Backyard chickens are the Beanie Babies of the 2020s. While you can’t “collect them all,” they definitely seem to be very, very popular. Enthusiasts, love them for their eggs, meat, quirkiness and companionship. Interestingly turkeys don’t seem to be as popular amongst the backyard chicken enthusiasts. While there are similarities between caring for chickens and turkeys, there are also notable differences that deserve attention. For example, female turkeys only lay an egg once or twice a week and it takes about 7 months from hatch (versus 5 months for chickens) before they are even able to start laying eggs. In this article, we will explore the basics of backyard turkey care and highlight the key distinctions between raising turkeys and chickens.
Housing and Space Requirements
Turkeys require more space compared to chickens due to their larger size. While chickens are typically fine in coops with a minimum of 2-3 square feet per bird, turkeys need approximately 8-10 square feet of floor space per turkey. Adequate shelter is crucial to protect turkeys from extreme weather conditions and predators. Ensure that the turkey housing is secure and offers protection from drafts and dampness. While backyard chickens require the same, turkeys are not always the smartest of birds in that they don’t always seem to have the same ability to get out of water that is flooding an area. Additionally, turkeys have a strong instinct to roost high off the ground, so providing secure roosting areas will help keep them safe at night.
Note: Do not raise chickens and turkeys together! The infectious disease blackhead caused by the protozoa Histomonas is a big deal especially in turkeys, and chickens can be silent carriers these protozoa.
Feeding and Nutrition
Turkeys have different nutritional requirements than chickens. While both birds need a balanced diet, turkeys require higher protein content, especially during their growth stage. Turkey starter feed typically contains around 28% protein, whereas chicken starter feed contains around 20%. As turkeys mature, their feed can be transitioned to a lower protein percentage. Additionally, providing a calcium supplement, such as crushed oyster shells, is crucial for turkeys to maintain strong bones and eggshell formation.
Temperament and Social Behavior
While chickens can be more adaptable and social, turkeys tend to exhibit distinct behavioral traits. Turkeys are generally more inquisitive and may require additional socialization to become comfortable around humans. They can also be more territorial and assertive, especially during the breeding season. Providing them with ample outdoor space and engaging in positive interactions from a young age can help develop a friendly demeanor.
Turkey care requires careful attention to seasonal changes. Turkeys are more susceptible to extreme heat and cold compared to chickens. During hot weather for example, ensure that turkeys have access to shade, fresh water, and proper ventilation.
Raising backyard turkeys can be a rewarding experience, but it requires careful consideration of their unique needs. By understanding the differences in housing, nutrition, behavior, seasonal care, and security between chickens and turkeys, enthusiasts can provide the best possible care for their feathered friends. With proper attention to these factors, backyard turkey owners can enjoy the beauty, companionship, and occasional bounty of raising turkeys in their own backyard.
Written by ChatGPT and edited by Dr. Maurice Pitesky.
Generative Term: Write a one-page extension article on the basics of backyard turkey care focusing on differences between raising backyard chickens and backyard turkeys.