Bourbon Red Turkeys – Beginners Guide To Raising Heritage Breed Turkeys

Turkeys had me at their first call. Especially when we got our first batch of heritage breed turkeys (bourbon red turkeys) a few years back.

I had raised broad-breasted bronze turkeys in 4H for several years and if you know anything about those boogers they grow extremely quickly and are ready for the butcher as early as 14 weeks. There is a HUGE difference between the two.

bourbon red turkeys intro image

A few weeks into raising the bourbon red turkeys I am racking my brain thinking I am doing something wrong? These bourbon reds are growing at a snail’s pace. What was I doing wrong?!

Then I realized. “Duh Leah, they are a heritage breed. Of course, they are growing slower” I had a good laugh about that.

Heritage Breed Turkeys Are So Friendly

Honestly, I think most turkeys are pretty friendly but these bourbon red turkeys are even more friendly than the meat breeds I raised for 4-H.

The bourbon reds we had would see me working on something and come work their way into whatever I was doing.

I was trying to put gas in this old owner and these two came bolting across the yard and perched themselves right there all on their own.

bourbon red turkeys perched on a mower while I am trying to put gas on the tank.

Turkeys Are Not As Easy As Chickens

The Troubles Were Far From Over

At the time we had taken a flock of road island red chickens off the hands of one of our church staff members who was moving. Well true to the bossy nature of the breed they were bossing the young turkeys and not letting them to the food. Causing us to lose one.

Then an owl (which we didn’t know at the time that’s what it was) ended up cleaning out the rest over time.

The turkeys were getting quite large (about 12 pounds) and I, unfortunately, was thinking that they should be getting big enough that the predators surely wouldn’t be going after them now. So I left them roost for a few nights high up in a tree without forcing them to go into the coop and roost.

Oh, boy was I wrong.

We have driveway monitors over the coop door that go off in the house if something goes in and out of the coop at night. Which works great. You can deal with said problem the “country way” of doing things no problem.

Until you are fighting a predator with night vision…

While on our last bird it took us four nights to realize what was eating our turkeys and also realizing that we had to keep the lights off in order to sneak up on this pesky critter.

We finally got the little booger but not before he cleaned out all of our birds.

Our new batch of turnkeys will be living in fort knox. 

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Bourbon Red Turkey Description

This beautiful turkey breed, with its dark red base color and white flight feathers, is a real showstopper. But it’s not just about looks – the Bourbon Red is also known for its superior flavor and meat production.

When it comes to size, they have a robust build with heavy breasts and standard weights that can rival any other heritage breed. Bourbon Red Turkeys Have A Great Temperament

Like I said earlier Reds have very friendly and sweet demeanors. Like any animal, there can be an occasional aggressive or territorial male but they normally only behave that way towards other male turkeys or birds they view as the threat.

I would warn you not to have too many males to very few females. We did have an issue where the males started ganging up on our dogs once they started hitting maturity. The females were fine but just be warned about the defensive males.

These turkeys are known for their friendly and sweet demeanors, making them a great choice for first-time turkey owners. Bourbon Reds are active foragers and enjoy human interaction. Give them adequate space and they’ll be happy campers.

When it comes to setting this breed does a good job at setting. However, just like any large breed, they tend to break eggs on accident so it may be a good idea to hatch out chicks yourself if you want to have a good hatch rate. 

These turkeys also have strong wild-like instincts that make them active foragers. They love nothing more than scratching around, searching for tasty treats in the dirt.

Can Bourbon Red Turkeys Fly

Yes and no. Turkeys don’t fly like a wild bird does. BUT they can use their big wings to get them several feet into the air and send up into trees. So a 6-foot fence is often not a problem for them to get out of. If you want to keep them contained you need to have a top on your turkey run.

How Long Do Bourbon Red Turkeys Live

Here is the thing. With poultry of any kind, they often end up on a predator’s dinner table before they actually age. BUT Most turkeys are doing well until they start reaching 6-7 years old but they start having physical issues after that. But they can live up to 10 years old.

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Quick Tips You Need To Know For Raising Turkeys

Before I get into detailed care about raising bourbon red turkeys I wanted to give you some quick tips that I have found to be helpful along the way no matter what breed you have.

  • Turkeys are naturally clumsy and are quite a bit larger than any other chicks. It is best to raise them on their own.
  • I wouldn’t say they are dumb just overly trusting and nosy making them vulnerable and an easy target for predators.
  • Turkeys are pretty messy and can be wasteful. When it comes to feeding, raise the feeder up just enough for them to get their head in.

How Big Do Bourbon Red Turkeys Get

So how big can Bourbon Red Turkeys get?

On average, mature Bourbon Red males can reach an adult weight at a hefty 23 to 33 pounds.

And the ladies hold their own too, with mature females having an ideal weight of 14 to 16 pounds. 

When it comes to height keep in mind that a male can stretch is neck to reach as high as 3 feet. When standing without standing erect they need a pen that is about 2.5 to three feet tall.

They have a solid frame with broad shoulders and a strong build. These birds aren’t here to play games, they mean business.

Secondly, their body shape and feather distribution also contribute to their size. Bourbon Reds have a well-developed breast area plus, their tail feathers and body feathers are abundant, adding to their overall volume.

Best Housing For Bourbon Red Turkeys

Being a heritage breed, Bourbon Reds are good at foraging and can do well in a free-range environment. Bourbon Reds also tolerate confinement if that’s what you choose to do.

The bright side of free-ranging Bourbon Red is their lack of susceptibility to common daytime predators such as hawks.

