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Farm Animal Care

Physiology
The average life span for a factory farmed domestic turkey is 2 to 6 years. Commercial flocks are bred to be abnormally large due to genetic alteration, and are purposefully fed a diet laced with drugs and chemicals. These factors, along with the raising of turkeys in intensive confinement systems, can result in later health problems and early death. Commercial turkeys can reach 18 to 26 pounds by the age of only 15 weeks, and hens can weigh over 30 pounds and toms over 40 pounds when they are fully grown. An adult turkey's normal body
temperature is 107.5° F, with young turkeys ranging between 102° F to 106° F.

Nutritional Needs
Water - Clean, fresh water must be available at all times. The use of a poultry fountain or automatic watering unit is recommended to avoid spillage and to keep water as clean as possible. In warmer weather, check water often throughout the day. For colder weather, the use of a water heater is recommended if you live in an area that has freezing temperatures. Heater pallets are available for metal poultry fountains.
Feed - Turkey feed can be purchased at most farm supply stores. Pre-mixed turkey feed generally contains antibiotics and animal by-products, and commercial turkey feed is designed to promote fast growth, which is very harmful to an animal that has already been bred to be abnormally large. Our recommendation is to purchase "mixed grains" or poultry scratch (an equal mixture of cracked corn, oats and wheat with a dash of grit) and sunflower seeds (also available at feed supply stores). Sunflower seeds are an important source of calcium necessary for proper formation of eggshells. Adding Timothy hay pellets is also a great way to provide roughage without adding a lot of extra calories. For hens during laying season, a calcium supplement should be added to the feed. Turkeys generally self-regulate their food intake; however, if you notice that your turkey is exceeding his or her normal weight, restrict the amount of feed per day. Because factory turkeys are genetically altered, they are excessively large, which can result in leg and foot problems. Once your birds are full-grown, we recommend their food intake be restricted and more greens and roughage added, such as Timothy pellets and fresh vegetables. Greens should supply up to 25% of the nutritional needs of your turkey. In addition to providing your turkey with basic feed, greens including fresh pasture, alfalfa, grain sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, and Swiss chard are good supplements for your turkey. Turkeys also love fruit treats, but these should be given in very limited quantities, since they can add too much sugar to the diet.
Feeders - Turkeys, particularly ones that have been debeaked, do not like to eat their food off the ground. Choose a container that is heavy enough to avoid tipping and small enough to prevent birds from walking or standing in their feed, as this can lead to contamination by feces. Special poultry feeders are available through farm and feed supply stores and catalogs.

Handling
Due to the excessive weight of turkeys, their legs can be easily damaged, and turkeys should never be grabbed or picked up by their legs (a common industry practice). To pick up a turkey, stand behind the turkey, fold your arms and upper body over the wings and back of the turkey, hug firmly, and lift. If you "lose" a wing, put the bird down immediately and start over. Handle firmly, but gently, to avoid injuring the turkey or yourself. If your turkey is struggling or seems very stressed, set him or her down for a moment and start again. It may help to "cover" the bird's head and eyes with your free hand, as this may quiet him or her down. Always remain low to the ground when handling turkeys, as turkeys' legs are very vulnerable to ligament tearing or breaking from even a short fall.

Shelter Requirements
Building - A garage or shed makes a fine turkey home. A good size is 10' x 20' as this is high enough for you to be able to walk comfortably inside. The shelter must be waterproof, predator-proof and well ventilated. A wooden floor is best for cleaning purposes. Plenty of clean, dry straw should always be provided for bedding, and wet and soiled bedding should be removed on a daily basis. Cleaning the entire building on a weekly basis is recommended (i.e., scrub floors, walls, etc.). For protection from predators, turkeys must be kept safely in their shelter at night. The shelter should be equipped with a roost. A sturdy straw bale makes a good roost for a turkey. Hens will also need a nesting box, which can be easily made out of straw bales or constructed of wood. Adult commercial turkeys cannot fly and are heavy and easily thrown off balance. It is vital that anything a turkey is using as a roost be low enough and sturdy enough to avoid leg injury when jumping up to roost or when coming down off the roost.
Fencing - Fencing is necessary to keep predators out and turkeys in. Since most domestic turkeys are too heavy to fly, a four-foot fence will be adequate. If you are planning on constructing a fence, shop around for the best buy as prices and styles of fencing vary greatly. Turkey fencing can be purchased from your local farm supply store, lumber store, or through a farm supply catalog (see resource list). The best fencing for turkeys is a no-climb horse fencing. Do not use chicken wire alone as fencing. It is too flimsy, and predators can easily break through it.

Health Care
Maintenance - Every three to five weeks, turkeys should get a routine, individual health check and have some basic health care procedures done. These include: Checking the vent for any injury and parasites; cleaning the vent, if necessary; feeling the breast area for scabs or sores; checking the hocks (leg joints) for scabs or swelling; checking the bottom of the feet and toes for scabs and/or bumblefoot; looking at the head and watch for swelling and discharge around the eyes and nostrils; and clipping the toenails. As with all animals, sanitary housing, clean pasture, nutritious food, and plenty of sunshine will reduce health problems. During your daily contact with your feathered friends, always be on the lookout for any physical or behavioral changes. In particular, watch for diarrhea, listlessness, pale coloring, fluffed feathers, loss of appetite, and coughing. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian. In large flocks, turkeys tend to have a low disease tolerance, and health problems are greatly reduced in smaller flocks. It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who is willing to treat turkeys, but they do exist. Your best bet is finding someone who works with "exotic" birds and other non-traditional companion animals.
Trimming Nails - Trimming nails is very similar to trimming dog or cat nails, and your veterinarian can show you this procedure. Many commercial turkeys have had their toes clipped off, but still have one or two nails.

