Raising Turkeys: A Beginner's Guide

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Turkeys on a farmyard
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Are you ready to add turkeys to your backyard or homestead?

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Are you ready to add turkeys to your backyard or homestead? Read on to learn the basics of raising turkeys. We cover the shelter and space needs of turkeys, their feeding requirements, and the ins and outs of egg production.

Turkeys are delightful birds. (Note the wild turkey is different than the domestic turkey.) While they’re mainly raised as meat-producing birds, and with good reason, they also produce a reasonable number of large, rich eggs to add to the breakfast table or use to grow your own flock. 

Whether you have experience raising chickens and are ready to expand your flock or are looking to take the leap into the world of poultry for the first time, turkeys are a great choice.

Turkey at the small urban farm. Credit: Arina P Habich

Space and Shelter Needs

It’s too simplistic to think of turkeys as just big chickens, but it’s also not totally wrong. Turkeys have lifestyles and needs similar to chickens, but because they’re bigger, they will need more of everything— most notably, more space and food.

Turkeys’ increased space needs start early in life. If you plan on raising from poults (chicks), you’ll need at least one square foot per poult in the brooder to start, and you’ll likely need more as the poults grow. Turkey poults are highly susceptible to respiratory illnesses and dampness, even more so than chicks, so having enough space to allow for adequate ventilation is critical. If you want to hatch from eggs, you’ll need a bigger incubator, as turkey eggs are approximately one and a half times bigger than chicken eggs.

Once your turkeys are big enough to head out in the yard, their higher space needs will really start to kick in. For one thing, turkeys thrive on outdoor space even more than chickens and will really benefit from having access to a run or pasture at all times. Luckily, this space doesn’t need to be very large for meat birds, which will usually be killed at about 28 weeks (7 months). These turkeys won’t need more than 4 to 5 square feet per bird. If you’re planning on keeping your turkeys past that into proper adulthood, they will do better with more space—the more space, the better, really.

Turkeys are fairly hardy birds and can do well outside in all kinds of weather conditions; however, they will still need a protected indoor space, especially at night. Their large size means turkeys are relatively slow movers and highly susceptible to predators. Chicken keepers will be fairly familiar with the predator-proofing measures they must employ. 

  • Check for cracks and gaps in the structure larger than half an inch.
  • Secure food and compost to eliminate attractants.
  • Clear the area around the coop and run to remove hiding places.
  • Reinforce everything with hardware mesh—not chicken wire. Chicken wire is great at keeping poultry, which is relatively large, in, but almost useless at keeping predators, which can be quite small, out.

Turkey shelters will also have different layouts and requirements than chicken coops. These larger, heavier birds require more space, wider doors, less steeply inclined entrance ramps, and lower perches. Domestic turkeys are too heavy to fly, and they can injure their legs trying to jump off of a high perch. Turkeys also won’t need nesting boxes if you aren’t raising them for eggs.

Colorful turkeys on a ranch in southern Mississippi. Credit: Napoli

Can You Raise Chickens and Turkeys Together?

Chickens and turkeys get along, and many people slip a turkey into their flock. However, we would recommend them separate for health reasons. As of late, turkeys are highly susceptible to a devastating illness called blackhead disease, of which chickens are symptomless carriers. You likely won’t notice blackhead disease circulating in your chickens unless it reaches your turkeys—at which point, it will be too late. Even reusing or sharing equipment—feeders, water dishes, nesting boxes—between the two species can risk spreading the disease, so consider keeping the two flocks as separate as possible.


As with space, turkeys need more feed than chickens simply because they’re bigger. They will also need a higher proportion of protein in their feed because they’re being raised to pack on the pounds, not lay lots of eggs. Luckily, commercial turkey feed is formulated with this in mind. A good baseline is a 28 percent protein content for their feed (compared to chicken feed’s 16 percent).

Even with this higher protein content, be prepared for your turkeys to eat a lot. Although it can vary depending on breed and size, on average, a male turkey will eat about a pound of food every day, sometimes more, and a female turkey will eat up to half a pound daily. With these numbers, it’s important to have feed readily available to your turkeys at all times to allow them to eat and encourage them to reach a healthy, delicious butchering weight.

As a side note, if you’re raising your turkeys alongside chickens, it’s important not to let them share food or water dispensers, even when they’re young. Chickens, despite their smaller size, will bully the turkeys out of their fair share of the goodies. Plus, as stated above, turkeys and chickens have different nutritional needs, so they should be getting different feeds anyway.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that turkeys can be quite clumsy—clumsy enough that they can trip, land beak-down in their water dishes, and drown there. Even if they survive the initial incident, the resulting wet feathers can make the birds ill, especially if they’re young. To prevent this, ensure your turkeys have a very shallow water dish. If you’re worried it’s too deep, especially for young poults, placing a few marbles in the bottom of the dish can help protect your birds.


Turkeys do lay eggs, but anyone expecting them to lay like chickens is in for a pretty rude awakening. Turkey eggs never caught on as a dietary staple the way chicken eggs did, so breeds that can lay daily for years were never selected for. Instead, the turkey community mainly focused on maximizing meat production and flavor, giving us the big-breasted, tasty birds we have today. Because of this, raising turkeys solely for eggs just isn’t a viable plan; they don’t lay enough. However, eggs can still be a delightful side benefit to your turkey flock.

Turkeys may not lay as frequently as chickens, but they do lay regularly—about two eggs per week. This means you can get about 100 eggs per year from a regular layer. These eggs are about one and a half times the size of chicken eggs, with a richer flavor and the same nutritional value. If you decide to keep both male and female turkeys, you can also sell any eggs you collect as fertilized or hatch them yourself to continue to grow your flock. 

Turkeys are fun, fascinating birds, blessed with big personalities, fanciful feathers, and remarkable intelligence. See more fascinating facts about turkeys.

While the transition from a laying animal to a meat animal can require some emotional adjustment for some people, in the end, you’ll be rewarded with a full dinner table, full bellies, and a full complement of stories about the interesting new tenants you’ve just installed on the farm.

About The Author

Chris Lesley

Chris Lesley has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth-generation poultry keeper. Read More from Chris Lesley

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