Raising turkeys at home has become popular as a way to generate some side income. However, it's also become popular with people who simply want to keep turkeys as pets. These surprisingly intelligent birds are known for having individual personalities and can be entertaining companions.
Considerations to Raise Turkeys
Raising turkeys at your home requires a few immediate considerations before you can start.
Check Animal Control and Zoning Laws
The first is whether you can legally do so where you live. Check with your city's animal control department to find out about regulations regarding any zoning restrictions and raising livestock. You may find you're allowed to keep them but must adhere to guidelines regarding the housing of the birds and distance from your neighbors.
Consider Your Neighborhood Situation
Once you've established that you can legally raise turkeys in your backyard, the next important consideration is your neighbors. Turkeys are not quiet birds, and if you plan on building your turkey enclosure right next to a neighboring house, that's likely to cause friction. Talk to any neighbors who may be affected by the noise first to make sure that everyone is satisfied with how you will be keeping the turkeys on your property.
Ensure Adequate Space for Housing
Your turkeys will need to have a place to stay during inclement weather and at night to keep them safe from predators. You can do this as simple as modifying a pre-designed garden shed. To get an idea of space, a typical 6-foot by 8-foot shed would accommodate about six turkeys, though this is the minimum size and larger will make your turkeys happier.
A good rule of thumb is to allow for about 6 feet per bird. In addition to their housing, you'll need a fenced-in area that is at least 6 feet high to keep them from roaming. You may even need to cover their area with wire or netting, as many turkeys can easily fly over a fence that high. Your pen should have at least 6 square feet of space per turkey, though offering them more space to roam is preferable, as long as you can make sure their area is secure.
Types of Turkeys
There are several breeds of turkeys that are commonly kept as both pets and raised as livestock. Domestic turkeys are larger than "heritage turkeys," which tend to look more like wild turkeys. This makes sense when you consider that domestic turkeys have been bred over time to have larger breasts for food purposes compared to their leaner ancestors. While there are many similarities, there are few differences between the broad types.
|Domestic Turkeys||Heritage Turkeys|
|Breed examples|| |
|Size||30 to 50 pounds||15 to 30 pounds|
|Noise level||tend to be louder||not as loud|
friendly & affectionate
|friendly & affectionate|
|Can fly||less likely||more likely|
|Breeding||often require artificial insemination||breed naturally|
Where to Get Turkeys
When you're ready to raise turkeys and have your home set up, there are a few different places you can get turkeys.
You can also get live turkeys from farm supply chains like Tractor Supply.
Check with any local independent farm and agricultural supply stores and local farms in your area, as many will sell poults as well as toms and hens if they have some available.
Finally, check with your local shelter. If you live in an area with a lot of farms, you may find that your local animal shelter takes in livestock like turkeys and chickens. They may also be able to point you to private rescues and farm sanctuaries local to you that take in turkeys.
Pet Turkeys runs an informational website for people who want to keep turkeys as pets and also places rescued and rehomed turkeys and other poultry into pet-only homes. They also raise turkeys to place in homes. They are located in Central Florida.
Caring for Turkeys as Pets
Turkeys are social birds, so they generally do best with at least one other bird as a companion. They also have specific housing and feeding needs that you should be aware of when you're setting up your new avian friends' home.
Turkeys as Children's Pets
If you're thinking about getting a turkey or a chicken as a pet, turkeys are generally more tranquil and resilient than chickens. Turkeys will form a bond with your children, and once that bond is established, they will appreciate spending more time with you and your family. They also tend to follow children and their families around the yard as they play or do chores once the bond is established.
Feeding your turkeys the proper diet is essential for their good health.
- Turkeys are messy eaters, so the first thing to know about feeding them is to use a self-feeder.
- Use watering bottles made for poultry, as turkeys can easily fall into a bowl of water and even drown!
- Turkeys can eat pellets that are designed for other poultry such as chickens.
- Young turkeys, or poults, need to be fed a higher protein diet with medication to keep them from getting ill with parasites or common diseases.
- Feed poults under eight weeks of age turkey starter pellets.
- Feed poults between nine and 14 weeks turkey grower pellets. They also will need to have the pellets crushed to make them easier to eat until they're big enough to eat them on their own.
