Finding & Buying Heritage Turkeys

Heritage turkeys have made a small come-back in the last 20 years and a limited selection of various breeds can be found in hatcheries throughout the USA and Canada today. On average, poults (turkey babies) cost between $11-$12 per bird and must be ordered in groups of at least 15 birds per shipment. As they are rare its wise to place your order ahead of time. Want to see which hatcheries carry the breed you’d like to raise? Mother Earth News provides a hatchery finder for those living in the States.

While hatcheries are the common method for getting your hands on these birds, you also ought to be aware that turkeys don’t always withstand the shipping process in good health, being more finicky than chickens in this regard. I believe getting ’em from a local farmer is the way to go, particularly those who were raised by a turkey hen. Not only are they adapted to your area but will be healthier birds. They also have had the advantage of natural learning and an example to follow. Aim for 4-8 week old poults if buying from a local.

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The issue? Finding a farmer who raises the breed you want! Heritage turkeys are rare and in order to get a specific breed, your only option may be a hatchery.

If you can’t find a local farmer who raises the breed desired and don’t want the risk of shipping, some hatcheries offer fertilized eggs at approx $5 per egg. While I can’t give much for input (I’ve never tried this), I believe it would lend toward a higher success rate. Eggs may also be given to a chicken. She’ll hatch ’em out and care for them. But don’t give ’em to ducks. Poults faithfully mimic and follow mama…even when it comes to her ‘water habits’.

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If the poult thing seems overwhelming, you can often find adult birds for sale. While it has its advantages, there will be higher up-front costs. Prices depend on the breed, your location and the buyers desperation to sell. Where I live today, a full grown, large-breed heritage turkeys sells for approx $60 per bird. But I’ve also seem ’em low as $30.

Looking for adult birds? I’d recommend advertising via Craigslist or Kijiji, on a regional farming paper/online network. Usually, people are willing to part with a few, particularly when raising for meat.

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Pros & Cons to Buying Adults

  1. Immune systems are developed and fatality rate should be 0.
  2. If buying in spring or summer, eggs and poults are an immediately viable option
  3. Less care require. Adult birds can be 100% free-ranged from the beginning
  4. Wary and wise birds who know what they can and cannot do

Cons? Patterns are ingrained at this point. If wild, it will be difficult to tame ’em. And you never know the bird’s age or breed for absolute certain!

 

Cons & Pros to Raising Poults

  1. Mortality rate will be higher
  2. You’ll invest more feed and $ before seeing a return
  3. Poults cannot be turned out to free range immediately
  4. More monitoring will be necessary (unless letting a hen hatch ’em).

Pros? Less upfront costs, full knowledge of age and breed, ability to tame ’em to the degree desired. Turkey will bond with humans like no other poultry! If free-ranging, these guys are easily taught to house it for roosting each night.

I’ve helped raise mail-order poults. I’ve bought full-grown turkeys. Poults are fun. Adults are efficient. Which choice is the best one? For you, I couldn’t say!

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