Inside your coop, you will need to provide 8-10 square feet per adult bird if you are going to keep them closed up inside during the day to make sure everyone has adequate space.

When providing roosts, make sure to place them no more than 18 inches off the ground.

Jumping off high places for large birds such as turkeys can cause leg and feet issues. Outdoors, you will need to provide a half acre of space for every dozen turkeys.

Turkeys prefer a moderate climate with access to shade and shelter. So, if you live in a region with extreme temperatures in either direction (hot or cold), make sure to provide them with adequate protection from the elements. 

Good ventilation is also crucial to keep the air flowing and prevent any moisture buildup especially if your birds are going to be closed up for a large portion of the day. And finally, provide ample bedding, such as straw or wood shavings, to keep their living area clean and dry.

Feeding and Nutrition

Young turkeys are fast-growing birds that need a high protein diet compared to other poultry. It is recommended to feed them a starter feed containing 30% protein until they reach 8 weeks of age.

When your poults reach 8 weeks old, it is recommended to switch them to a flock raiser that contains 20% protein.

For those raising turkeys for meat, it is recommended to keep them on a flock raiser until it is time for butchering. However, if you have turkey hens that are laying eggs, it is best to switch them to game bird laying feed during the laying season.

It is recommended to feed tom turkeys with flock raiser while the hens consume laying feed. During the non-egg production season, the entire flock can be fed with flock raiser.

Different Types Of Feed For A Domestic Turkey

1. Protein Starter feed: When they’re young, bourbon reds need a protein-rich chick starter feed to give them a good jumpstart in life. Look for a feed specifically formulated for turkey poults, with around 28% protein. This will help them grow strong and healthy.

2. Grower Feed: As they grow older, transition your bourbon reds to a high-quality (you may not be able to find it specifically for turkeys) grower feed. Aim for a feed that contains around 20% protein. This will provide them with the necessary nutrients for proper growth and development.

3. Pasture Production: Remember, bourbon reds love to forage! So, if you have access to pasture, let them loose! Allow them to graze on grass, weeds, insects, and whatever else they can find. This not only supplements their diet but also keeps them entertained and engaged in their natural behavior.

4. Supplementary Goodies: To spice up their diet and add some extra nutrition, you can supplement their feed with fresh fruits and vegetables. They’ll enjoy treats like pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, and dark leafy greens. Just make sure to introduce new foods gradually to avoid any digestive upsets.

5. Fresh Water: Last but not least, always make sure your bourbon reds have access to fresh and clean water. Turkeys can be messy drinkers, so keep their water source clean. — Also, make sure that when they are young and not fully feathered that they can’t get into the water. Or they will get themselves covered and end up getting sick. 

bourbon red turkeys

Meat Production In Bourbon Red Turkeys

The average weight of a well-dressed carcass from a Bourbon Red turkey ranges from 14 to 23 pounds. Like any poultry breed you lose about 1/3rd of the live weight after a bird is harvasted.

These turkeys are primarily bred for their flavorful breast meat, making them a great option for a delicious meal.

Bourbon Reds take their sweet time to mature. They’re not rushing things like broad-breasted white turkeys which are the standard meat turkey you buy at the store. No, these birds like to savor the moment, taking their merry time to develop that perfect balance of flavor and texture. 

So, what does all of this mean? Superior meat quality. They bring the flavor, the size, and the slow maturation that results in some seriously delicious and tender meat.

If you are looking for a turkey variety for your homestead that will feed your family and reproduce well then Bourbon Reds are one of the best heritage turkeys you could get.

How Well Do Bourbon Red Turkeys Lay Eggs?

This is where it gets a little interesting. Turkeys are a seasonal egg layer meaning only during tipcial mating season. They are also very unpredictable egg layers so don’t think that you will get turkeys to replace your chicken for eggs.

The egg production of turkeys can vary depending on factors such as weather and broody schedule. As far as the number of eggs goes, there are a wide variety of opinions on how many eggs a turkey will lay. 

It’s been my experience that a turkey will lay less than 100 eggs a year.

Bourbon Reds typically reach sexual maturity at 7 to 8 months of age, and they typically start laying eggs in the spring following their hatching. Occasionally, a hen may lay a few eggs in the fall before winter, but egg production will cease during cold winter days.

Now, let’s talk about factors that can affect egg production. First up, weather. These birds prefer mild climates, so extreme heat or cold can decrease their egg-laying abilities.

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Are Bourbon Red Turkeys good for backyard flocks?

It depends on what you are looking for and your skill level. I would not say turkeys in general are a good choice for beginner poultry raisers. 

If you have a small backyard less than half an acre I would say you are going to have trouble with them because they are adventurous. You are going to have to keep them closed in a pen 24/7 to keep them out of trouble.

They do have a good temperament and are a good choice if you are looking to add different poultry types to your small backyard farm.

But let’s address the elephant — or should I say, turkey — in the room. Bourbon Reds have somewhat interesting roosting habits just like any other turkey. They may choose to roost in inconvenient spaces, like on top of fences or in high up in trees. 

Bourbon Red Turkeys are a good choice for backyard flocks. Their hardiness, calm temperament, and flavorful meat production make them a beautiful and tasty addition to any flock. But just keep in mind that they do have some trouble-making characteristics that might annoy the neighbors.

Bourbon red turkeys definitely make some interesting backyard birds but may not be ideal for someone living in town. But their sociable personalities make for a fun backyard pet on your homestead and are good heritage birds to consider if you are looking for a meat bird to help you reach your goals of a more self-sustaining lifestyle. 

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