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We’ve had turkeys on our homestead off and on over the years, and I’ve never regretted it. Turkeys have so much personality! They are playful and busy, very much like chickens. Many of our turkeys have been very affectionate and enjoyed being petted and even held. In fact, some of them also followed us around the yard like puppies. It’s actually kind of hard not to fall in love with them.

Personality aside, turkeys are generally raised on the homestead for their delicious meat. However, they are also great for pest control; one of their favorite foods is the dreaded tomato hornworm! Here are the most important things you need to know about raising turkeys on the homestead.

Turkey Breeds

There are lots of turkey breeds to choose from. My personal favorite is the heritage breed, Midget White. They stay relatively small, which is perfect for our little family. The smaller size means they don’t eat as much, which also makes them more economical. I also like the fact that their pin feathers are white, so they have a nice clean carcass, which looks nicer for roasting.

If you have a large family and want a larger bird, consider the Bourbon Red. Bourbon Reds are popular on small farms because they are excellent foragers with a reasonably large breast. Their pin feathers are light colored, so there aren’t any dark marks from the feathers on the carcass at roasting time. They are known for having rich, delicious meat.

Other popular breeds include the Broad Breasted White, the Narragansett, and the Broad Breasted Bronze. Check around to see what breeds are available in your area. Speaking to local farmers who have raised turkeys in your climate can give you some valuable insight into which breeds will do best in your area.

What You Need to Get Started with Turkey Poults

As you might guess, you will need pretty much the same equipment for your turkey poults as you do for chicks. Turkeys are a bit more delicate than chicks though, and they require some extra care. Don’t let them get wet, cold, or overheated. Any of these situations could lead to death or near death very quickly.

You’ll want to feed them 28% protein turkey starter until they are about eight weeks old. Prepare yourself because baby turkeys eat a lot more than baby chicks! Regular chick feeders work great for turkeys, but you’ll probably want to have more than one in the brooder because they go through the food so fast.

As far as water goes, stick to the little chick waterers with small openings. They will empty them fast so you may need a few. In my experience though, baby turkeys will soak themselves if they have waterers with large openings, and since they can be delicate, a wet baby turkey is not a good situation. Sometimes you will need to add some shiny pennies or marbles to their waterers to get them interested so they’ll drink.

They will also need a heat lamp. I keep it at about 18 inches high until they’re about 5 days old. After that, it should be raised an inch or so every five days. Make sure there’s plenty of room for everyone to get under the heat lamp. Otherwise, they will pile up on top of each other. If they pile, you could end up with some crushed or smothered poults at the bottom of the pile.

You can take the heat lamp away once they’re fully feathered. However, baby turkeys seem to be more delicate than chicks. I tend to keep them in the brooder for a week or two after they’re feathered, and definitely keep them away from larger birds until they can fend for themselves.

Meeting the Needs of Your Young Turkeys

Our turkeys have always mingled with the rest of the farm animals once they’re big enough. They often roost with the chickens or sometimes in the main barn. However, there is a disease called Blackhead that is supposed to be a problem when chickens and turkeys are kept together. We’ve never had any issues with it, and I’ve never known anyone who has. Still, it is worth mentioning that many experts recommend not even raising turkeys on the same farm with other poultry. You should do your own research before you decide to let your turkeys mingle with the chickens.

The young turkeys can be switched over to turkey grower that is about 24% protein when they are eight weeks old. Then at six months, you can switch them to 16% protein pellets or crumbles. When they reach eight weeks of age, you should be able to the toms from the hens because they will walk around with their wings and tail feathers fanned out. The toms will also grow faster than the hens, and they will start to gobble when they are around this age as well.

Turkeys don’t do well with temperature extremes. Be sure to provide plenty of shade and fresh water in the summer. Turkeys are very vulnerable to the heat. The same goes for winter; they’ll need a bit more protection from the cold than your chickens do.

Turkeys can also do great on pasture because they love to forage. A movable electric net fence with a portable shelter would work great, as long as they had plenty of protection from the elements. A modified chicken tractor type enclosure would also be great, especially if you were just raising a few turkeys at a time. If you can give them plenty of access to fresh forage, it will cut down on your feed bill significantly, making them much more economical to raise.

When to Butcher Your Turkeys

Generally, heritage breed turkeys are butchered when they are anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks old. If you’re raising one of the new, heavier breeds, they’ll probably be ready to go at somewhere between 12 and 18 weeks. Often, hens are processed younger as broilers or fryers. The toms are left to grow longer into nice big roasters. However, the age of processing will vary somewhat depending on the breed and diet of your turkeys.

Turkeys can be a great addition to the homestead. They’re a great source of food for the family, and they’re a joy to have around the farm, as well.

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Geese and Guineas for Homestead Security

Birds as livestock guardians? Yes! And, they just might be the best critter for the job! We’ve talked about using llamas, donkeys, and dogs to guard our livestock, but did you know that some species of birds can make excellent guard animals, too? Birds could, in fact, be the perfect off-grid security solution for your homestead!

