Raising Turkeys As Pets Or Only For Meat?

Do turkeys make good pets? Yes, and you would be surprised how entertaining this bird species can be! People who consider raising turkeys often think of meat in the first place. But once they start with the little poults it becomes difficult to process the feather balls when they reach table weight. In this article, you will learn more about what it’s like to own a flock of pet turkeys.

Pet turkey

If you want a game bird as a pet, turkeys do a better job than pheasants. They are affectionate, intelligent and quite low maintenance. Of course, the “exotic level” is not as high as in flamingos or even ostriches. That being said, “coolness” is not the right thing to look for when opting for a new pet.

Can You Keep Wild Turkeys As Pets?

No, wild birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act in the US. You would need a special permit to keep this kind of bird as a pet. For most private persons the restrictions are too high.

It requires a lot of knowledge and the ability to take proper care to get the license. Rescue shelters and animal parks are usually the only institutions that are allowed to keep wild birds.

I recommend getting your first poults or juvenile birds from a reputable breeder.

8 Things You Should Know Before Getting A Pet Turkey

Before buying a new pet there are always things to consider. Turkeys make wonderful pets without a doubt but some characteristic behavior might surprise you. Here are some things you should know:

Turkeys Are Domesticated

Turkeys in outside run at a homestead

As I’ve already mentioned, you should get your pet turkey from a reputable breeder. That way you will get a healthy and hopefully long-living new friend. 

Through selective breeding, humans created animals that meet our needs the most. Even if this means that turkeys were bred for meat and homesteading in the early days there are more characteristics that come with it.

Turkeys we can buy today are less aggressive and more friendly towards humans than their wild relatives. It might sound obvious but is very essential when we talk about pets. Even the wildest animal can be tamed but domestication is something very different.

Domesticated pets need their human companions. On the other instincts can kick in at every time when dealing with a tamed but wild animal. They are unpredictable.

Heritage Turkeys

Turkey on a grass field

Before you make your decision you should take some time to inform yourself about the different breeds. No matter if you plan to raise your turkeys for meat or as pets, I recommend getting a heritage breed.

These breeds are older and have many advantages. Besides that, you do something to keep the breeds alive. There are fewer backyard farmers today and the industry uses its own breeds which get much bigger but are also prone to many illnesses. Their lifespan is short and you wouldn’t have much fun with them.

Breeds that are counted as heritage are for example:

  • Auburn
  • Buff
  • Black
  • Bourbon Red
  • Narragansett
  • Royal Palm
  • Slate
  • Standard Bronze
  • Midget White

But this list is not close to complete.

If you choose one of them the pros overweight clearly:

  • Pet turkeys live longer
  • The animals are healthier
  • The meat tastes better if you plan to process the animal
  • Heritage turkeys can breed on their own (and the eggs are tasty even if you plan keeping the individuals as pets)

Turkeys Are Friendly

Turkeys love the presence of humans. They are friendly, love getting petted and are very affectionate. Even older individuals bond fast and strong with humans. It might be, that your turkey wants to follow you, where ever you go.

While this might be funny, it can also strain your nerves. Especially young birds might start to cry after you leave them in their run at night.

Watch the video below to see how a men and a turkey became friends.

Often turkeys are very open towards new people they see. This can be frightening for the chosen new friends when they can’t interpret the behavior of the bird.

However, turkeys are good pets for families with children as the birds are curious, like to play and cuddle. Sometimes the whole flock looks jealously at the one who gets the hugs from a human.

Turkeys Can Fly

Wild turkeys are flying

You should have in mind, that these birds actually can fly when you plan to raise them at home. While the new industrial meat turkeys are often too heavy or ill to leave the ground, heritage turkeys are always able to lift their body into the air.

Even if they can only fly short distances, they might be able to escape. You have to use a net over their outside run or clip the wings to prevent this situation. Wing clipping is an absolutely painless procedure many bird owners choose.

Turkeys Can Be Noisy

Turkeys can make different sounds depending on their mood and what they want to express. How noisy an individual can also depends hugely on its character.

Especially during mating season or when toms in the flock compete for something it can get a little louder. Sometimes individuals even make sounds to get your attention.

Turkeys Need A Lot Of Room

Flock of turkeys in backyard

When you compare turkey to chickens people keep in their backyards for meat production, they need a lot more room. It’s quite obvious because turkeys are bigger birds but you should have this fact in mind as bigger animals need more space.

The general rule is always that the more space the better it is for your pets. Turkeys need some place to run, trees should be integrated for roosting and of course, you would have to provide shelter in any form.

Turkeys can get along with different weather conditions very well but a dry place is always a good idea.

Turkeys Eat A Lot

Turkeys eat more than chickens and they need a good amount of protein in their diet. Don’t make the mistake to give them solely grain and seeds. Turkeys are omnivores that change the things they eat according to the seasons.

They will mostly be happy with fruits, vegetables, grain and insects. But you might observe them feeding on snails, fish and even meat. If chosen carefully you can even give them some leftovers from your last meal.

However, when you plan to raise your turkeys for meat, you have to take into account that you would have to feed more to get them to table weight fast. That makes the produced meat more expensive per pound than chicken meat might be.

Turkeys Are Cleaner Than Chickens

The headline says it all. Animals make dirt of course. But turkeys are surprisingly clean, especially when you compare them to chickens. 

It all comes down to the missing instinct of scratching. They won’t scatter the mess all around their habitat. Usually, even their food stays at the place you put it.

Wrapping Things Up

Turkeys do make great pets and they can also be raised for meat. However, don’t mix both reasons for keeping them up. They are affectionate and have great personalities. So it might doesn’t end how you have planned it 😉 

Turkeys can be a good companion for kids. They love to play and like to cuddle. Additionally, you can say that turkeys are low maintenance when you compare them to standard pets like cats or dogs.