Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

Farm fresh turkey production for the Christmas market

Farm fresh turkey production for the Christmas market

Turkey production can be an additional enterprise to many farms and can increase farm income, writes Rebecca Tierney, Teagasc Poultry Advisor.

Farm fresh turkey production refers to the growing of turkeys in smaller units, when compared to the large-scale contract commercial all-year-round production. Turkeys produced on a farm fresh basis are usually aimed at the Christmas market.

Turkeys must be brought to a processing plant for slaughter. It is crucial to identify a market and then prepare for this. Turkeys can be grown in as little twelve weeks and for up to twenty-four weeks depending on the requirements at point of sale so it is important to know your customer requirements.


Turkeys can be reared in almost any kind of farm building with some modifications. A controlled environment is not essential for Christmas turkeys but is a must for all year round production. Unlike other poultry, turkeys grow and perform well on fairly low house temperatures (15 - 17°C). The house should be vermin and wild bird proof, as well as free from draughts.

Christmas turkeys are usually purchased in at 5 – 6 weeks of age. They are off heat at this stage, but will require a slightly higher temperature of 17 - 19°C until approximately 9 weeks of age.  From six weeks onwards turkeys can thrive well in lean-to-buildings with good litter or bedding such as chopped straw or white wood shavings.

House size is based on the maximum weight of birds to be in the house at any one time. For best farm fresh results generous space should be allowed – 0.4 to 0.5 square metres per bird and houses (without controlled environment) should as a general rule not be stocked at rates greater than 20 kg per square metre.


Newly hatched turkeys leave an incubator temperature of 380C. As newly hatched turkeys cannot maintain their body heat (due to lack of feathering) they must be placed in draught free surroundings of 37°C for the first day reducing by 0.5°C per day until they are approximately 5 weeks of age. At this stage, they are sufficiently well feathered to be able to thrive without the aid of artificial heat.

What is involved?

Once it is decided that the facilities on a farm are suitable for turkey production, it is crucial to carry out a strict cleaning and disinfection programme for the arrival of the birds. More can be found on the Teagasc website under the poultry section on this. The next task is to acquire the skills necessary to rear and present to the consumer a well finished table bird. These skills include management in the brooding, rearing and fattening stages; as well as day to day biosecurity measures. Feeding and lighting programmes as well as general day to day management and disease prevention techniques are vital. Turkey flocks can be produced successfully on free range. This system requires a secure, dedicated grass paddock with daytime access. Where land is being used for other purposes prior to free range turkey production, the land must be left idle for a minimum of 4 weeks for disease control.


Turkeys go directly into the human food chain and as such must be produced and processed so that food safety and product quality can be assured. Increasingly, the demand is for oven ready, farm fresh turkeys. Birds must be prepared for the market in a suitable food premises. Processing involves a fairly intensive work-load. After one year in business a good product will be the best reference for business in future years. Satisfied customers become long term clientele, willing to pay for freshness and quality.

Flock Management

Turkeys are highly responsive to the effects of management. Birds with the same apparent housing, nutrition and facilities are capable of giving vastly different results depending on the care taken with management. Knowledge and skills are important prerequisites to the establishment of an enterprise.