Poultry breeder talks top turkeys
Finding turkeys bred and raised in WA is not an easy feat, with the much-loved Christmas specialty often sourced from elsewhere in Australia.
While commercial breeders may be a rarity in WA, poultry enthusiasts have been trying their hand at raising these impressive birds.
Bullsbrook poultry breeder Thomas Spencer has been keeping turkeys for seven years.
At 14, Thomas’ enthusiasm and professional approach to poultry management could be mistaken for someone of a much more mature age.
With the support of his father, Bill Spencer, he is raising awareness of heritage turkey breeds and supplying the backyards of poultry enthusiasts with quality WA-bred birds.
Thomas also shows his turkeys at poultry shows around the State and plans one day to exhibit at the National Poultry Show.
“I got my first turkey when I was seven. I had always wanted them and once we got some I started showing,” he said.
“When I started showing they were rare to see at shows but now there are a few more turkey breeders attending.”
Thomas has been attending the Perth Royal Show with his birds for four years. This year, he entered six of the 14 turkeys presented for judging.
He currently has four colours in his flock, including Bourbon Red, Bronze, Lilac/Lavender and White. “We have had Slate and Narragansett. I am looking into sourcing some Royal Palm turkeys also from the Eastern States,” he said.
While putting a finger on how many turkey breeders there are in WA is difficult, with not all enthusiasts registered, Thomas says he has been able to source all his birds locally.
He is looking at bringing some new lines into WA from the Eastern States and, after visiting the National Poultry Show in Sydney this year, has been inspired to try his hand at breeding the diverse range of heritage turkeys that are available in Australia.
When it comes to managing turkeys, Thomas says it is crucial to ensure they were kept in a fox-proof area.
“Unfortunately, we just lost a mother hen and her nine babies that were free ranging during the day to a fox,” he said.
Turkeys, despite their size, are easy targets for foxes, especially when raising young.
All of the family’s turkeys are housed at night, with hens also housed while they are sitting on eggs and raising their young.
In order to expand their breeding plans, the Spencers are in the process of constructing new fox-proof pens that incorporate electric fencing.
Other than the threat of predators, Thomas says turkeys are relatively easy to care for.
“Turkeys are easy to keep and have as a pet, but they are harder to manage than a chicken. They need a more particular diet,” he said.
The Spencers mix their own grain for the turkeys and ensure they always have green grass to pick at, which is important for their overall health.
The turkeys also get a regular dose of Anitone, a vitamin supplement, and Thomas has found yoghurt given through a crop needle also improves the robustness of the birds.
On average, the Spencers produce 50 turkeys a year for personal consumption and to sell to other turkey owners.
Thomas says the breeding process starts in winter when he puts the turkeys into their breeding groups. He says he usually matches one male with two females, although some breeders run more hens to a gobbler.
Turkeys only need to mate once and are then fertile for the entire breeding season.
“On average, our female turkeys lay between 12 and 18 eggs and these take 28 days to hatch from sitting,” Thomas said.
Hens usually sit from September to December.
“The hens usually disappear when sitting, so then we need to search up to 20 acres from the house to find where they are and relocate them to a pen to keep them safe,” Thomas said.
As well as having a passion for turkeys, the Spencers run cattle and sheep on their 50ha property.
Bill says raising turkeys is not a new hobby in the family, with both his father and grandfather having had an interest in poultry.
“It was a normal way of life to raise your own chicken and turkey for the table then,” he said.
The Spencer family has been involved in agriculture for a long time, having originally farmed cattle in Eneabba before relocating to Bullsbrook in 2005.
Bill also trains racehorses and works as a shearer. He says while working with livestock and horses keeps them both busy, they still make time to show turkeys.
Looking to the future, Thomas says he is committed to expanding his breeding flock and will continue selling young turkeys to other breeders.
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