Using Geese for Homestead Security

If you want an animal that’s going to stay close to home and protect and defend your livestock and farm, consider a flock of guard geese. Believe it or not, geese have been used to protect police stations in China and to patrol prison yards in Brazil. Geese can be every bit as effective as a guard dog, and they do it on instinct. You don’t even have to train them.

All geese, but especially males, are extremely territorial. While most domestic geese retain their ability to fly, they choose not to. Once they know your farm is home, they will defend it from intruders, to the death if need be. Geese have even been successfully used as a defense against coyotes! Now that says something, doesn’t it?

Geese will bond with their owners and the other animals around them if they are brought to your farm as chicks. Anyone else, human or animal, is likely to be treated as an intruder and viciously attacked on sight. Their exceptional eyesight and hearing makes them perfect for detecting intruders both day and night. They also have a wide field of view, thanks to their widely spaced eyes.

Geese really know how to sound an alarm. Once they’ve noticed an intruder, there’s no stopping their honking until the threat is gone, and often for a good while afterwards, too! Geese are flock animals, so they are happiest in a group. That means intruders will face multiple defenders at once. Each goose comes armed with a sharp serrated beak that’s capable of inflicting some serious bites. But, that’s not all! Their wings are weapons, too. They are capable of beating their opponent so hard that they could actually break bones. And, certain breeds of domestic geese can weigh as much as 22 pounds! That’s a lot of power behind their punch.

If all that wasn’t enough, geese are easy to keep. Their food preference is to graze on grass. They are excellent foragers, so if there’s plenty of grass available, they won’t need much additional feed. Domestic geese don’t fly south for the winter, but prefer to stay at their home base. They don’t mind the cold and their downy feathers and webbed feet provide excellent insulation. Even better, they lay delicious eggs and they can live for up to 20 years. They make good moms and are quite capable of raising up their own young to expand the flock or fill the freezer.

The biggest con to having a flock of geese on the homestead is that they don’t know the difference between a hostile intruder and a friendly intruder. And, you’re not going to be able to call them off like you can a dog. They might attack the mailman or any other visitor that comes to your farm. You should be prepared to put them in some sort of pen when you’re expecting company, especially if the company includes small children!

Using Guinea Fowl for Homestead Security

Guineas are another multi-purpose bird that can be very useful on the homestead. A flock of guineas will work as a team, staying in a tight group as they forage around the farm looking for insects, small rodents, and snakes to eat. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and they’re always on the alert.

As a guardian animal, they attack in groups to chase off smaller poultry-eating predators including cats, opossums, and even raccoons. Your farm cats will learn really quick to stay clear of the guineas! Guineas have a natural hatred of snakes. They are fearless, and they’ve been used by ranchers to keep dangerous snakes like copperheads and rattlers away from the flocks. If you have problems with snakes eating your chicken eggs, keep some guineas around and you won’t have problems anymore! Groups of guineas will surround a snake, or other small predator, and literally peck it to death.

Guineas are also commonly used by the homesteader as an alarm animal. A flock of guineas that has spotted an intruder, human or animal, can be deafening. Over time, you learn to tell the difference between their normal noise and their alarm noise. You know that when they are raising an alarm you better go out and see what’s going on! They will alert you to the presence of all sorts of predators, including coyotes and stray dogs, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t belong.

Guineas are useful as pest control, too. If you have problems with ticks in your area, a flock of guineas will gobble them up pretty quick and keep them under control. In the garden, guineas can be used to patrol the crops for pests. They won’t do nearly as much damage to your plants as chickens will, and they will keep the bugs well under control. Just wait until your plants are pretty large before giving the guineas access to the garden because they may dig up seedlings in freshly worked soil.

Guinea hens lay delicious eggs, but only in the spring and early summer. Their eggs are a little smaller than chicken eggs and they are light brown in color. If you keep your guineas confined until they are done laying in the morning, it will be much easier to find the eggs. However, they will forage most of their food if allowed, so they’re very cheap to keep around.

Guineas do have some less endearing qualities you should be aware of, though. For one, guineas like to converse a lot, so they are noisy all the time, not just when they are sounding an alarm. If you have close neighbors, that could be an issue. Also, guineas don’t like to be confined. They will wander into neighbors’ yards looking for food and they prefer to roost in the trees at night if they can get away with it. They do, however, love millet and can be trained to come to their house at night for a treat, especially if you start when they’re keets. Also, guineas are not very smart, and they are vulnerable to larger predators like coyotes and foxes. Guineas are horrible mothers, so you’re better off incubating the eggs and brooding the keets yourself, or you could let a broody hen do it.

Conclusion

I’m a big believer in multiple layers of protection on the homestead. Having geese or guineas around as an alarm system and for protection against smaller predators makes good sense. Add in a larger guardian animal for protection against big predators and the best fencing you can afford, and you’ll have a very effective off-grid homestead security system.


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