Is Raising Your Own Meat Turkeys Worth It?

bourbon red tom

Raising your own turkeys, that would make Thanksgiving more tasty than ever! Actually, home raised turkey is great through out the year, why limit yourself to just the holidays?!

Should you raise a heritage breed or stick with the basic broad breasted turkeys? And how much is all this going to cost, anyway?

A broad breasted turkey will take 16 weeks and cost $42.90 to raise, while a heritage breed turkey will take 28 weeks and cost $52.49 to raise.

Congratulations! Raising your own turkeys will open up a whole new world of poultry to you and your family.

You can say goodbye to those chemical laden, not so tasty turkeys at the store. Once you eat your own home raised turkey you’ll never go back, it’s that good!

4 Ways To Get Turkey Poults To Eat And Drink will give you some tips on getting your new poults of to a great start!

Broad Breasted Turkeys cost $42.90 to raise for meat

This table is for broad breasted turkeys only. The heritage breed turkeys are in the next table.

Cost of poult (broad breasted) each$8.02
Cost of feed to 16 weeks each$26.88
Cost to process each$8.00
Total cost per turkey
(home raised broad breasted turkey at 16 weeks)
Cost to buy a turkey
(freezer ready broad breasted turkey at about 16 weeks)
Money you save raising meat turkeys each
(price difference between bought and raised turkeys)
Money you save raising and processing meat turkeys each
(price from line above with processing fees removed)
Note that this table is for broad breasted toms at 16 weeks.

Heritage turkeys cost $52.49 to raise

Cost of poult (heritage turkey) each$13.86
Cost of feed to 28 weeks$30.63
Cost to process each$8.00
Total cost per turkey
(home raised heritage breed turkey)
Cost to buy a turkey
(freezer ready heritage breed turkey)
Money you save raising meat turkeys each
(difference between bought and raised turkeys)
Money you save raising and processing turkeys each
(price from line above with processing fees removed)
Note that this table is for heritage breed turkeys.

Both these tables show that no matter which breed of turkey you choose to raise you will save a significant amount of money raising your own turkeys rather than buying them from someone else.

Now you need to ask yourself, is the $50 bucks you save worth doing the work to raise your own turkeys?

white turkey at the fair
Here’s a good looking market turkey at our county fair.

Cost of a turkey poult is $8.02-13.86 each

Broad Breasted turkey poult$8.02 each
Heritage Breed turkey poult$13.86 each

The price of your poults will vary with the breed you choose to raise.

The lower priced poults are the Broad Breasted White turkeys and the higher priced poults are the heritage breeds.

Read my article 10 Breeds Of Turkeys for the breed characteristics.

Mainly the difference between B.B. turkey breeds and heritage breeds is the growth rate and the ability to be kept as breeding stock.

Both make fine eating turkeys, it’s more about what you prefer taste wise. If you want a nice, plump bird go with broad breasted turkeys.

You will have an order minimum for poults

In order to keep the turkey poults warm during shipping, there will be an order minimum that you need for your birds.

The hatchery I looked at has 8 poults as a minimum on B.B. turkeys and 20 as a minimum on the heritage birds.

Breed Of Turkey Minimum Order Cost
Broad Breasted turkeys (white or bronze)8$64.48
Heritage Breed turkey poults20$277.20

The breed of turkey you choose matters

Breed matters regarding growth and ability to keep some of the turkeys as breeding stock.

For the fastest growth, you’ll need to purchase broad breasted turkeys. These birds will finish at 16-20 weeks, depending upon how big you want them to get before processing.

If you are wanting to raise a breed of turkey that can reproduce, you’ll need to be thinking one of the heritage breeds, not broad breasted anything.

The specific heritage breed that you should raise is up to you. Choose the breed that you will be excited to see everyday!

When Can Turkey Poults Go Outside? goes over how you can tell if your poults are ready to leave the brooder and graduate to a secure outside pen.

You should be aware that turkey hens are not good moms! They are great setters and hatchers, but terrible at minding the poults.

You’ll need to plan a place to take care of the poults, just like you would care for poults you ordered in.

blue slate tom turkey
Blue Slate tom, look in the lower left the black “hair” that you can see is his beard!

Get turkey poults by mid July

If you are wanting to have your turkeys ready for Thanksgiving, you’ll want to have the poults by mid July.

This would give you a 16 week old turkey at a week or two before the holiday.

If you are wanting a bigger bird for Thanksgiving, you’ll need to get your birds in late June to hit the 20 week mark a week or two before you need them.

