry Processing. I was beating down the door for them to open  (I think it was 2011) and I have been going there ever since. They are Amish and part of a very active and lovely rural community. Freeman gives me grief because I like to schedule Friday locker trips so I can visit the local Amish run bakeries. For smoked turkeys, we take birds up to Story City Locker. The nice thing about working with Ty and Bobbie in Story City is that I can now sell a smoked turkey that is not cured, so it is free of sodium nitrates and nitrites.

That is our turkeys production in a nutshell. We don't like to sell "fresh" birds for Thanksgiving, because it requires us raise five weeks later into the fall. That is a period of very cold nights, increasingly shorter days, and decreasing grass growth. All of these are conditions that make it harder to raise the turkeys and in my opinion reduce the birds quality.

Starting the last week in October, we will have turkeys available to sell. So please get in touch with us through the website.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ryan,
    I just found your blog and I love it. I actually first found a post from 2009 while I was searching for some information about Cobett waterers (how do you like it after a few years, by the way). That post really resonated with me, since it was mostly about the fall projects you were hoping to get done before your daughter was born, and that's exactly where I am this fall. Fence to build, corral to build, frost free water to run, and house to fix. I'll definitely check back at the blog. Thanks for sharing.
    Square Roots Farm