This year we successfully raised our own turkeys for Christmas. Although I grew up on a farm where we kept around 100 turkeys, this much smaller scale and free ranging was a new experience. Back at Easter we popped 4 turkey eggs (bought for £1.00) under one of our broodie hens. Four weeks later we had 4 little turkeys chicks!
Turkey eggs need a week longer than chicken eggs to brood so you can not mix eggs under the hen or she will get off too early. We prefer to use the hens to hatch eggs as they look after the chicks so well and we don’t have too. As soon as they hatch the chicks need a small drinker (to stop them falling in) and turkey chick crumb. The turkey feed is specially medicated as the birds are prone to different illnesses than chickens. As you can see the turkey chicks looks just hen chicks but with longer legs. Locally we found day old chicks advertised at £5.00 each so our little brood had done us proud on our £1.00 investment.
The chicks stayed in the small run for about 6 weeks, then moving into a bigger one before finally being put in our biggest pen, at about 12 weeks old. Although we would love to have then out and about with all our other birds they will by nature bully the smaller birds and also fly higher than you may imagine. They really are not as bright as the chickens and could not be trusted to keep out of the road. So we have a large pen which we can move about the field to keep the grass under their toes. They are now eating turkey growers pellets along with a breakfast bowl of bread/cake and chopped apples. We were feeding ad-lib, which means as much as they wanted. This did vary depending on the weather or just how hungry they were. It is really important that they don’t run out of food because they are getting much more exercise than a factory farmed bird.
The turkeys also had lots of visitors. It was really good to show some of our younger friends what a turkey actually looks and sounds like. At 3 months old we knew we had 2 stags and 2 hens and they were starting to find their voices. With building work going on both in the Shepherd’s Hut and at the Bungalow, every bang, saw, thud was met with a gobble.
Fast forward to December and the birds have doubled in size. They moved onto turkey finisher pellets along with the extra treats. The two stags were now showing (like a peacock does) at every opportunity and had developed a deep booming drum noise along with the gobble.
Now we could have killed and plucked these at home, which is blooming hard work. Luckily for us we have a fabulous poultry farm about 3 miles away which has a modern slaughter house and processing unit. In exchange for £9.50 a bird they did the lot for us which I think was an absolute bargain. We had to fill in a keepers form and the birds were checked by a vet when they arrived, before being dispatched, plucked and dressed. They were also hung for 10 days in chillers which meant we could just collect then a couple of days before Christmas, oven ready.
We really didn’t have a clue what weights we would get so were really pleased with the results. In kilos 10.115, 7.32, 6.505 and 4.915 in old money approx 22,16,14 and 11 lbs dressed weight. I could see some fat on the birds but was still worried they could be too muscly so I cooked our Christmas bird with a half pound of butter, but I really shouldn’t have stressed as the meat was moist, soft and melted in the mouth. We had the largest bird for dinner and it is the biggest turkey I have ever cooked, and yes we are still eating it!
I know not everyone will be comfortable with reading this post. It is not always nice for carnivores to think about the reality of what we eat. My view is that if you are going to eat meat then do think about the welfare, give it a happy life and treat it with respect.
I hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you a wonderful 2017! Be happy xxx