TURKEYS are magnificent birds that are relatively easy to keep and once you have some around you will become truly smitten. However, before you purchase some do consider your neighbours, for sometimes the birds can be quite vocal.

Adult stag turkeys will gobble and they often do this when echoing other sounds that attract their attention. Hen turkeys do not gobble but have a large repertoire of noises, from cheeps to trills depending on the situation they are responding to. Once satisfied that turkey sounds will not cause any problem, what you then need to think about it whether you have sufficient space and how they will be housed.

Turkeys do require housing at night to protect them from predators because they are certainly not fox proof!

The standard turkeys (original old breeds - as opposed to commercial hybrids) are very hardy birds but like most poultry, will appreciate shelter, away from extreme weather. If you intend to keep just a few, say about six, then a large garden shed, around 12ft x 8ft would serve them well. This would provide them with adequate space should they need to be kept in during the day. Over the winter, spending some time outside on a sunny, frosty day would be appreciated, as exercise, stretching of wings and legs and running around would be beneficial but driving rain, wind or snow does no-one any good and a dry house with plenty of shavings on the floor, feed and water, will be much better for them than battling it out in the elements. Should you decide to have a trio - that is a stag turkey and two females - then a smaller shed, around 8ft x 6ft would be ample. Obviously a larger number of birds require larger housing but if you are fortunate enough to own a large barn, equally, only a few turkeys would have a wonderful time. During the summer, if the temperature rises, then shade is required in the pen and overnight accommodation may even need a fan to cool and circulate the air.

A comfortable perch Turkeys have the instinct to perch at night, so a stout pole placed in the housing, about 3ft off the ground would be useful but not until the birds are fully adult. Little poults will try to perch on whatever is higher than them but perching too early, especially on a narrow pole can dent the breast bone, so try to put this off for as long as possible. A bale of straw in the house will keep little poults very happy for a long time, jumping up and perching on it at night. When almost adult (five - six months old), they can be introduced to a purpose built perch, which they will welcome. Although turkeys are similar to Harrier jump jets, in that they can almost fly vertically up onto a perch, getting down in less easy. These large birds need sufficient space in which to fly down so that they do not land with a hard jolt. This could not only damage brittle bones but in time, may also induce Bumblefoot. The infection Staphylococcus bacteria can take hold in a small lesion, or where the skin is vulnerable because of constant bruising, causing swelling of the pad of the foot. So in a confined space the perch must not be too high.

Plenty of ventilation is also needed in the housing. Cut a square in one of the walls of the shed, away from the prevailing winds but not facing north; then secure the hole with very small wire mesh netting, such as chick wire. This will keep any predators at bay but also, rats or sparrows would not be able to climb in through the small mesh. The idea is to keep any winds and driving rain from getting into the house, whilst allowing for plenty of air to circulate. Turkeys like to be dry and draught free but do not mind the cold. An American survey has counted over 5,000 feathers on an adult stag turkey, so this is wonderful protection. The birds do not thrive in cloistered accommodation. Without sufficient fresh air they will soon succumb to respiratory problems and sniffles.

If a greater number of turkeys are being kept, then larger buildings may well have windows or other ventilated areas but do make quite sure that predators are unable to get in. A fox will take a turkey just as easily as it takes a chicken. Although younger turkeys will fly high up into trees if they are not housed before dusk, they cannot be allowed to stay there. The problem being that they are inquisitive creatures and they may well come down at dawn when foxes are still around, often before sufficient people are up and about to keep foxes at bay.

A dangerous liaison Turkeys are grazing birds and love nothing better than to get outside first thing in the morning and graze on fresh grass before anything else. If you are keeping different breeds of turkey, then separate pens will be needed to prevent the hens from mating with stags in another area. As the hens can fly quite well, overhead pheasant netting is a bonus. This serves several purposes. It prevents the birds from getting out and exploring and it also prevents wild birds, particularly the large ones like wood pigeons and ring-neck doves from stealing food and defecating around the feeding area. Wild birds carry lots of diseases, so these should be kept at bay if at all possible.

A trio of turkeys will be quite happy in a pen around 30ft x15 ft. Turkeys can quite easily fly over fences and hedges, so six feet high chicken wire is more useful than anything lower. The birds could still fly over if they really wanted to but if they are content where they are the six feet wire tends to keep them in. It is not cheap, but will be worth it for your birds. If there is sufficient space, it is as well to have a spare house and pen, so that you can move the birds around and winter them in one place, whilst the other pen is resting. This way the pens will not become too poached and muddy. It also provides an opportunity to lime the earth, which helps to eradicate disease and freshen the land. Once the lime is washed into the ground by rain, it is safe to allow turkeys to return.

If you are fortunate enough to have a large expanse of pasture land, then the turkeys would be in their element during the day but be sure to shut them up at night. Turkeys are also great fun just to have walking around a garden or yard area. They will hover around quite contentedly but any particularly precious plants should perhaps be protected. Nesting turkey hens make a bee-line for good examples of Pampas grass!

Turkeys should not need ASBOs So at what age should you buy your turkeys? Between 8 -12 weeks is a good time. The little poults (baby turkeys) have sufficiently grown to be out of the vulnerable period but small enough to bond to the person looking after them. If they are handled and talked to each day from an early age, they will become very tame and placid and be much easier to handle when grown up. It is possible to buy poults as day-olds but they are not as robust as chicks are at this age and I wouldn't advise it unless you already have experience of keeping turkeys.

Expect to pay anything from £12 upwards for an 8-week old poult. Much will depend on the breed you buy and the age, for the price rises with age until adults can cost between £40 - £60. You can of course buy turkeys at livestock markets cheaper, in fact they can even be bought for £35 a trio but this is a gamble and quite often the birds will be crossbred. So if you have decided on the breed you would like, then going to a specialist breeder will be worth it in the long run. When buying any livestock you must always ask lots of questions and this applies to turkeys as well. If you can see the parents of the birds you are buying this will give you a rough idea of whether they will breed true or not.