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General Care of Turkeys



     Commercially turkeys are raised a lot different than most other types of poultry.  Due to the genetic capabilities that have resulted in a rapidly growing, feed efficient bird.  This efficiency has also has caused the turkeys to require artificial insemination because of their body size (or if natural mating is available “saddles for the breeding hens” may be required).  We have information on this subject, if you wish, along with construction of facilities, etc. related to turkeys.  Turkey eggs are rarely incubated successfully above 5000 foot elevation because the oxygen penetration for the egg is poor, and oxygen supplementation may be required.  The natural breeding/laying season is usually early spring and late fall, unless the lights are artificially altered for a 14 hour day.  The light must be 14 hours a day for 1 month before the hen’s laying season, and 6 weeks for the tom.  This can be accomplished by hanging 60 watt bulbs 6 1/2 feet above and 10 feet apart in the brooding house, with a 50 degree temperature inside.  70% of the turkey’s eggs are laid around dusk, although the eggs should be commercially collected every 2 hours.  The incubation time is usually 28 days till hatching.  The breeding age for turkeys starts at 36 weeks.  By having fat hens or toms, the reproduction rate will drop.  A breeding food of 16% protein and 3?4% fiber should be feed 1 month before egg laying begins.

     If you want to naturally have the turkeys sit on their eggs you will need to build breeding nests that are 2 foot square, and 2 foot high.  It is best to have 4 inches of bedding.  Realize that some “highly domesticated” turkey breeds may not sit on their eggs.  Broodiness, or the desire to sit, increases with warming outside temperatures.

     To raise the poults in a group they will need 1 1/2 square foot per bird till 8 weeks of age, then up to 8 sq. ft. after this age.  Poults will require a heating brooder till 8 weeks of age.  The adults require 10 sq. ft. inside and 30 sq. ft. outside per turkey.  Poults should be fed a 28% protein mash till 8 weeks of age, then a 22% grower ration till 12 weeks of age, and then the 14% finishing ration is begun till “thanksgiving”.  Grit needs to be provided if whole or cracked grains are fed.  Provide the poults less than 1 month of age 2 inches of feeder per bird, and 1/2 inch of space at the waterer.  After 8 weeks of age, the poult will require 6 inches of feeder and 1 1/2 inches of water space per bird (round feeders will require 75% less space calculations).    Always provide free choice food and water.  The poults will grow from 1/2# at 2 weeks of age, to 1 1/2# at 4 weeks age, 5# at 8 weeks, 12?16# at 16 weeks and finishing off at 25# at 24 weeks of age.  The house should have 4 to 6 inches of litter, such as chopped straw, wood shavings, etc.  Remove the wet litter as needed.  Adequate ventilation is needed.  If providing roosts they should allow 16 inches per bird, and be 1?2 feet above the floor.  Fence out the area below the roosting perches to prevent defecation on any birds below.  Some hens, intended for sitting on the nest, will roost too much if allowed to.

     Commercially there are vaccines for Pullorum, Typhoid, Infectious Bronchitis, Infectious Synovitis, etc.  Some diseases such as mycoplasma and chronic respiratory diseases can be transmitted from the egg to the poults.  Exotic Newcastles, salmonella and aspergillosis are also preventable with good management practices.  If chickens have been on the premises within the last 3 years, blackhead and sinusitis can result, which is why some turkey producers do not allow chickens to be around.  For the average farm flock vaccinations are not usually indicated.  We do recommend periodic exams for external parasites, and a yearly fecal for internal parasites.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic