The turkey count-down

Our turkeys don’t know that they’re due to be slaughtered one month from today, and that’s probably a good thing. If I were going to die in exactly 31 days, I don’t think I’d want to know about it.

If, by some unhappy mischance, I did know about it, I would do my level best to enjoy the one upside: I’d eat anything I wanted.

Going into their last month, our turkeys are supposed to grow as much as possible, and we’re supposed to feed them stuff that A) makes them grow but also B) makes them taste good. The problem is, we’re not quite sure what that is.

Some people swear by finishing a turkey on corn, but our birds don’t seem to care for corn. The last thing we need in the turkey pen is a hunger strike, protesting unappetizing rations. The feed we give them is grower/finisher pellets, and it may be that we just continue with that, but I’d really like to find something that would pack on the pounds.

We weighed them today, and they’re definitely not yet table-ready. Drumstick, our alpha tom, is 17 pounds. Beta and Gamma, the two other males, are 14.5 pounds each. Edith, the lone hen, comes in at a mere 10.

Eat! Eat! I told them, after the weigh-in.

We’re trying to find ways to encourage them. We bought them a Flock Block, a twenty-five-pound cube of compressed seeds, nuts, minerals, and other poultry delicacies, but they seem lukewarm on it. They give it a few halfhearted pecks, but they don’t set on it with a will.

Kevin spread some corn on the ground in their pen, but they simply ignore it. Then he mixed some in with their feed, and they don’t seem to pick it out, but neither do they seem to step up their consumption.

I know it’s a drastic step, and I’ll do it only as a last resort, but I’m thinking of telling them they only have 31 days to live.

22 people are having a conversation about “The turkey count-down

  1. Have you tried acorns? I’ve heard unappreciative deer hunters call wild turkeys “acorn vultures,” and I’m pretty sure that the acorns they eat are the main reason I love eating wild turkeys above most creatures.

  2. Whenever I have anything that needs to put on weight, I feed them crimped (or rolled) barley. Of course inputs like that cost money and make your finished turkey a more expensive venture. If your turkeys will even eat barley. Shame you can’t get them to eat clams…

    Personally, I’ve found that feeding corn to poultry only causes them to put on yellow fat. That can be a good thing if you want a moist bird, but it does impart a particular flavor that isn’t to everyone’s taste.

    I think some patented Haspel experimentation is in order. And for the record, if I had 31 days to live, I would aim to die with 300+ cholesterol level and a liver like fois gras.

  3. I dunno, 17 pounds sounds respectable to me. How many people are you planning to feed? At worst, you could serve two turkeys. I’m not sure what our turkey hen weighs, but I’d be surprised if it were even 10 pounds. She is eating more and more all the time though…

  4. So I guess getting them to eat apples and/or garlic butter is out of the question? (Mmmm Garlic Butter)

    How about molasses?

    @Jen – Amen to the fois gras.

  5. They sound big enough by British standards! A ten pounder is about typical. (Obviously, we don’t do Thanksgiving, but turkeys are de riguer for Christmas.)

  6. My chickens pick at simple chicken scratch grain mix. You might try that.

    I feed my pony beet pulp shreds – during digestion, these remnants from sugar beet processing turn into high quality forage – with salad oil on it. Corn oil, canola, or soybean (salad) oil, most commonly. I got to using vegetable oil instead of grain while feeding my draft horse.

    I picked up a couple of near-empty buckets from the local movie theater, that contained an inch or so of coconut oil Below 76 degrees F, the oil stays solid. When I tipped one out last fall – I had wild birds gobbling up this vegetable “suet”.

    Which brings me to suggest – add vegetable oil to the turkey’s feed. Find what they like to eat (maybe the grocer’s discarded cabbage and broccoli trimmings, beet tops, etc.), and add just a bit of oil at first. With a horse we figure 2-3 weeks for a major feed change, and when going for 2 cups for a 2,000 pound horse, I start with 1/4 c. on one feeding for 2-3 days after he eats the oiled “horse salad” well, then add 1/4 c. to the other feeding as well, again for 2-3 days.

    At that rate of oil, you would be aiming for a total, after a couple of weeks, of 1/8th cup oil each day. You might just try a teaspoon or so of oil on half the feeder – and see if they notice, prefer, or disdain the ‘salad’ offering.

