Raising turkey poults has some similarity to raising chicks but there are a few differences that you need to be aware of. As with raising any type of animal or poultry, if you’ve never done it before, research the issue first. Do not assume! We all know what happens when you do.
Baby turkeys like to play follow the leader. When setting up your brooder, make sure the water dish is shallow or put a rock in it if you aren’t using commercially made poultry waterers. If the dish is too deep, a turkey poult could drown and if one does, the others will probably follow.
Do yourself a favor and research the different ways you can set up a brooder for young poultry. I’ll tell you what I do, but you need to make sure how to set one up using the materials you have. Do Not Use A Cardboard Box! Cardboard holds moisture and you will have a fly breeding ground in no time at all with your little ones walking around on maggots. Sorry if it sounds a little graphic. I would rather you know the reason than try it and find out the hard way. You really need to use something made of plastic or plastic and wire mesh.
If I only have a few birds, say 6 or less, I use a medium to large pet taxi. They are easy to clean and it is easy to open up the taxi on the backside and insert a clamp lamp for heat while keeping it from being too close to the baby birds. On the bottom I usually put aspen or pine shavings. It makes it easy to clean and keeps them clean too. You can use newspaper but as the paper gets wet it tends to bleed the ink onto the birds. I would rather use a natural material without the ink and chemicals.
Into the pet taxi I place a small chick feeder filled with feed. Some use chick starter and others use game bird starter. I prefer to use game bird starter for my turkey poults. They seem to get a better start with it. You can use whatever type of feeder you have as long as it doesn’t take up too much space and the poults can’t scratch the feed out and waste it.
Next place a chick or game bird waterer into the pet taxi. It is best to sit this up on a block of wood. I usually use a piece of 2×4 cut to a 4″ length. This keeps the birds from kicking the litter into the water and keeps the water fresher longer. If the block is too large, the poults will perch on it and mess into their water.
This setup should last the birds for a couple of weeks until they are feathered enough to be moved into a non-heated habitat (unless you’re climate is still on the cool side, then keep them with heat a little longer). Once the poults are mostly feathered (unless you have nice warm temperatures) you can move them into an outdoor pen to continue their growth.
Remember that predators such as raccoons will climb into any enclosure after the young birds unless you have it fully enclosed or have an external gaurd (such as a dog) that will keep predators away. Also be aware that hawks will swoop down and carry off young birds if the pen is fairly large and the poults are still fairly small. Once you have raised them up to about a third of their adult size, they will look less like a quick snack and you won’t have to worry about them as much.
I have several small pens within a fenced area that are approximately 4′ x 9′. These pens are an ideal size to house several young poults, ducks, geese or chickens (young chickens can fly really well so make sure the fences are tall enough to keep them in). Each pen has a small house, waterer, and food dish under cover. For ducks I use the bottom trays off of rabbit/guinea pig cages that I pick up at the auctions. For bigger water fowl I use kiddie pools.
Once the poults have grown enough to determine sex, then I divide them into family units with one tom for every two or three hens. I try very hard to make sure the eggs or young birds come from different sources to ensure better bloodlines.
At this time we have Black Spanish Turkeys and Bourbon Red Turkeys. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck with the Narragansett eggs, but I’ll keep trying!