Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lesson Learned

If you decide to try raising turkeys, then here's a piece of advice: buy a lot of them.

I don't necessarily say that because they're all going to keel over and die on you (you may lose a few though; most folks do), but because turkeys are amazing to have when it comes to trading and selling. 

I bought 10 poults (baby turkeys) back in June, but lost 4 during growing season. The remaining 6 turkeys sold like hotcakes and I have had an overwhelming flood of interest from local people all clamoring for a Thanksgiving bird (alas, I had none left to sell). And mind you, I didn't sell these cheaply... More than that, I traded a turkey for some electrified netted fencing, and have had so many other people ask to trade things for a turkey. I had people offer lambs, goats, calves, misc. livestock supplies... The market was wide open. I am kicking myself for raising such a small number of turkeys this year, but I will be prepared for next year. Next year, I will have turkeys for sale and for trade. Who says legal tender comes only in the form of a paper bill? I've found some in the form of gobbling feathers. 

My last turkeys were butchered this morning, and I was sad to see them go. I adored the turkey's docile (if somewhat dim-witted), yet curious nature. Although, wrangling a 15 lb. bird who doesn't wish to be picked up does leave something to be desired... But I hear that turkeys can be herded, so next year I'll just have to make sure that I have a dog to help me with moving the butterballs. 

Despite the groans from many people over my choice of turkey breed, I went with the Broad Breasted White for my first time. This is like the cornish cross of the turkey world; they're huge, they can't mate naturally, they need a high-octane feed to make them grow, and as most folks say, "they just aren't "natural"!" I heard a lot of stories from people saying how terrible their BB whites were, how they wouldn't forage, etc. but I'm just going to shrug my shoulders here. My birds did awesome. I bought them from a bad hatchery (lesson learned there, too), so that's probably the reason why I lost 4 poults right off the bat, but all the rest were fabulous; foraging like nothing else, and just being turkeys. Lately I've been thinking about trying some heritage breeds next year... As great as the BB Whites were, I always like to keep on trying new things. That, and I just can't resist the available breeds over at Porter's Turkeys. I mean, how can one NOT resist a turkey that goes by the name of 'Sweetgrass', 'Fall Fire', 'Harvest Gold', or 'Tiger Bronze'??? One of my reasons for choosing a white bird on my first try was because I was sick to death of colored birds. I had slaughtered well over 5,000 turkeys while working at the processing facility and 3/4's of that number were dark colored, heritage breeds. Utter nightmare to pluck, let me tell you... Even while taking my last turkeys to the facility today, I got a lot of happy exclamations from the workers over the feather color on my birds. White birds! Yes, yes, yes!! But now that I'm thinking about raising some heritage breeds, I think I will at least stick with the lighter colored ones. No black turkeys for this girl...

Just today, I had three different people ask me if I had any more turkeys for sale... I've been hearing this question for two months now and have sadly had to turn people away. Why did I wait so long to start raising these birds? I really didn't think there were that many people in my area who would willingly pay $60 to $80 for a holiday centerpiece, but I have found differently. I also just learned of a local farmer who charges  $200 to $350 per turkey, and they sold out before they even bought their poults!!!! Holy kohlrabi. 

I'm not writing this post as some sort of hype; trying to give y'all the idea to raise turkeys as a get-rich-quick scheme. I think this has a lot to do with locality, and I just happen to be in a very good county that embraces local food (at any cost I might add...). But for years I have heard stories from people saying that turkeys were terrible to raise. I would like to take a moment here and say "Bah-humbug" to those stories. My turkeys were wonderful.

Lesson learned: Turkeys are quite enjoyable, and I did not raise enough of them this year!


Anonymous said...

$350!!!!!!! I wonder if...
Thanks for the advice. =)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your lessons learned and for the Porters Turkey website info. What an amazing array of turkeys they offer! I had no idea!
Heather in PA

Head Farm Steward said...

Turkey prices vary greatly. Nothing wrong with raising BBW but get them as late as you can. Otherwise you'll have a 30 pound bird. Nobody wants a 30 pound bird but the big growers buy all the poults starting in July.

Read The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr and learn all about herding a fun, fictional kids story.

Glad it worked out so well for you. We started with 20, found them easy to sell, hard to kill and they are messy manure machines. Machines. Matron of Husbandry says the turkey manure has a longer-lasting positive effect on the pasture than chicken manure.

Kris said...

I raised 10 Bourbon Red turkeys a few ago. I ended up with 4 hens and the rest toms. I kept a tom and 3 hens. One of the hens hatched a bunch of poults and I sold them all. We butchered all but the last 2 hens and tom. And I sold them live to a guy who wanted to let them breed to have more. They took a long time to get to a decent weight I might add. We butchered 3 that Thanksgiving and they were all about 10-12 pounds. Very upset about that. Then we let 2 of the toms grow more in a pen and they ended up being about 16 pounds. I don't know if I'll raise anymore turkeys again. Kind of like pigs. I need pig amnesia before I do that again! I hope you have lots of luck with your next flock.