Mid July hatched and delivered poults is for broad breasted turkeys, we’ll get into heritage turkeys below.

Target Live Weight When Finished
(Broad Breasted Turkeys Only)
Get Poults At This Time
25 pounds (20 processed)mid July
36 pounds (28.8 processed)mid June
These numbers are for broad breasted white turkeys only and are based on you planning to process the birds a week before Thanksgiving.

Planning a bit of wiggle room into your schedule will give you options when it comes to butchering dates and remove some of the stress that can come from a tight schedule.

Not to mention, if you are planning on having someone else process your birds, the more options you have for processing appointments, the better off you’ll be.

After all, getting your turkey processed early means you put it in the freezer and all is well. Processing late means you missed Thanksgiving!

Here are our Bourbon Red Turkeys pecking around on a warm late fall day.

Heritage turkeys need more time to grow

You’ll need to have your heritage birds by late April for 28 week old birds or late May for 24 week old turkeys ready for processing a week or so before Thanksgiving.

Target Live Weight When Finished
(Heritage Breed Turkeys Only)
Get Poults At This Time
14 pounds (10.5 processed)late May
20 pounds (15 processed)late April
These numbers are my best guess, heritage turkeys vary quite a bit, from breed to breed and from male to female. If you need a more precise answer, ask the breeder or hatchery.

It is important to remember that although the heritage birds are taking longer, the amount of feed they will need to eat will be nearly the same as the broad breasted turkeys.

Heritage birds will spread out the eating over a longer period of growing.

This means the cost to raise a heritage turkey will be right about the same as the cost to raise a broad breasted turkey as far as feed costs are concerned.

The big differences here are cost of the poults and time that you are putting into this project.

$90 to purchase finished turkeys

If you do a quick online search for turkey in your area, you’ll see plenty of folks who are already raising turkeys and how they have them priced.

In my area, Ohio, I end up with a common cost of $5.00 per pound of processed turkey.

Some farmers priced each bird, for example I saw an online ad for $65.00 each turkey, but most places went per pound.

Most toms would weigh 25 pounds live, which would give you a 20 pound bird that would cost $100.

Weight Of Processed TurkeyTotal Cost
20 pounds Broad Breasted Turkey
(about 25 pounds live)
13.5 pounds Heritage Breed Turkey
(about 18 pounds live)

A farm close to us, Tea Hills, list the price as $4.50 per pound, which would put the total cost for the turkey at $90.

They also list the price of heritage breed turkeys at $6.99 per pound. These birds would be smaller, more like 12-14 pounds processed.

An 18 pound heritage breed turkey would process out to be 13.5 pounds for a total cost of $94.37.

Cost for turkey feed is $0.42 per pound

At our local farm store the cost of turkey starter is $16.99 per 40 pound bag, which is $0.42 per pound.

They have a smaller bag available, buy the big one. The cost savings is substantial!

Age Of TurkeyAmount Of Turkey Feed NeededTotal Cost
Tom @ 16 weeks64 pounds of feed each$26.88
Tom @ 20 weeks 101 pounds of feed each$42.42
Hen @ 16 weeks46 pounds of feed each$19.32
Hen @ 20 weeks64 pounds of feed each$26.88
This table is for broad breasted turkeys. Precise information on heritage breed turkey feed intake is not available.

Be sure you are getting turkey starter!

This is a biggie, no medication, not all flock or anything else. Turkeys need a very high protein feed, especially for the first few weeks.

This is a non negotiable, feed the turkey starter only.

It will be worth your time to shop around for turkey feed.

If you live in an area with a feed mill that grinds their own feed, not just sells 50 pound bags of brand name feed, stop in and see what they have to offer. I can tell you, the feed mill prices will be less than $0.42 per pound!

64 pounds of feed per 16 week old turkey

This 64 pounds is for male (tom) turkeys. For hens, you’ll need 46 pounds.

This works out to toms and hens both having a feed to gain ratio of 2.5. Meaning for every 2.5 pounds of feed they eat they will gain 1 pound of weight.

Why the difference in feed? It’s really a difference in growth.

At 16 weeks, broad breasted toms will weigh 25.25 pounds each and hens will weigh 18.65 pounds.

To get to 16 weeks your turkeys will have eaten $26.88 of feed for toms and $19.32 of feed for hens.

Feed To Gain Ratio Of TurkeysFeed : Gain
16 week old broad breasted turkeys2.5 to 1
20 week old broad breasted turkeys2.8 to 1
28 week old heritage breed turkeys5.2 to 1

101 pounds of feed per 20 week old turkey

The 101 pounds of feed is for a 36 pound tom, the hens will have eaten closer to 64 pounds of feed and weigh 24 pounds.