    I would suggest just a suet cake, but British researchers tried adding canola oil to their dairy cow’s feed – and ended up with lower cholesterol in the milk.

    I don’t know how different turkey diet is from chickens. I might get a few pounds of alfalfa pellets, though, and see if they will eat that (high energy and protein, if they can digest the alfalfa and it isn’t too rich for them). Perhaps crush the pellets if they are too large, and mix with their regular feed.

    If the bassicae work out – see if you can get any farmers market or grocery store rejects that have been too long on the shelf.

    And be sure to check with your veterinarian. Vets are a good place to go for advice on keeping livestock and poultry, even (maybe especially?) when they aren’t sick or injured.

    @ Jamie,

    I suspect that part of the difference in taste with wild turkeys is sheer exercise. Exercise darkens and tones the muscles – that is the reason breast meat on a duck is dark, because of the use of those muscles when flying. And why domestic turkey and chicken breasts are white and so much more pronounced.

  7. Jamie & Susan — I will definitely try acorns. I’ve tried them on the chickens, who don’t like them. I can’t say I blame them. I’ve tried them myself, and they’re bitter and tannic. I’m not sure I want to leach them for poultry, but I might …

    Jen — Clams! Now why didn’t I think of that? I’ll see if our feed store has barley. You’re vastly more experienced in this than I am, and I’m quite willing to take your word.

    Kate — 17 pounds is certainly big enough to eat, but we were hoping, after all this trouble, for the kind of bird that’s good for a week’s worth of meals. But even a 10-pound turkey will make a fine Thanksgiving. Or you can opt for the 13-pounder for Christmas!

    Kinglsey — Never thought of molasses. Don’t even know if turkeys eat molasses. And I’m thinking, since it doesn’t have protein, it might not help them grow. But it is calorie-dense, and if they like it …

    Kristin — Remember this is live weight. A 17-pound turkey will probably be 11 or 12 once it’s butchered. Still, you’re right that it’s enough. I think I’m being greedy.

    Brad — Thanks for the suggestions! I don’t remember seeing comments from you before, and I really appreciate it when new readers with (or even without) experience weigh in. We did give our chickens various kinds of fat last winter, and I think we overdid it to the point that one of them dropped dead from a liver problem. Live and learn. But adding oil to the turkey feed might help. In all I’ve read, I’ve never seen it suggested, so I’ll have to make sure that there isn’t some arcane reason (susceptibility to liver disease?) that you shouldn’t give turkeys fat.

    I’m thinking a nice mash of barley, vegetable oil, and molasses should do the trick!

  8. Tamar, those turkeys look fantastic! I have a bourbon red reserved with a buddy of mine up here who as an experiment raised them this year to produce some income for her non-profit therapy ranch. I know she has been giving them eggs from her hens that she can’t use or get rid of, as well as leftover scraps from the garden.

  9. My grandmother told me that they used to have to put marbles in the turkey feed to get them to eat. I never asked her if they ate the marbles too, or what sized marbles they used. Of course, marbles are probably collectible, at this point, if you could actually find them.

    I second Jen’s attitude toward thirty days notice, except that I would also add a touch of cirrhosis to that foie gras….

  10. We take the grain and cover it in water. in a few days it sprouts and the birds and animals we have seem to enjoy it more. the little bits of green poking out the top gives them some veg, and the kernel is softened by the process. not sure if it will work with turkeys as ours were taken by hawks, but it may work.

    we also live next door to a mass turkey farm, and our birds just don’t grow to the same size. the flavour is better though, so maybe you shouldn’t stress about their size and look forward to better meat and taste

  11. Hi Tamar! This is kind of off the subject, but do you have plans for those gorgeous feathers? I don’t know if the plucking process ruins them, and it might be interesting trying to collect them from the whirlwind created by Kevin’s plucking machine, but I bet you could set up some sheets to contain most of the feathers that fly off. There’s a good market for them out there (just google “wholesale turkey feathers”- it’s kind of shocking how much some of the feathers go for, considering how many feathers are on each one of those little monsters). Of course, if you’d be interested in trading, I’ve got a whole lot of home-cured olives, as well as lots and lots of garden seeds that I could send your way…

  12. Hank says crickets because he’s heard spring turkey hunters talk about delicious, cricket-eating spring birds. But while turkeys are omnivores, they tend to turn carnivore only at times of particularly high calorie needs (growing babies, taking care of babies, etc.), so yours may not go for it at this time of year.

