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Your own turkey breeding business for meat

04.03.2024  |  Turkey business

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Many novice poultry farmers consider the possibility of breeding turkeys on their farms. First and foremost, they are attracted by lower competition in this segment and higher profitability of such a business compared to raising and breeding chickens, for example. Indeed, a turkey tom weighs much more than a chicken (the weight of a large breed male at 1-1.5 years of age can reach 30 kg). With intensive rearing of young birds and multiple replenishment of the breeding stock, one bird can produce an average of up to 200 eggs per year and over 600 kg of meat with proper feeding of the offspring. Turkey meat has excellent taste and nutritional properties, it is easily absorbed by the human body and contains a large amount of beneficial amino acids and complete proteins.

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  However, there are certain points to consider at the planning stage of organizing a turkey farm. The main three issues you will face in the operation process are diseases, feed base, and marketing of the final products. In general, turkeys are healthy, resistant to various diseases, and can tolerate cold and heat relatively well, and are not demanding in terms of housing conditions. But all this holds true only for adult birds. Turkey poults, on the contrary, have weak health. Therefore, if you do not have much experience in poultry farming, it is better to start with raising and breeding chickens. Turkeys are not omnivorous birds, they are quite selective in their feeds. Although the feed consumption per individual is relatively small (especially considering the weight of the bird), the costs of purchasing feeds turn out to be significant in the end, which also needs to be taken into account in planning.

Regarding marketing, turkey meat is indeed delicious and nutritious, but it has not yet gained as much popularity in the Russian market as it has abroad. In European and North American countries, a large variety of dishes are made from turkey meat, ranging from smoked products to pâté. In Russia, however, cheaper chicken meat and dishes made from it are the leading choices in terms of consumption volumes. Although, overall, experts note a positive trend in the development of this market segment, the issue of marketing their products remains quite relevant for turkey producers. If you are willing to invest a lot of effort, time, and resources into breaking into the shelves of retail chains, negotiating beneficial partnerships with wholesale companies, setting up your own retail points in markets in your city and/or region, then your turkey farm will bring in high and stable profits. However, it is important not to forget that the investments in this case will be significant.

Choosing a specialization

First, you need to determine the specialization of your farm business. There are three main options. You can focus on selling eggs and chicks, raising young birds to market age for resale, or producing and maintaining breeding poultry. In the first case, if you plan to produce eggs, you will need to have a breeding flock with one male for 6-8 females. Turkeys reach egg-laying age at 6-8 months. One turkey can yield up to two hundred eggs in a year. You can sell both eggs and young turkeys. This direction is considered the most profitable. Experts believe that the most effective sales of young birds are at the age of 3-6 weeks. Considering the optimal levels of expensive feed consumption and high selling price of young turkeys at this age, profitability can reach up to 50-70% on farms and up to 100% on smallholdings.
If the area is limited, specialists advise entrepreneurs to engage in the production of day-old poultry from March to July, during the spring-summer period. The cost of day-old poultry is determined by the cost of incubation eggs, transportation expenses for their delivery, and the results of incubation. The cost of eggs accounts for 85-90% of the total expenditure. To calculate the cost of day-old poultry, other factors such as electricity costs, labor costs, veterinary drug costs, equipment depreciation, and other current expenses are also taken into account.

With sufficient production space and investments, one can consider raising poultry for meat by fattening them. The major expenses in this case are purchasing day-old poultry and feed. Poultry reaches marketable age at 20-26 weeks. The optimal fattening duration for females is considered to be 154 days (20-22 weeks) and for males 182 days (26 weeks). During this period, females gain up to 14 kg of weight on average, and males up to 21 kg. By this age, the ducks are ready for slaughter, and the feed conversion ratio and daily weight gain are in optimal balance. Aiming for seasonal poultry farming in the spring-summer period with the full market realization of products in winter is optimal for northern regions. Harsh winters lead to high energy costs, drastically reducing profitability and making year-round production less profitable.

The most complex, costly, and least suitable option for newcomers in the poultry business is related to breeding and maintaining breeding poultry. Selection of the healthiest females and males in the ratio of one male to 6-8 females is required for breeding. Eggs of medium size and correct shape are preferred for incubation. It is recommended to obtain eggs and day-old poultry from private farms rather than poultry farms.

