At 18 weeks old, these majestic birds weigh between 38-40 pounds. (Remember, Katie and her family raise all male birds, or toms. Female turkeys, or hens, don’t grow quite so big.) These toms stood a little taller than knee-high, but were much wider than the flock I saw at 9 weeks old.
Male turkeys can be pretty aggressive. I didn’t spend much time in the barn with these birds – I was a new person to them, and they were getting interested in challenging me. If you’re not careful, the turkeys can get aggressive about their territory. They can lunge at you, try to bite, and even jump on your back! They might look handsome (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all), but they are not the friendliest animals you’ll ever meet.
When the turkey poults were 5 weeks old they were moved from the brooder house to a finisher barn. The turkeys live in the same finisher barn until they are ready to go to market. Katie and Bart’s goal is to raise the turkeys until they are almost 20 weeks old and weigh around 43 pounds.
Food and water is even more important as these boys grow up. They use the same type of automatic feed and water system as they had in the brooder house, only on a larger scale. This is why it is so important to keep the poults close to their food and water – they need to learn how to use the automatic systems early! The big silver box in this photo is part of the automatic feeding system. These boxes are attached to long chains of feeding stations that stretch all the way down this 528-foot long barn. There are a few rows of feeding stations, so the turkeys have plenty of access to food anytime they want.
In photo below, you can see another row of feeding stations (starting at the silver box), and a row of water stations (the white and red row, closer to the wall). You can also see part of the ventilation for this barn. Katie and Bart’s finisher houses use tunnel ventilation. The walls in the front of the barn open, and large fans at the back of the barn pull the fresh air through the barn. This can create quite the breeze when the walls are open and the fans are going full-strength!
Remember, baby turkeys like to stay nice and toasty warm, but as the turkeys get bigger they don’t like the heat quite so much. The older birds need to be kept cool, especially in the summer. Using tunnel ventilation like this is one way Katie and Bart help keep their birds cool during the hot summer months.
So, what in the world do you do with a 43 pound turkey? It sure won’t fit in your oven! These birds are raised for their breast meat. The turkey breast from these birds is destined for lunch meat… in fact, you might have even had some turkey from Katie’s farm at your favorite sandwich shop!
Don’t forget – June is National Turkey Lover’s Month! Be sure to check out the National Turkey Federation for more information about turkeys, and lots of turkey recipes!
What is your favorite way to eat turkey? Do you save it for Thanksgiving, or do you enjoy turkey year-round?
For more turkey information, check out these articles: