Technical advances in turkey genetics, production, and processing have created a turkey which produces a pound of meat, using a smaller amount of feed, in less time than most other domestic meat-producing animals.
All commercial turkeys produced today are the white broad breasted turkey breed. This breed was first used for commercial turkey production in the late 1950's. By the late 1960's the majority of the industry used this turkey breed.
The cost of raising a turkey is affected by many factors, including buildings, equipment, labor, feed costs, and interest on loans. Feed costs amount to almost two thirds of the cost of raising a turkey. Geographic location, degree of automation, and size of the farm all contribute to differences in the costs of raising turkeys.
Fast-maturing white-feathered hybrid strains are today produced in vast numbers under intensive conditions. By 10 weeks, under ideal conditions with a well-balanced ration, a turkey in a modern white hybrid turkey flock would average 6 kg in weight, with a feed conservation ratio of about 2:1.
Improvements in genetics, feed, and management practices have made domesticated turkeys more efficient at converting feed to protein than turkeys found in the wild. About 2.8 pounds of feed are required for every pound of weight gain.
Domesticated turkeys are also bred to have more breast meat, meatier thighs, and white feathers. White feathers are preferred so that, when plucked, they leave no unsightly pigment spots under the skin. Greater efficiencies have lowered costs to consumers, making turkey an excellent food value.
The small backyard producer should select breeders from well-grown 7-month-old birds. These birds should be mated immediately so that the first eggs produced will be fertile. The preferred mating ratio is 1 tom to 10 hens.
During a 25-week laying cycle a breeder hen normally lays 88-93 eggs. At the end of this cycle, the hen is "spent" and will usually be slaughtered. Some breeders find it economically feasible to molt the hen (give her a resting period) for another production cycle. It takes 90 days to molt a hen. The hen's second laying cycle will produce a slightly lower number of eggs (75-80).
A breeder tom turkey can father as many as 1500 poults during a hen's 6-month laying cycle. It may be worthwhile to help maintain fertility by using two consecutive batches of toms during the season. Remove and replace all toms at the same time to guard against the odd birds being ostracised.
Fit all hens with canvas saddles to protect their backs. Also, as a further precaution, clip the tom’s toenails.
Broody hens should be removed regularly and placed in broody coops suspended above the ground. Provide broody hens with feed, water and overhead protection.
As with most heavy birds in the southern hemisphere, it is difficult to get fertile eggs hatched in time to produce birds ready for the Christmas market. This can be alleviated to some extent by housing the hens in ‘brown houses’ from 18 weeks of age. These houses are darkened from the outside sunlight, and provide 6 to 8 hours of light per day. This continues until the hens are 24 weeks of age, when the light is increased to 18 hours. Production of eggs will start 4 weeks later, reaching 50% production within 6 weeks. The toms are not ‘darkened’, but receive sufficient light 6 to 8 weeks before mating to increase their total ‘daylight’ hours to 14.
Breeding birds must be in good condition before mating and should be checked for internal and external parasites.
To avoid breakage of eggs provide a single nest 0.5 m wide by 0.5 m deep for every 5 hens.
A community nest 0.6 m wide by 2 m long, suitable for 15 hens, may be used as an alternative to single nests; however, there is usually a higher incidence of egg breakages in community nests.
Nests should be in a protected area and be provided with a floor covering of rice hulls, coarse sand, shavings or straw. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the nests do not become a harbour for external parasites. The nests may be elevated from ground level but must be easily accessible to the hens by being fitted with a ramp and ledge. It is, however, usual for nests to be placed at ground level.
Collect eggs three times daily and store for no longer than 7 days in a room that provides a temperature of 10°C and a relative humidity of 85%.
Turkey eggs hatch in 28 days. In forced-draught incubators, eggs should be maintained at 37.7°C during incubation, reduced to 37°C at hatching. The relative humidity at setting should be 55%, rising to 70% at pipping. These are equivalent to wet bulb readings of 30°C and 33°C.
Turn eggs at least three times daily, until the 26th day, through an angle of 45°. Larger incubators are fitted with automatic turning devices.
Poults are notoriously difficult to start drinking and feeding as day-olds. Small heaped amounts of feed should be evenly spaced over the floor in the brooding area. One small round feeder (25 kg capacity) is adequate for every 25 poults.
Drinking water is even more important for day-old poults. The producer should introduce poults to water by dipping their beaks in the water immediately they are placed on the floor. Each small automatic water font is suitable for 50 poults.
Attract the poults to water and feed by hanging bright 100 watt ‘spotlights’ over these areas 1 m above litter level. Poults can be further encouraged to eat by placing feed in small silver-coloured aluminium trays, and to drink by putting coloured marbles in the waterers.
The temperature for day-old poults should be around 35°C, as day-old poults need plenty of heat. This temperature should be reduced 1°C every 3 days until a temperature of 21°C is reached.
Temperatures are to be used only as a guide because the best way to adjust the temperature for the comfort of the poults is to observe their behaviour. If they crowd near the heat source and chirp loudly, the temperature is too low. If they move well away from the heat source and start panting, they are too hot. Ideally they should be fairly quiet and spaced evenly under and around the heat source (see the diagram at right).
Poults are best brooded in small groups of preferably up to 250, separated by 50 cm high brooder surrounds.
Beak trimming at 10 days of age will prevent cannibalism.
Once fully feathered at about 7 weeks of age, the poults may be given outside range of 1500 m2 (0.15 ha) per 100 birds.
Intensively housed birds are brooded and reared in the same shed at a density of 5 birds per square metre and processed by 12 weeks of age.
