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SUSTAINABILITY Keeping turkeys

Outdoor Living
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Fattening the turkeys



Growing your own
Chris Brown


Turkeys are great craic. They are likeable creatures and handsome with it, in a prehistoric kind of a way. I enjoy watching them as they potter about the place. Unlike a herd of bison, which would require lots of room to roam about in, turkeys can be kept in a smallish area which is helpful as it gives lots of people the opportunity to grow some food of real quality for the dinner table.
As a species, what makes turkeys a really suitable choice as a table bird, is that they put on weight quickly, providing lots of succulent meat. Typically, the bird will kill out at about 12-14 lbs (5 kg) in weight which should provide a family of four with at least five good meals. It pays to prepare meals over a couple of days when the meat is at its best, freezing some down as ready made meals, to be enjoyed at some date in the future.
Feeding turkeys is easy enough; I find a mix of corn (flaked maize), rolled barley and a fattening ration, all kept in a container like a dustbin with a lid, fed at the last hour of daylight keeps them happy, and during the day I chuck kitchen scraps into the poultry garden for them to squabble over. The shrapnel left on young children’s and picky adults’ plates, is very suitable. This is handy because the sketchy information generally given on composting – that vital process that turns things that have lived before into things that can live again, that no household has any excuse not to manage – advises not to use cooked food (although you can) in the compost bin. Between 5 and 10 per cent of their diet can be meat based- just watch them chase after bacon rind!
As with all animal keeping, you will find things a lot easier if you have a few basic items of clothing and equipment. A pair of stout Wellingtons and a decent apron really does make poultry handling more pleasant and hygienic.
The apron should be long and made of oilskin (as worn in abattoirs) to keep your clothes clean.
Turkey droppings on your shirt aren’t desirable when sneaking out for a cheeky pint, so putting on an apron; gloves and wellies every time you go out to feed your birds is the best habit to get into.

Housing

The size of the turkey shed is obviously relative to the number of birds you are fattening. A suitable number of birds would be about four, and that would require a shed the size of a hatchback car. Old cars and vans make excellent conversions into poultry cabins, and if done thoughtfully can remain on wheels making them moveable. Previously loved motor vehicles no longer roadworthy provide closing doors, have a roof, let in light, are off the ground and chickens, ducks or turkeys like being in them. That’s a lot of saving on building sheds – and surely cars, vans, and buses can be put to better use than being crushed. I think old vehicles turned into houses for birds look wicked, but, I am not sure that everyone would agree with this…
Keeping poultry is about looking after the basic needs of animals. They don’t like to be in a draught and always need access to clean water, which fortunately is plentiful in Mhaigh Eo; effort should be made to catch rainwater. They need to be secure against predators – if a dog gets amongst poultry, dead birds will be pretty much a certainty: not all dogs will be a threat, but thought needs to be given to this point.
There is a time commitment, and poultry sheds need cleaning out. Not everyone has the stomach for that. The keen gardener will see the potential of high-nitrogen poultry manure and might lend a hand. If you don’t fancy keeping turkeys but like the idea of them having a decent time of things, encourage a friend or neighbour by ordering an oven-ready bird off them.

Next time Using the freezer

Chris Brown runs Brown’s Farm, a small farm in Louisburgh. He is an advocate of sustainable, natural farming methods and buying local.