If you're starting your turkey flock with day-old poults, you are probably wondering how to make sure they grow into healthy, happy adult turkeys. With some preparation and care, your baby turkeys will thrive.
Set Everything Up
Just like for baby chicks, you'll need to set up a brooder for your turkey poults. A turkey poult brooder is just the same as one for baby chickens, so you can use these resources to design your brooder. The key is to have everything set up and warmed to 95 to 98 degrees before your poults arrive. Also similar to baby chicks, the poults will huddle under the lap if they're too cold, or stay at the edges of the heat source if they're too hot. So while a thermometer can be a helpful guide to temperature, especially before the poults arrive, use their behavior as your guide.
You will raise the heat lamp a few inches each week (and roughly 5 degrees lower) until the temperature is the same as the outdoors or the poults are 6 weeks old. You'll also want to have feeders and waterers filled and placed properly. You don't want them right under the lamp, but you also don't want them too far from the center. Place them so that the poults can get to them easily without getting either chilled or overheated. Hanging feeders can prevent poults from standing - and pooping - in the feed or knocking it over.
Use pine shavings - never cedar - for the bottom of the brooder. Once poults are three weeks old, some farmers like to use clean sand. It can be cleaned just like cat litter and keeps the brooder dry.
Finally, make sure you have their roosts and pen ready for them to move to after they outgrow the need for the heat lamp and are ready to move to pasture.
As Soon As They Get Home
Once your poults arrive home from the feed store or from the post office, inspect each one as you remove it from the transport box. Dip its beak in water as soon as you put them into the brooder, so they learn where the water is and how to drink. Remember that especially for shipped poults, they will be stressed from the transport process. Make sure they eat and drink well for the first two weeks.
Turkey poults are particularly prone to "starving out," which means that some poults will get pushed away from the feeder or hang back, and will actually starve to death despite food being available. Keep a close eye on poults while they're feeding to make sure this doesn't happen.
Overcrowding can also contribute to starving out, so make sure you have plenty of room for your poults. You'll want at least a 10x10 space for a dozen day-old poults, and as they get bigger they will need more room.
Add a Roost
By three weeks of age, you can add a roost to your brooder. Teaching turkeys to roost early helps when they're eventually moved to roosts later. Plus, they will sleep warmer and more comfortably.
Feed Them Properly
There are many different feeds for poultry. Medicated, nonmedicated, starter, grower - what to pick? Turkeys need high protein, more so than chickens. A gamebird or poultry starter that has around 28 percent protein works for the first 12 weeks. Medicated or not is your choice; many small growers like to use nonmedicated feed. After 12 weeks, the feed can be lowered to 20 percent, but any lower and your turkeys won't grow as big as they could.
Move Them Outside
As your poults grow, you will need to make the brooder bigger so they aren't crowded. As mentioned above, each week you will raise the lamp and lower the temperature about five degrees. Or, you could switch to lower-wattage bulbs as they grow. Much like vegetables, you will need to "harden off" your turkey poults by gradually exposing them to outside temperatures. By three weeks, they can have access to an enclosed "sun porch" on nice days - but keep them inside on rainy or cold days.
Make sure they are fully feathered and at least eight weeks old before moving poults to their new outdoor housing. You can give them access to outdoors but still provide the lamp at night for a week or two, and then finally move them to their new, grown-up turkey roosts and pen. Check on them nightly for a few days after the transition. Make sure they don't get damp or chilled.