Raising Bourbon Red Turkeys For Self-Sustainability
Our self-sustainability plan did not include turkeys, at least not in the beginning. The idea was to grow enough fruit and veggies for our family, have egg layers, raise chickens for meat, eventually add some goats to keep the tall grass and weeds down on our 15 (now 25 acre) homestead and my end goal was to have a few cows for dairy, and piggos for meat and trading. Not once did we ever consider that turkeys would be part of our homestead.
When Homesteader Hubby mentioned adding turkeys to our homestead, I kind of laughed it off. Actually, I filed it in the “Future Plans For The Homestead” folder, because I know when the Homesteader gets an idea to do something, it usually ends up happening. Hence, why nothing really ever goes according to plan 🙂 A few days later, Homesteader mentioned turkeys again, and I knew he meant business.
Turkeys are a bit more fragile to raise than chickens. They chill a lot quicker, they have a tendency to not eat or drink, and to choke on air, causing them to suffocate. Those things made me very nervous about raising turkey poults. I know that if you are going to raise your own animals, then death is going to be part of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to give our animals the best possible outcome. So, the research began.
Broad Breasted Turkeys would have given us much more meat. Broad Breasted Toms typically weigh about 34 pounds at 20 weeks and Bourbon Reds fall somewhere around the 23 pound range. But if you are thinking about raising turkeys for long-term self-sustainability, then Broad Breasted’s aren’t going to get that job done for you. The breasts of the Broad Breasted’s are just too large for them to reproduce naturally. We would have to invest in artificially insemination and that just didn’t sound very self-sustaining to us.
The choice wasn’t too hard and Bourbon Red Turkeys won our vote. They are a heritage breed and offered a lot more self-sustainability to us. We contacted Cackle Hatchery, a local hatchery just about 2 hours from us and made arrangements to have our Reds shipped to us. I am well aware that any animal who is shipped is subject to a lot of stress and knowing how fragile turkeys are, I was a nervous wreck.
We ordered our 8 Cornish Crosses and 2 Light Brahmas at the same time, so they would all ship together and help one another out. I took the telephone to bed with me the night before and tracked these little buggers until I got the call from the Post Office the next morning. We got them all settled into their brooder, but it took me a good 3 days before I breathed a little and didn’t feel like a new mama bringing her baby home for the first time.
Why did we choose Bourbon Reds?
The main reason of course, is these guys can provide us the self-sustainability we are searching for. Although, some hatcheries will report that egg production for Reds are poor, (pretty much a claim made on all heritage breeds of turkey), I think it all comes down to what one considers poor egg production and why you are raising turkeys in the first place. During my research I have read from other Red breeders that hens will produce upwards of 60 eggs a year. Now that doesn’t mean we will have 60 little turkey poults running around every year from each of our 3 hens. Turkey eggs are edible, so we will be able to eat some, and hens will not go broody all the time. There is always the incubation option, but we aren’t quite there yet 🙂 The key is to balance out how many poults we’d like to raise in order to expand our flock and for butchering.
Bourbon Reds are pretty darn good foragers and do well living in a pastured setting. We have 25 acres and plan on devoting at least 5 of those acres to our turkeys. We are also working on doing the same for our chickens. Any animal who does well in a pasture setting will save you a ton of money. By our Reds foraging for bugs and greens, it will cut down on our feed cost drastically, furthering our goal to self-sustainability.
Taste was also a huge factor for us. We didn’t want to raise a breed of turkey that was going to taste just like what we would get from a grocery store. Turkey isn’t supposed to be bland and tasteless. Reds have a better and richer flavor than other breeds of turkey. In most taste tests, Reds often come in first place. This is due to their excellent foraging capabilities and not being on a diet that consists of only feed, like the turkeys you get in a grocery store.
Our plan is to keep three hens and one tom, the rest will be butchered and will provide our family with meat that is organically fed and cared for. Our goal is to create an organic breeding program here that will allow us to provide for our family in the most healthy and self-sufficient way possible.