Turkeys are much different from a chicken flock when it comes to their housing and pasture fencing needs. Adult turkeys prefer to be outdoors regardless of the weather and can be outdoors most of the time from the age of 8 to 12 weeks onward. Before that point, young birds should be kept in a brooder, perhaps with access to a sun porch.
Requirements for Raising Turkeys
Once your birds are old enough to live outside, you'll need to provide them with a roosting area with a roof, protection from predators, and access to fresh pasture or range—ideally, open grass that is 4 to 6 inches long. The essential requirements for raising turkeys include:
- Protection from predators
- Places to dust-bathe
- Roosts to fly up into at night
- Access to range grass
- Enough space: 75 feet by 75 feet for up to twelve turkeys
Turkeys require elevated roosting spots to spend the overnight hours, ideally with a sheltering roof to protect them from the elements. It is possible to build a single roost pen with space for several birds (a 5-by-8-foot roost will house about twenty turkeys) or you can build a set of roosts. Either way, mounting the roost or roost pen on skids or wheels will allow it to be easily moved. By moving the roosts around the range area, you can prevent manure from building up in one spot.
Wood is an ideal construction material, although electrical conduit can also be used on top of wooden skids to keep the roost structure lightweight and easily moved. If the roost is very lightweight, it may need to be staked down so it doesn't blow over. Perches should be at least 2 feet above the ground. If higher, an angled ladder structure will allow the birds to climb to the perch locations. Cover the roost structure with a lightweight metal or fiberglass panel roof to protect the resting birds from the weather.
Whether your turkeys are allowed free movement over range pasture or are being confined in a pen area, the fencing material should be as high as possible, at least four feet, given that these birds can and will fly. You can also trim the wing feathers of rogue flyers, as most turkeys will probably stay in the pen happily unless something disturbs them. In a pen environment, topping the fence with netting will protect the birds and prevent escape.
For temporary fencing in a range pasture setting, you can use electric poultry netting. If you want to build a more permanent enclosure, use woven-wire fencing and metal T-posts or wooden posts.
Turkeys can be turned out onto pasture with cattle, where they will improve the land by eating weed seeds, such as nettles, dock, and chicory. And by will further improve the pasture by picking out corn and other digested grains from manure and spreading it around the pasture.
Make sure the fencing is flush to the ground and sturdy, so that the turkeys are protected from predators such as fox, raccoons, weasels, and neighborhood dogs.
Housing for Breeding Turkeys
The recommendations for roosting structures and fenced pens described above are fine for the typical activity of raising spring turkeys that will be harvested for meat at around 28 weeks of age, but there are special requirements if you are raising breeding pairs of toms and hens to lay and hatch eggs. When raising breeding birds, you will need to provide for winter housing and nesting.
For breeding, a more solid, permanent turkey house can work well. Divide the enclosure into at least two separate spaces to keep toms and hens separate. You can let out toms for a few hours every day to graze, then let them back in before letting the hens out to graze. Coax the birds back into the turkey house by offering them poultry feed. Even for breeding stock, make sure the turkeys have access to pasture each day. About half of an adult turkey's diet will be made up of grass and plants from pasture.
A small pen or box with solid sides makes a good space for a broody hen to hatch out poults. This pen can be placed within the larger turkey house.