Turkeys are fed mainly a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. Fresh water is available at all times. On average, it takes 84 pounds of feed to raise a 30 pound tom turkey.
A turkey starter diet of between 24% and 28% protein should be fed until 8 weeks of age. Ideally, feed a 28% ration for the first 4 weeks and reduce to 24% for the next 4 weeks. This protein level is reduced to 20% and fed until marketing.
Prepared feeds should be placed in self-feeding-type hoppers to provide unrestricted access at all times.
Traditionally, turkeys have been bought at Christmas and Easter as big birds, ranging from 2.5 to 5.0 kg plus in size (dressed weight). This requirement is slowly changing as families buy smaller one-meal birds at other times of the year. ‘Further processing’ of turkey portions is enabling the processor to attract a larger share of the consumer’s budget. The consumer can now buy over sixty different cuts of turkey and further processed turkey products such as turkey hams, steaks and sausages (smoked and broiled).
More Raising Guides and Tips
1. Turkeys may be allowed to roam about, and gather in barn at night.
2. Since turkeys eat plants, those that they should not eat must be fenced.
3. Besides grass, turkeys should be fed with mixed grated coconut, fruit peels, corn, sorghum, fish and shrimps.
4. Turkeys in coops (that are elevated from the ground), consume more food than those roaming about. But they should not be allowed to stay in coop always because this will easily wear out the flooring of their house because of their weight.
5. For 500 turkeys, 15 sacks of feed are normally consumed weekly, but this is reduced if they are allowed to roam.
6. One way is to have a shelter in the midst of their pasteurland where they will always find food and water.
7. This shelter must also provide place for sleep and nest. The shelter must be about three (3) meters high, five (5) meters wide and 10 meters long. The four sides are open, and the floor can absorb manure. In one side are nests, and at the other are food and water in separate containers.
8. The flooring should be three (3) meters longer than the shelter, fenced with about five (5) feet wire where they can mate and spread out their wings, and eat.
9. If the weather is good, they should be allowed to roam to pick insects and eat grass. So as not to run out of forage or overeat them in a place, they should be transferred from place to place in the field, separated by wire fence.
10. Feeding is twice a day -- in the morning before they are set free, and in the afternoon when they come back.
11. Feed must contain 24% protein, which is not attained in most commercial feeds. In the U.S., turkeys are given: 24% protein, 2% calcium and 0.9% phosphorus. Here, they are given 16% protein, 24% calcium and 1% phosphorus. Turkeys grow up to five (5) kilos in four months in this diet. Normally, a male turkey weighs 10 kilos and a female 7 kilos within 18 weeks.
12. They must always be provided with food and clean water. If necessary (which is not often) they are given powdered antibiotic in their food and drink or if necessary, by injection.
13. The turkey chick cannot see up to age one week after hatching, so they are spoonfed until they can eat by themselves. (In the U.S., these are given milk, which is too expensive for us).
14. For every 20-25 female turkeys, only one male is needed. So that egg laying will be continuous, the mother turkey is not allowed to sit on her eggs. These are gathered and hatched in the incubator.
15. Eggs are gathered in April or May, and incubated around July.
16. They are hatched in the first week of August and are raised from 26-28 weeks. (The raisers set these for Thanksgiving Day or Christmas).
17. Turkeys molt (shed feathers) once a year. After molting, they lay more eggs. So, the raisers make them molt in preparation for Christmas. Molting is hastened when food is scarce and day is short. So, the feed of layers is reduced and are kept longer in a dark coop and by releasing them much later in the morning.
18. Turkeys diseases generally, are chicken pox, blackening of the head, birds pest, neck paralysis (cannot swallow") and external parasite. The blackening of the head is the most serious disease of turkeys. This is acquired from feeds and contaminated water.
Below are some turkey recipes using ‘leftovers’ or portions of turkey.
* 4 teaspoons gelatine
* ½ cup mayonnaise
* ½ cup cold water
* ½ teaspoon salt
* 3 cups cooked turkey
* 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
* ½ cup chopped celery
* 1 cup whipping cream
Soak gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes. Dissolve over hot water and thoroughly mix with the mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. Mix with turkey, celery and salt. Whip the cream and fold into turkey mixture. Fill a large, oiled mould with the mixture and allow to stand in a cold place until set. Unmould onto a bed of lettuce or cress. Serve with mayonnaise. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Turkey-stuffed bread cases
* 1 cup coarsely chopped turkey
* 1 egg yolk
* butter1/2 cup thick white sauce (or 1/3 cup condensed cream of mushroom, chicken or celery soup and 2 tablespoons of water)
* 4 slices of bread, 3 cm thick
* 4 thin slices of bread
* salt and pepper to taste
Trim crusts from bread. Make ‘cases’ with walls and bottom about 1 cm thick by carefully removing centres from thick slices. Cut thin slices to form four lids for cases. Combine resulting breadcrumbs, turkey, onion, egg yolk, seasoning and sauce or diluted cream soup. Butter outsides and lids of cases. Fill with turkey mixture. Place on baking sheet and bake in a moderately hot oven (190°C) for about 20 minutes until thoroughly hot and golden brown. Serve plain or with additional sauce to which a little curry has been added, or with remaining cream soup diluted to gravy consistency with water or milk.
For party service: Use a whole loaf of bread with all crusts removed. Cut slice off top for lid before removing the centre to make one large case. Butter all over, combine crumbs with double the ingredients listed above. Serve on hot platter garnished with parsley.
Sources: norbes.com nsw.gov.au ncc.gov.ph