If you're starting your turkey flock with day-old poults (baby turkeys), you may be wondering how to make sure they grow into healthy, happy adult turkeys. With some preparation and care, your baby turkeys will thrive. Learn how to set up a turkey brooder, what to do when you bring them home, how to prevent problems, how to feed them properly, and when to move the turkeys outside.
Set Up a Turkey Brooder
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—a place to keep them warm, dry, and contained—so you can use these resources to design your brooder. 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.) In addition to creating the structure, you will need to regulate the temperature and set up food and water.
You should have everything set up and ready to go before you bring home the turkey poults, including having the brooder warmed to 95 to 98 degrees. The poults will huddle under the lamp 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 tool, especially before the poults arrive, use their behavior as your guide once they are home. Raise the heat lamp a few inches each week (and roughly five degrees lower) until the temperature in the brooder is the same as the outdoors, or the poults are six weeks old, whichever comes first.
You also need 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.
As Soon As They Get Home
There are a few things you can do once your poults arrive home to make sure you are starting off on the right foot. First, inspect each one as you remove it from the transport box. Then 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 10-by-10-foot space for a dozen day-old poults, and as they get bigger they will need more room. As your poults grow, you may need to make the brooder bigger so they aren't crowded.
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. 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.
Feed Them Properly
There are many different feeds for poultry—medicated, nonmedicated, starter, grower—it may be challenging knowing what to choose. Turkeys need high protein, more so than chickens. A game bird or poultry starter that has around 28 percent protein works for the first 12 weeks. 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. Whether you choose medicated or not is your choice—many small growers like to use nonmedicated feed.
Move Them Outside
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 and make sure they don't get damp or chilled.