How to Feed and Water Turkeys

Learn what the best feeders and waterers are to get the biggest, healthiest birds.

Farmer feeding turkeys on farm
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Want to know one easy way to save money on feed while raising healthy turkeys? Learn how to feed and water them properly. Although it may seem simple, there are many different types of waterers and feeders, and different ones are appropriate for specific situations.

Feeding and Watering Turkey Poults

When you first buy your turkey poults, you will want to have feeders and waterers set up and filled, ready to go. This way when the poults first arrive, you can dip their beaks in the water and make sure they start eating soon after settling in. This teaches them the water's location so they know where to go. It's important to do this since dehydration is the number one killer of turkey poults.

For these baby poults, a one-gallon chick waterer is the best option. Avoid open dishes, buckets, or pans of water, because poults may fall in, get chilled and die, or even drown, and the water can get contaminated too easily. The water should be clean and cool, not hot or cold. Turkeys drink to cool themselves down, so if the water level is decreasing quickly, they might be too hot. You should not have to refill a waterer more than once a day; if so, invest in a larger size.

The bottom half of an egg carton makes a good first feeder for poults, or you can sprinkle the feed on paper towel for a few days until they've figured out how to eat. Another option is red plastic chick feeders that have oval-shaped openings through which the poults can reach the feed.

After a few days, a metal or wooden feeder can be used. Hanging feeders tend to conserve feed. Just make sure that the bottom of the feeder is within comfortable reach of the turkey poults' beaks. Avoid open pails of feed as well, because besides spilling it, the poults can all climb in on top of one another, hurting themselves.

It's important to keep a close eye on them in the first two weeks, particularly if they've been shipped and are stressed. Make sure they're eating and drinking enough to stay healthy. Make sure none are "starving out"—getting pushed or held back from the feeder by other poults. Sometimes they will starve, despite access to food, so check that all are eating. Overcrowding increases the likelihood of starving out, so ensure a dozen poults has at least a 10-foot by 10-foot space—and more as they grow.

Feeding and Watering Turkeys

As the poults grow, you can switch to a five-gallon metal waterer, or a nipple watering system. Make sure your waterer is sturdy and rugged, as large turkeys are quite strong.

For feeding, a large hanging feeder that can hold most of a 50-pound bag of feed is ideal. Some turkey farmers use a range feeder that is a trough-style. In either case, ensure that the edge of the feeder is at the level of the turkeys' backs so that they can reach the feed easily, but don't waste too much on the floor. This also prevents poop from getting in. Feed comes in pellet, mash, and crumble form. Pellets tend to be least wasteful, followed by crumbles and mash.

Once they're on pasture, you will need to make sure the turkeys have access to coarse sand or fine gravel—the grit that they need to digest their food. Most likely they can find this right on the ground mixed with soil, but it doesn't hurt to provide it along with their feed. Grit is a good idea to have if poults are using wood shavings as litter, in the case of accidental ingestion. On pasture, make sure the grass they're eating is unsprayed and there haven't been other adult poultry grazing on it in the past 6-12 months to reduce risk of bacterial or parasitic infestations. Turkeys are susceptible to diseases carried by chickens.

Types of Turkey Feed

Use a chick starter or game bird starter for turkey poults. Protein should be around 28% for this starter, and you can feed it for the first eight weeks. Don't do a higher percentage, as too much protein can cause growth problems. You can also use an unmedicated chick starter mixed with brewer's yeast for higher protein—2 cups of yeast per 10 pounds of starter.

After eight weeks, you can switch to a grower feed. It should have at least 20% protein (higher than that required for chickens). At this point you can add in grains like oats and corn. If you run out of feed, you can make a 50-50 blend of rolled oats and cornmeal, mashed up in a blender to a crumbly consistency. But that should only tide you over briefly in an emergency; don't leave poults on it for more than a day.

Turkeys typically grow to slaughter size within six months. For an average tom, you will feed him approximately 100 pounds of feed, and for a hen, 60 pounds.

Adult turkeys will get as much as 50% of their intake from pasture or range grass. Range grass is grass that is four to six inches long. Turkeys like to eat the growing tips of the grass. They will also enjoy any kitchen or garden scraps: lettuce, tomatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, and so on. Access to leafy greens can also discourage development of a bad feather-picking habit.

View Article Sources
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