When we decided to raise our own turkeys it seemed like something we should have been doing already. Thoughts of a huge Thanksgiving dinner complete with our own bird ran through our minds. We had several years of knowledge with other types of poultry, so we dove right in. Once we started our research, we found that we would need to order our turkeys fairly early and that a local farm store would be a better option than mail order. Mail order required a 6 bird minimum and shipping was very expensive. Because room is at a premium on our homestead we opted for the farm store, their price per bird was less, and they only had a 4 bird minimum, perfect for our needs. We also chose broad breasted whites, due to the fact that they had the best feed conversion (2:1), and grew the quickest. Now that the birds were ordered, we jumped in with both feet. Chickens can spread disease to turkeys, so they would need to be kept separate from our chickens. We understand that there are varying theories on this, but since it was our first experience, we opted for the separation method. We would need to build a separate coop and run. We settled on an 8×8 coop to give the birds plenty of inside room. And, as we are sure any homesteader will agree, it could also offer us possible future animal or storage space. A 20×20 run with 3′ fencing was also constructed. We covered the building of the coop in a previous blog, so if you are interested check it out.
When we picked the birds up from the feed store, they peeped the whole 30 minute ride home in the car unless music was playing. Once home, we settled them into the brooder in the garage we normally use for chickens. The brooder had a heat lamp to keep them warm and cozy. They also loved food.
It wasn’t long before we learned our first lesson about turkeys, they can fly. They also liked to be outside the brooder.
You know you are a homesteader when you come into your garage and find turkeys scratching, pecking, and pooping in the middle of the floor. Moments like these always make us smile and remind us that we are not the ones in control. After several days of the turkeys going rogue , we knew it was time to be moved out to their coop.
They were so happy with all the new space, but most of all they loved the roost. We also kept a heat lamp in the coop until they had all of their feathers. Once they were in the coop for a week we started letting them into the run.
At first they were timid, but they soon found their favorite spots to scratch and lay. As they grew a bit more, we learned more turkey lessons, how they like to roost outside and a 3′ fence is not high enough to keep them in. At dusk the toms would fly up and roost on the tallest point they could find just outside the fence. Every night we would have to pick them up and put them inside. This became more and more difficult as they pushed over 20 lbs. On occasion they would all decide to fly over the fence and forage in the lawn, they never went far and just like when they escaped in the garage, it made us smile. Walking in the yard and finding a small flock of white turkeys enjoying their life and gobbling is something we became accustomed to. After 4 months it was time for the turkeys to go to freezer camp.
We had processed chickens before, so we were confident we could handle the job. Dispatching a 23 lb turkey is a 2 man job, you will also need a much bigger scalding pot than the one you use for chickens, so plan accordingly. Lesson learned. The butchering went well and was much easier than we imagined. The turkeys dressed out at 23 lbs each.
We used shrink bags and froze 3 turkeys for future use. This also required a bigger pot than we were used to. Again, lesson learned.
We decided to cook one right away as we had never had a fresh turkey in our lives. The beautiful bird was brined and placed in the smoker, it was a tight fit but we made it work.
We also were able to smoke it over apple wood , that we had saved from pruning our apple trees. After 8 hours of smoking our turkey was done.
We were amazed by the juiciness, and how different the texture of the meat was compared to ones we had bought from the store. Because this first bird came out so well, we are confident that this year’s Thanksgiving bird will be amazing. When we place it on the table surrounded by our family, it will be the fulfillment of a dream that is American as apple pie, and another reminder that learning on the homestead should never stop. We will never be connected to the meal on our plate more than this Thanksgiving. And when someone asks us to pass the turkey, we will know exactly what we are feeding our family, and that our food was raised happy and healthy right on our own small, but mighty, Homestead.