    We eat a lot of upland birds in our house, and the best tasting ones are major seed eaters. A lot of the doves we at this year were feeding on safflower. Not sure what the price should be, but maybe you could try a sack of safflower, because the doves were ridiculously tasty. Problem is that I doubt you could buy a small sack to test their tastebuds, since it’s not a human food – you may have to buy a 50-pound bag. If you were nearby, I’d give you my leftovers from this summer, when I was baiting, trapping and banding doves.

    As for all the other suggestions, just remember you are what you eat, and whatever you feed them will hugely affect flavor. I think you should be glad they don’t like corn. Every freakin’ domestic animal in America eats corn, so that flavor has become wallpaper to our palates. Hank and I did a blind taste-test between four mallards with different diets – grass seeds, rice, corn and acorns – and the corn-eater ranked fourth in taste. First place went to the seed eater, second to the acorn eater, third to rice. Rice may be worth a try – our rice-eating ducks are fat and delicious.

  13. Rick — You are SUCH a genius.

    Brooke — It feels strange to me to give poultry eggs. It’s the whole fine feathered cannibals thing. And they don’t seem all that interested in vegetables — they’re way pickier than the chickens.

    Paula — We didn’t have to use marbles, although we’ve heard that it’s a common solution to a common problem. Ours took to food right away.

    And, no matter what you do, I don’t think you can get cirrhosis in a 31 days.

    Lynne — I’m sorry to admit that weighing the turkey is the most exciting thing I did in my pajamas that day …

    Cath — That’s an excellent idea, sprouting the grains. We have some extra rye seed (we got it to be a cover crop), and I may give it a shot. And I’ve got my fingers crossed on the flavor front. Since this is our first shot at turkeys, I’m not expecting the best bird ever. Not the worst, either, I’m hoping.

    Jocelyn — I had absolutely no idea that there was a market for turkey feathers! Do you have any idea what people use them for? Headdresses, is all I can think of.

    You can’t possibly know how much I like olives. I would SO trade you turkey feathers. Hell, you can have ’em all, if I can get a jar of your olives. Are you close by, by any chance?

    Holly — You did an actual experiment! You and Hank are people after my own heart. Our birds have a big hunk of seeds in the Flock Block, and I’m going to try acorns. But rice is a new one on me. As for crickets, that sounds excellent. I’ll just head down to Crickets R Us and buy myself a big supply!

    Failing that, I’ll go with safflower.

    • Hi Tamar! I am not close by, unfortunately. But luckily, feathers are light and easy to ship, and I have an excess of packing material to swaddle your olives in! I was just thinking yesterday that I have so many olives from last year’s harvest, and here it is almost olive season again. Salt-cured, brine-cured, water-cured…they keep getting tastier, but even I have my limits on daily sodium intake. If you’d like, email me at so we can (I hope!) work this out.

  14. Just search turkey feathers on ebay. They are used in crafts, fletching for arrows, to make flies for fly fishing…

  15. Turkey feathers are used for arrow fletching at least. That’s what I use.

    If you want to increase the amount of protein your birds get, lookup the protein content of the seeds they eat, then look at the cost/benefit. For example sunflower seeds are around 24% protein, I guess this is why my rural-store charges significantly more for them. Pumpkin seeds are 29% protein … I wonder if your turkeys can/will eat them. It’s pumpkin season there now right? What is being done with all those seeds!?

  16. I love the photo of you in your PJs, the angles are great (turkey looking off to the side, with you looking down) Spectacular. So…hey I don’t know anything about feeding birds, but would they eat cooked pasta? I was thinking of good old Macaroni and Cheese, but I didn’t know if this would make them sick? Or, peanuts?

  17. About the molasses, years ago I had the pleasure of eating some chickens who had made themselves less than beloved by stealing sweet feed from the horses and cattle. The meat was darker and sweeter without being cloying. Might be worth a try.

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