Once your turkeys are at 20 weeks old, they will have eaten $42.42 of feed per tom and $26.88 of feed per hen.

These turkeys are up to 2.8 pounds of feed per pound of gain, meaning they are a little less efficient now than when they were younger.

Heritage breed turkeys eat 73 pounds of feed by 28 weeks

Each heritage breed turkey will eat 72.93 pounds of feed from day old to 28 weeks.

At 28 weeks you should have an 14 pound turkey, which will give you a feed to gain ratio of 5.2 to 1.

Here is another PDF from the Livestock Conservancy. It has feed consumption of heritage breed turkeys (that’s where I’m getting these numbers) and gives practical advice on raising small flocks.

Feed costs for heritage turkeys are $30.63

Take the 72.93 pounds of feed and multiply by $0.42 per pound to get $30.63 for feed per bird.

The Livestock Conservancy PDF on the economics of heritage breed turkey production on the range, you should read it before you get your poults.

There is a ton of great information here but, since it was published in 2007, be ready for some sticker shock when you compare todays feed and poult prices to the prices listed!

Read the information for the how to part, but be sure to use current prices regarding feed and poults specifically!

I have to mention, I have found ratios as high as 6.08 to 1 for specific strains of turkeys, but the math supports 5.2 to 1 as an overall average.

If the strain of turkeys you have is in the 6.08 to 1 group, you’ll need to feed about 110 pounds of feed to get the 18 pound live bird, which will cost $46.20 each.

Cost of processing the turkeys is $8

From what I have been able to find, the cost to process turkeys is $8.00 each.

The $8.00 processing feed would get you a beautifully plucked, bagged and frozen turkey.

Cost To Process Each Turkey$8.00 plus travel
Cost To Process At Home$0.00
The only thing you might need to buy is a tub to scald the turkey in, a 5 gallon bucket will be too small. You could get an 18 gallon tub for less than $20.00 that would work well.

You would need to plan to drop off the turkeys at the processor the night before the appointment.

This requires some sort of containment of the turkeys during transportation (a large dog kennel would work) and going back to get the finished birds.

For us, the closest turkey processor is an hour away, so that’s four hours of driving (down and back, twice) to get and pay for the freezer ready turkey.

Be sure to check around and nail down a price and location, meaning have an appointment, before you order turkeys that you plan to have someone else butcher!

You can butcher your own turkey at home

Home butchering of turkeys is actually easy. I think turkeys are even easier than broilers!

If you can process your own broilers, definitely give home processing of your turkeys a try. You’ll be surprised at how well it will go.

The body cavity of a turkey is so roomy compared to that of a chicken, plus the feathers come out just as easily.

The only challenge with home processing of your turkeys is the scalding container needs to be a bit larger than the size you would need for chickens.

If you don’t have a suitable container already, get an 18 gallon tub at the farm store.

If you are processing heritage turkeys, this is not a big deal. While heritage turkeys are significantly bigger than broilers they are not monsters.

The broad breasted whites or bronze, on the other hand, will be challenging to scald, strictly because of size. If your scald is good, they will pluck as easy as any other turkey.

You may have other costs to raise turkeys

I have left out your time and other expenses like the area to raise the turkeys, electricity, fencing, feeders, waterers, etc.

You will need to figure out all of these things and anything you don’t have will (obviously) cost.

However, you might have everything you need already or can easily borrow these items and all you need are the birds and feed.

Since this part of turkey raising varies so much, especially how you choose to value your time, I do not even attempt to put it into the budget.

If you are considering raising turkeys for a business, now all these expenses that I’ve left out are a pretty big deal and need to be budgeted in.

I am figuring you are raising these turkeys for the enjoyment of it, so having an all inclusive budget is not needed.

Sell the extra turkeys you raised

Since you did not raise just one turkey, you’ll have a few to sell or give away to friends. If you are a people person, selling your extra birds may be the ticket.

People seem to do plenty of last minute buying especially once November rolls around. Anyone who did not secure their holiday bird already, will be shopping around.

Check around for local prices, to see what you could reasonably expect to get for your birds. If the local turkey growers are sold out, things are looking good here!

The other option is to keep all of the birds yourself and put them in your freezer. We love to have turkey throughout the year, it’s wonderful meat.

Plus, I like the part about how one turkey (one bird to raise, catch, process and freeze) gives you so much meat!

If you have never tried home butchering, turkeys are easy. Give it a shot.

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