Raising a Thanksgiving Turkey - Part Three
When your turkeys are about ten weeks old, it may be time to move them to permanent outdoor quarters. Make sure they are healthy and strong, and nearing maturity, and the weather is favorable. If not, you may need to delay for a week or two. Do not delay too much longer than this, or you will most likely harm the birds.
Build the turkeys a roost (a roost is basically their house, like a coop is to a chicken). It should be suspended a couple of feet off the ground, with a wire mesh floor so that droppings can fall through. Make sure there are no places inside the roost where droppings will pile up, as this can cause disease and general bad health. The area under the roost should be cleaned weekly. Some people recommend making portable roosts to make cleaning easier.
The walls should also be wire mesh or poultry netting. Inside, the birds should be protected from sunlight and precipitation, so make the roof, and possibly the upper portions of the walls, out of something such as plywood or fiberglass, that will protect them from the elements.
Inside the roost, place their food and water containers. It does not need to be too big—about 20 square feet for ten birds. The roost should have 24/7 direct access to a large outside ‘range’. They will spend most of their time here. Make this area quite large, a few hundred square feet at least. It should be fenced in. Remember, turkeys can fly short distances at a low altitude, so make it 4-6 feet high. This will also help prevent predators from getting in. Constantly watch for signs of predators, and do whatever you can to keep them out.
When they are ready to be put in their outside quarters, they will be ready to begin eating adult food. Make sure they have access to a grassy pasture, as much of their diet will consist of stuff they find here. Keep their food and water fresh to prevent disease. Keep everything dry and sanitary. If they are eating turkey feed, they will also need access to a small amount of coarse sand or fine gravel—they eat this to help with digestion. Continue adding greens to their diet.
A turkey is usually ready to be slaughtered at about 24 to 28 weeks old. This age may vary based upon breed, so make sure you know all the specifics of your type of turkey. You can usually tell whether or not a turkey is ready based upon skin color. When the reddish hue fades to a more yellow color, it is ready to be killed, because it now has a slight layer of fat over it’s entire body. A turkey is killed in much the same way as a chicken, albeit a larger killing cone will be needed if that is your preferred method.
Clean it, then cook it as you would a store bought turkey. Your own home-raised Thanksgiving Turkey is a wonderful (and healthy) main course at any family holiday meal and well worth the work.