If you already have a small farm or lack experience in raising poultry, you can start with a mini-farm. While substantial profits may not be expected, you will at least recoup your initial expenses and gain valuable experience. Separate dry and clean premises are needed for poultry farming. A non-insulated barn or sheds in fenced areas can be used as a poultry house in warmer regions. Turkeys can tolerate temperatures down to -10-15 ºC, but it is advisable to provide more comfortable conditions. - Translate into English for poultry farm owners.
The area of a turkey house depends on the conditions of maintenance and the size of the flock. When birds are kept in cages or aviaries, the stocking density norms are up to 15 one-month-old turkeys per square meter, up to 10 two-month-old turkeys per square meter, and up to five birds older than two months per square meter. Adult birds should be kept separate from the young, as they can trample or peck the chicks. Regardless of the form of housing, contact with wild birds should be avoided at all costs. To prevent drafts, cages are lined with polyethylene film, leaving enough space for ventilation.

The turkey house should be dry and well-ventilated. Ideally, a ventilation system that eliminates the possibility of drafts harmful to bird health should be used. Nests are usually made of wooden bars about 8-10 cm wide and high. They are placed at a height of about 80 cm from the floor, half a meter apart. There should be about 40-50 cm of nest per bird. Nests are arranged at a ratio of one per four individuals. They can be placed on the floor or hung at a low height. A container with sand for dust baths is placed near each nest. When keeping turkeys indoors, an outdoor area enclosed with a high mesh fence should be provided. As experience shows, the more active the bird's lifestyle, the higher the meat quality. The floor of the turkey house is lined with hay, shavings, or sunflower husks, and the bedding should be changed regularly to keep it dry and clean. Daily cleaning and disinfection of the premises and cages, as well as washing and sterilizing feeders and drinkers, are necessary. This helps to prevent various diseases to which turkeys are susceptible. Feeders and drinkers should be protected from contamination, and the birds' diet should be monitored closely to avoid stress.

Feeding Turkeys

Turkeys, unlike chickens, are quite selective in their feeding habits. The main part of their diet consists of wheat grain and various flour mixtures. They are also given root vegetables (typically boiled potatoes, as well as carrots and beets), cabbage, dry animal feeds, wheat bran, grains, and grasses (corn, barley, millet, oats, alfalfa). Various vitamins and minerals are added to the feed mixtures for the full development of the birds. It is also recommended to add cottage cheese, vegetable oil, and salt to the turkeys' diet. The daily feed allowance depends on the age of the bird. Chicks consume about 30 grams of feed per day, while adult birds can eat up to 400 grams. Feeders and drinkers are placed in the cooler part of the cage or poultry house. Turkeys are provided with fresh clean water. Young turkeys are given boiled water at room temperature with a small amount of sugar to improve digestion in the first few days.

Raising Chicks

Turkey breeds are categorized based on the weight of the adult bird. This results in three main types of crosses:

- Light (females up to 4.4 kg, males up to 9 kg);
- Middle (females up to 8 kg, males up to 16 kg);
- Heavy (females up to 14 kg, males up to 30 kg).

On small farms, it is recommended to prefer light and middle crosses. Heavy crosses are suitable for domestic use or, conversely, for large industrial enterprises. Specialists usually recommend purchasing chicks from private farms rather than poultry farms. However, there are drawbacks to both options. Birds purchased from industrial enterprises generally have good immunity and are more protected from various diseases. However, the quality of the breed is often not as good. Moreover, a wide selection of breeds is usually not available. Private breeders have the potential to better monitor the flock, engage in breeding different breeds, and even conduct breeding work. However, they cannot afford to maintain a stationary veterinary service and veterinarians, so by acquiring chicks from an unverified farm, you risk getting sick birds.

When buying new birds, choose only healthy and active individuals. In case of any signs of ill health, promptly isolate sick birds from healthy ones. Ensure that you have medicinal products in your farm (such as Lugol's solution, caustic alkali, creolin, chlorinated lime, etc.), and establish cooperation with a good veterinary doctor.

On small farms, for the first twenty days after the chicks hatch, they are kept in cages in a warm, draft-free room with constant access to feeders and drinkers. Fine gravel is poured into a separate feeder. After three weeks, the chicks are transferred to a well-ventilated room, letting them out for walks twice a day in warm weather - in the morning and evening.

