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.
Diseases and Threats
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. When you create your turkey house, place it somewhere that chickens have not been before. There are also some drugs you can purchase to feed turkeys to prevent blackhead if you cannot keep them separate from chickens.
Coccidiosis is a disease that can cause diarrhea and a 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 the 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.
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.
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 the 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.
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
The best way to prevent turkey diseases is to allow 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.