Let’s face it, your food can only be as good as the ingredients you use to make it. If you have ever raised your own meat chickens, you know what I mean. There is no going back to store-bought chicken once you’ve raised your own! While it is true there is an immense satisfaction knowing that you have provided for your family from start to finish, it cannot be denied that the food simply tastes better. The flavor is stronger, more full. Even more than organic store-bought chicken. The same is for turkeys.
This is our second year raising turkeys. Knock on wood, people say you should expect to lose half of your turkeys. So, I’ve always ordered double what I anticipated needing. Praise God, we haven’t lost any yet! This year, we were able to sell our extra turkeys to friends, and that resulted in requests for next year (several people want chickens, too)! Here’s the low-down on how we were able to raise pastured turkeys supplemented with non-GMO feed for less than the BIG turkey farm down the street.
Yes, it’s true. Turkeys take a bit more care when they are in the brooder. Because chickens can carry diseases that may harm turkeys, it isn’t recommended to raise turkeys and chickens together. I have limited barn space, though, so they have been in the same room, just not the same brooder. Unlike chickens, turkeys will not find water on their own. Try dipping their little beaks in the water until at least one has figured it out. I usually wait until I’ve seen at least two drink. You may want to place a shiny marble or two in the water dish as well, since turkeys are curious and like to inspect shiny things. I’m not sure if any of my turkeys ever learned to drink from the water because of the marble, but I’m not taking my chances on losing a turkey because I wouldn’t take the time to wash off my kids’ marbles.
Once you know your turkeys are drinking and eating (they do tend to find the food more easily than the water), raising healthy turkeys is pretty easy. Keep them warm following recommended brooder temperatures. Keep their brooder clean. Have fun with them. Turkeys are curious, and their’s nothing cuter than a curious turkey eyeballing you. Once they are feathered, it’s time to head outside. I like to take my turkeys out to grass as soon as possible, even if it means carrying them one by one to a pen for them to spend an hour or two outside on a warm day until they are able to be outside permanently.
Turkeys are hardy once they become a bit older. They prefer to stay outside even in the worst of weather. Due to a predator issue this year, we were unable to let our turkeys truly free range. The solution: use the chicken tractor for the turkeys. We have two chicken tractors. One is a small hoop model, the other is based off Joel Salatin’s model. Once the turkeys outgrew the hoop model and the chickens were processed, we moved the turkeys into the larger chicken (Salatin model) tractor. Every morning, I moved the tractor to fresh grass, fed them a little feed, and changed their water. Every afternoon or evening I checked to make sure they had plenty of fresh water. Pretty easy, right?
I have never used antibiotics on my meat chickens or my turkeys. I do, however, use herbal supplements and colloidal silver. I put colloidal silver in the water when the turkeys are in the brooder. I also use a weekly herbal supplement from Molly’s Herbals. In fact, I do this for all of our animals and I have never seen them more healthy.
Turkeys take anywhere from 18 to 28 weeks to mature. Using this method, we raised four turkeys over exactly 16 weeks. When we picked them up from the processor, they ranged from 14.7 pounds to 24.9 pounds. We could have let them go longer, but I’m glad we didn’t because that big one barely fit in my roasting pan! We have processed our turkeys at home, and we have taken them to a processor. Obviously, processing them at home reduces your overall costs. This year we just weren’t able to fit in the processing between work and activities, so we let someone else do the plucking for us!
Depending on the size of the turkey and whether or not it was frozen, you’ll need to thaw out your frozen turkey. Twenty-four hours prior to cooking, I like to brine my turkey using Fire & Flavor Turkey Perfect Apple Sage Brine Kit. I stumbled upon it at the local hardware store (go figure) a few years ago. Thanksgiving morning, I remove the turkey from the brining bag, brush the skin with some oil or butter, and pop it in the oven. A few hours later, my family enjoys the best turkey we’ve ever had. Seriously, each year our turkeys seem to be better than the last (even though this year I let the turkey get a little too browned)!
And there you have it-the secret to best Thanksgiving turkey your family will ever have!