On large poultry farms, birds aged 1-4 weeks are kept on the floor under brooders or in battery cages, and then also released into the poultry house with the possibility of access to outdoor areas. Bunker feeders and drinkers are located at the level of the birds' backs, and as the chicks grow, they are gradually raised. This helps reduce feed and water consumption. If feeders and drinkers are placed on the floor, turkeys often overturn them, spill feed, and splash water.

Recently, the progressive method of raising light and medium turkey crosses from day-old to slaughter using battery cages has become widespread. This technology has long proven its effectiveness. Keeping chicks in battery cages allows optimizing the labor costs of the service personnel, reducing the cost of expensive feed per kilogram of weight gain, increasing live weight, improving chick survival, and using every square meter of the poultry house efficiently. They consist of metal frameworks divided into cells. Front and rear supports are located on the ends of the frame, on which feed dispensers and manure removal mechanisms are installed. Each tier of the battery is equipped with a belt for manure removal. Thus, such a battery cage allows for the automation of almost all processes in bird rearing - from feeding and watering to cage cleaning. Thanks to a special design of a suspended bunker feeder dispenser, selective feeding can be provided to any tier's feeders. The adjustable feeding dose may range from 50 grams per meter to 2000 grams per meter. A nipple watering system with drip catchers is used for watering.

For more information on the intensive rearing method of turkeys in battery cages, you can visit breeders' websites, offering both the "raw material" (eggs and day-old chicks) as well as feed and all necessary equipment. The use of battery cage technology, as promised by manufacturers, can yield up to 190 kg of live weight per square meter of useful area. Note that battery cages are generally intended for raising turkeys up to eight weeks old, after which they are transferred to cages for adult birds or to ground-based housing.
If the areas are limited, specialists recommend that entrepreneurs engage in the production of day-old poultry in the spring-summer period (from March to July). Its cost is determined by the cost of incubation eggs, transportation costs for their delivery, and the results of incubation. The cost of eggs reaches 85-90% of the total expenses. To calculate the cost of day-old turkey poults, one should also take into account the electricity costs, labor costs, the cost of veterinary drugs, depreciation of equipment, and other current expenses.

With sufficient production space and investments, it is possible to engage in raising turkeys for meat. The main items of expenditure in this case are the purchase of day-old poultry and feed. The poultry reaches the marketable age by 20-26 weeks. The optimal fattening age for females is 154 days (20-22 weeks) and for males - 182 days (26 weeks). During this period, females gain up to 14 kg of weight (on average, 5.8 kg), and males up to 21 kg (on average, 11.4 kg). By this age, the turkey carcass is considered marketable, and key indicators such as average daily weight gain and feed costs per kilogram of weight gain are in an optimal balance. Full evisceration of the turkey at this age allows obtaining 60-65% meat yield from live weight, while partial evisceration can yield up to 80%. Turkeys can grow up to a two-year age, but with further fattening periods (more than 26 weeks), feed costs per unit of production sharply increase, prompting producers to switch to cheaper feeds. The option of seasonal poultry farming in the spring-summer period, followed by full product realization as winter approaches and freezing production, is optimal for northern regions. In severe frosts, high costs of energy sources can lead to a sharp decrease in profitability of such production, making it unprofitable for year-round operation.

The most complex, costly, and least suitable option for novices in this business is associated with the breeding and maintenance of breeding poultry. For this, healthy young birds are selected from the best females and males in the aforementioned ratio (one male to 6-8 females). Medium-sized and properly shaped eggs are preferred for incubation. It is recommended to purchase eggs and young birds not from poultry farms, but from private farms with verified breeders.

Turkey Farming

If you already have your own homestead, if you are not sure if the business will be successful, or if you do not have much knowledge of turkey farming, you can start with a mini-farm. Of course, significant profits should not be expected in this case, but at a minimum, you will recoup all your initial expenses and gain valuable experience. To keep turkeys, you will need a separate, dry, and clean space. An uninsulated barn or covered areas on fenced land can be used for turkey farming, especially in southern regions. Turkeys can tolerate temperatures down to -10-15 ºC, but experts still recommend providing more comfortable conditions for the birds. This is especially important for young birds and laying hens. For chicks in the first week, the recommended temperature is 32-35 ºC when placed in cages and 28-30 ºC when housed indoors. The temperature is then gradually lowered to 17-20 ºC. Similar to many other poultry, it is most advantageous to raise and breed turkeys year-round in regions with a warm climate, as in northern areas, up to 75-80% of all expenses in the winter will be related to heating the turkey farm. Consequently, the cost of the final product increases.