Common Health Problems
Bumblefoot - Turkey bumblefoot is different than bumblefoot in chickens. Turkeys suffer from abscesses on the footpads that resemble corns. The infection usually follows an injury to the footpad and there may or may not be pus present. If there is pus, it should be cultured to determine the bacteria involved and the antibiotic treatment required. Some cases of bumblefoot are mild and can be treated with wraps alone. There are many methods to treat bumblefoot, depending on the severity. For information on various treatments, visit the shelter website at www.farmanimalshelters.org.
Coccidiosis - Coccidiosis is a protozoan parasite. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea and listlessness. Keeping the bedding clean and dry will help control this disease, as wet bedding is one of the predisposing factors. Many treatments are available and can be added to water to treat a whole flock, or given to individual birds. If you suspect your turkey has coccidia, have a fecal test done for this, and consult your veterinarian for the best treatment according to the size of your flock.
Worms - A fecal test should be done every three months to check for internal parasites in your flock. Worming medication can be purchased at farm supply stores in easy-to-use formulas that are added to water, or in an injectable form, depending on the type of parasite involved. Your vet can prescribe the proper medication necessary. If you are bringing new birds into your flock, it is important to isolate them from your birds until you have established that they do not carry parasites, since they are easily spread through the fecal matter.
Lice and Mites - Lice can generally be controlled by providing your turkeys with an area of dirt for "dust baths" (throwing dirt on themselves). Check your turkeys regularly for lice (they look like small, moving, clear to yellow dots on the birds' skin). Mites are usually small black or red dots. Older birds, birds who have a compromised immune system due to illness, and birds from unclean environments are more susceptible to both lice and mites, and all should be checked regularly. Mites and lice tend to congregate near the vent of the turkey, and if properly treated, can be eliminated. The best method, of course, is prevention; keep bedding dry and clean, and remove straw from nesting areas daily. Sprays and dusts are available at most feed stores, and the use of injectable Ivomec also controls these parasites. Check with your vet before using an injectable wormer to ensure proper administration.
Molting - Turkeys will molt (lose feathers) on an annual basis, generally during the spring or fall season. During their molting period, the birds may lose a large portion of their feathers. This is a natural process, which lasts between four to ten weeks. If your turkey is losing feathers during a non-molting period, consult your veterinarian.
Heat Exhaustion - Heat exhaustion is common in turkeys; watch them closely in hot weather. Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, open mouth breathing, drooping, dark colored head, and collapse. At first sign of heat exhaustion, get the turkey inside immediately and put a fan on low, as birds can go into shock and die quickly. Mist the turkey lightly with cool water and contact your veterinarian. Keep your bird quiet and calm and do not handle any more than necessary.
Upper Respiratory Infections - Upper respiratory infections are usually indicated by the presence of nasal discharge, audible respiration
(gurgling), lethargic behavior, and loss of appetite. Also, the sinus area directly under the eyes can become swollen. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian. Antibiotics are usually required, and many are designed to go into the drinking water, if whole flock treatments are necessary.
Egg Bound - Hens that are egg bound have difficulty laying their eggs. Symptoms include constant squatting, straining, panting, and other signs of distress and discomfort. This condition should be deemed an emergency, and turkeys with these symptoms should be treated immediately by a veterinarian. Calcium gluconate injections may be needed. Always be sure to remove eggs daily, and make sure your turkeys continue to eat and drink when they are nesting.
Blackhead - Blackhead is an organism hosted by the small roundworm of the turkey. If you have turkeys, it's a good idea to keep a close eye out for this, as well as keep your turkeys (and all animals) on a regular worming schedule. Turkeys affected with Blackhead will be droopy and their droppings will be yellow. If any symptoms arise, contact your veterinarian immediately. This is a lethal disease, but if caught in time, it can be treated. Very young and very old turkeys are most susceptible.
Impacted Crop - Crop impaction occurs when large amounts of fibrous material such as grass or straw are ingested. The material forms a ball in the crop and will not allow food to pass through the remainder of the digestive tract. The crop often looks pendulous, but many times it is not obvious by sight alone. Turkeys who are impacted may survive for days, but gradually they will become emaciated and can die of malnutrition. Early detection is possible by feeling the crop of any bird who seems sick or stops eating. Often, if caught in time, it can be corrected surgically.
Splaying and Obesity - Signs of splaying are decreased activity or reluctance to move, slipping while walking, and/or flapping wings while struggling to walk. Splaying can be caused by obesity and can lead to many secondary problems, such as feet and hock sores, wing bruises, prolapsing caused by the strain of trying to move, damaged tendons, and even cardiac arrest. The best treatment is prevention. However, if splaying is already occurring, it is not too late. Isolate your turkeys and restrict their diet, and increase activity levels if possible. If any wear appears on the feet or hocks, wrap them for protection with soft gauze and vet wrap.

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