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Preventing Turkey Problems and Diseases

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Turkeys on roosts.

Turkeys on roosts.

Photo © Flickr user TurkZilla

Turkeys can be great birds to raise for meat and to keep as a breeding flock, but there are some problems and diseases you should be aware of as a small farmer, so you can avoid the losses and heartbreak of losing your flock.

Preventing Turkey Diseases

The best way to prevent turkey diseases is to allow them fresh air and range, in a large pen with roosts, and to move the turkey house or roosts frequently to fresh ground, so that manure doesn't pile up in one location.

A disease common to chickens, blackhead, can affect turkey flocks even while it causes no symptoms in chickens. For this reason, it's generally recommended that you don't start baby chicks and turkey poults together, and that you house grown turkeys and chickens separately. And when you create your turkey house, place it somewhere that chickens have not been before.

There are some drugs you can purchase to feed turkeys to prevent blackhead, if you cannot keep them separate from chickens.

Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is a disease that can cause diarrhea and lack of "thrift" or good growth in poults. Medicated feed contains drugs that help treat or prevent coccidiosis. Keeping litter dry is also important, as this organism spreads and grows in wet, dirty litter. Also getting poults out onto pasture by eight weeks of age, and moving roosts to fresh ground frequently, will help prevent coccidiosis. Some hatcheries will vaccinate against coccidiosis for a small fee per chick. In this case, you should not feed medicated feed, as it will inactivate the vaccine.

Airsacculitis

This is a respiratory disease that affects the turkeys' air sacs. You can't really treat airsacculitis. The main prevention is to make sure to purchase poults from a hatchery that tests for the disease in their breeding toms and hens. The disease is transmitted in the egg, so the poults get it before they are even born.

Cannibalism

While not really a disease, cannibalism can be a problem in the turkey flock. Giving them enough space (a 75 by 75 foot space is needed for every 20 turkeys or so, once they're on range) can help this problem. Also, make sure they always have fresh feed and water. Ensure that they have enough ventilation if they're in an indoor turkey house, because overheating can cause cannibalism as well.

Predators

Who wouldn't love a really fresh, delicious free-range turkey? You'll find that just about every wild critter - and some domesticated ones, too - are on the hunt for your pastured turkey flock. It can be stressful to keep them safe!

Providing roosts for your turkeys will not only keep them happy, but it will discourage predators who will have to climb to reach the birds. In the wild, turkeys roost safely, very high in trees. The higher you can make the roosts, the safer your turkeys will feel.

Making sure that the fencing around your turkey pen is secure will help deter predators as well. Covering the top of the fence with netting or more fencing will also help protect them. If running your woven wire fencing along the ground isn't enough to deter weasels or raccoons, consider running a single strand of electric wire along the ground and another near the top of the fence. Insulate the woven wire fence from the strands or you'll have the entire fence electrified! You just want one strand at the top and/or bottom. The top will deter anything from climbing over, and the bottom will stop anything from digging under.

If you have a breeding flock in a permanent turkey house, running a single strand of electric wire along the bottom of the outside of the turkey house will deter burrowing predators. Another option is to use electric net fencing to enclose your outdoor roosts or around your turkey house.

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