Friday, October 21, 2011

Pasture-Raised Heritage Breed Turkeys

SARE Youth Grant #YNC08-001– Will King

Objective: To hatch and raise my own turkeys out of my existing birds, to market my birds to various ethnic groups that come to our farm to buy livestock and poultry, and to cook one of my birds and do a taste test and survey about how the bird tasted compared to store-bought turkey.

Results: Raising heritage turkeys outdoors on pasture reduces stress and is a healthier environment for them. They’re better adapted to outdoor life. Before receiving this grant, I had two different varieties of heritage breed turkeys, but had not tried to raise any on my own. When my original turkey hens started laying eggs, I put them in an incubator. I also put eggs under broody chicken hens and, toward the end of the laying season, let two turkey hens set on a clutch of eggs.

None of the incubated eggs or those under the chickens hatched. Two eggs under the turkey hens hatched, but neither poultry lived past day one. I’ve since learned that to increase hatchability of eggs, I need to increase the feed protein level from the 16 percent I was feeding to 20 percent. I need to make sure eggs cool to 50 degrees before putting them into an incubator, and to keep setting turkey hens where the hatchlings can’t wander off and get chilled.

Since none of my eggs hatched, the only young birds I had were the 16 Royal Palm turkeys I bought with the grant money. I’ve kept back a Royal Palm tom and four Royal Palm hens to use as breeders.

I processed a pasture-raised heritage breed tom, which my mother served at two Missouri Extension Council dinners. I surveyed those attending. They said they thought it tasted better than a store-bought turkey. Most said they’d be willing to pay a little more for a local, sustainably raised bird.

There is demand for this type of product. I am going to try this project again, and will be printing a sales brochure, and planting disease-resistance dwarf fruit trees in my turkey pasture.

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