- You can also supplement your turkeys' diet with fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, kale, grapes, and berries.
- Some turkeys also enjoy eating insects like crickets.
- You will also need to supplement your turkeys' diet with calcium if you want the hens to lay eggs. Crushed oyster shells is a great option for this and can be purchased online and at agricultural feed stores.
You can purchase a 6-foot by 8-foot or larger shed to keep your turkeys in. Other considerations for housing:
- Ventilation: The shed will need to be ventilated, which you can do on your own by cutting a small area in the wall and covering it with wire or mesh screens. This area should be higher up near the roof to keep predators from using it as a way to get in.
- Drafts: Place your turkey house in a space that will keep out drafts.
- Perches: Provide a perch for the turkeys, which can be done with some boards to make shelves. Turkeys need a wide space for perching because they're so large and need to place the weight of their chests onto the perch when resting.
- Grass: Outside of the shed, your turkeys will need a grassy place to roam and ideally another area to perch in the outdoors.
- Enclosure: Many turkeys can fly, even if their wings are clipped, so you may need to keep their roaming area fully enclosed with some type of open-wire cover to prevent them from flying off and visiting the neighbors. It will also help keep larger predators out of your yard.
Your turkey shed should have some type of bedding on the ground to keep moisture away from the turkeys and to protect them from hurting their feet.
- Pinewood shavings work well for this or you can use hay.
- Do not use cedar shavings, as these are toxic to turkeys.
- It's important to keep to a regular cleaning schedule to keep their shavings or hay free of their urine and feces to keep the birds healthy.
- Do not use sawdust or newspapers, as this can harm the legs of younger turkeys, and they may also try to eat the sawdust.
If your hens will be laying eggs and raising young turkeys, you will need to be prepared for the care of their babies. This means having a heat lamp in the turkey shed to keep the newly hatched babies warm at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect to keep the area heated for at least the first six weeks of their life, unless you live in a colder climate.
Your lamp also needs to be situated so that the birds can move around and away from the heat if they get too hot. You will find that young turkeys are far needier than other types of poultry and will need training to understand where to eat, where to drink, and where to go outside. While they can be a lot of work, they're also known for being affectionate and almost puppy-like.
Health Concerns of Turkeys
Turkeys have a lifespan of about 3 to 7 years, though some can live up to 2 years and others as long as 10. Turkeys are at risk of catching Histomoniasis Meleagridis, also known as "blackhead disease." It is caused by a parasite and can be deadly to an entire flock, and there's no known cure.
Chickens are a known carrier of the protozoan that spreads the disease and if you're raising chickens and turkeys together, proper sanitation is very important to keep this dreaded disease away. They are also susceptible to several medical conditions, including:
Turkey or fowl pox is a viral disease that causes lesions on the skin and in the mouth and upper gastrointestinal tract.
Turkey rhinotracheitis is a disease that is particularly bad for poults and involves respiratory problems and needs antibiotic treatment.
Swollen head syndrome involves swelling and red eyes and tear ducts as well swelling of the head, along with respiratory distress. There are no vaccines for the disease or cures although antibiotics can help in some cases.
Staph infections include the condition known as "bumblefoot." Staph infections can lead to lameness, lethargy, fever, and physical pain. It can also lead to arthritis and severe diarrhea.
Parasites including gape worms and intestinal worms commonly affect turkeys. Gape worms affect the bird's trachea and cause difficulty breathing. Intestinal worms such as capillaria, ascaridia, and heterakis attack the gastrointestinal tract and can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and even lead to conditions like Blackhead disease.
Make Sure You Have a Caretaker
Turkeys need to have regular daily care, so if you are someone who travels, make sure that you have someone who can fill in for you when you're gone. For example, a professional pet sitter who is experienced with turkeys can be a great asset to have, or you can offer to educate a pet sitter who is willing to learn more about their care to fill in for you when you're gone.
Raising Turkeys at Home as Pets
Turkeys do require a lot of work and a great deal of space, so they're not a great choice if you have a small backyard and live in a suburb with neighbors close by. If you have adequate space and can legally own them in your area, they can make wonderful, intelligent pets that will surprise you with their unique personalities and friendly nature.