Turkeys — Environment

Environment

Fences, enclosures, gateways, gates and all facilities used to secure turkeys must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury and attack by predators.

Turkeys may be housed or kept in free range or semi-intensive conditions provided the following conditions are met:

    • Minimum space requirements are provided for the respective age/size of bird
    • Environmental temperatures appropriate for the age of the turkeys are provided
    • Areas for perching poults and nesting for adults are provided
    • Concrete flooring must be covered by litter
    • Normal diurnal pattern of lighting must be provided
    • Air must be of acceptable quality with respect to dust, chemicals and smells
    • All birds must be observed standing and moving during daily inspections.

 

Space requirements

Where turkeys are kept in schools, it is not recommended to keep them in intensive, caged conditions. If a free-range system is not possible, large pens should be used. Hand raising poults is an exception, and the young birds can be housed in cages while they are growing. An outdoor enclosure with plenty of space and environmental enrichment is always recommended for adult birds.

In intensive conditions, turkeys must have a minimum space requirement of:

Age/type of bird Space requirement

0 – 6 weeks

110 birds/m2 within surrounds, decreasing to 8 – 10 birds/m2 of total area at 6 weeks

6 – 12 weeks

46kg/m2

12 weeks to market

46kg/m2

Breeding stock

30kg/m2

 

In extensive conditions, turkeys must have a minimum space requirement of:

Age/type of bird Space requirement

6 – 12 weeks

1.5kg/m2

12 weeks to market

1.5kg/m2

Breeding stock

2.5kg/m2

 

Stocking density should be reviewed periodically and adjusted as necessary for age, breed, strain and type of turkey, colony size, temperature, ventilation, lighting, quality of housing and occurrence of disease and cannibalism.

Floor space under a hover brooder should be at least 90 cm² for each poult. For birds up to six weeks of age, provide at least 900 cm² per poult. From eight weeks of age, the minimum intensive space required for rearing is 0.6 m² per bird. Grassed runs should have at least 15 m2 of pasture per bird. Rotate pastures between batches, spelling areas to rejuvenate grass and reduce worm egg populations. Provide a shed with 1.2 m² of roof per bird and allow 25 cm of roost space per bird. Flooring should be solid and bedding must be provided to prevent injury to birds. A thickness of 7-8cms deep is recommended for bedding and can be provided using rice hulls, straw or wood shavings.

Turkeys need to be provided with a nesting area and nesting material such as wood shavings, rice hulls or straw. This provides turkeys with a comfortable place to sleep, lay eggs and raise their poults. A roost should be provided for young turkeys that can still roost and an elevated nesting area needs to be provided for adult turkeys that cannot roost. A bale of straw is a suitable object for a turkey to nest on at night.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is common in turkeys, and in hot weather they should be closely monitored for any signs of heat exhaustion. A fresh, clean supply of water should always be easily accessible and during summer and hot periods it is recommended to install a sprinkler system that can be turned on to cool down the birds and wet the area of the enclosure. A sprinkler system on the roof of the shelter over the nest area is also recommended to prevent turkeys from suffering heat stress while nesting.

Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, drooping, dark-colored head, and collapse. At first sign of heat exhaustion, bring the turkey inside immediately, put a fan on low, mist the bird lightly with cool water, and contact your veterinarian. Keep the bird quiet and calm and handle no more than necessary.

Turkeys kept in an outdoor enclosure need to be provided with sufficiently sized shelters for the number of birds to protect them from wind, rain, cold and heat. It is suggested that a sprinkler system be installed on the shelter roof for hot weather conditions to cool the birds down.

Temperature

As with all young poultry, temperature is very important factor in the management of poults. Day old poults require 38oC, with the temperature lowered 1o to 2oC  every three days, to reach 21oC when the poults reach four to six weeks of age. Ideally the temperature should be measured under a brooder, 10 cm above the ground at the rim of the brooder, using a black bulb thermometer. The poults are the best indicators of temperature. When it is too hot, they will disperse and they will huddle if it is too cold. At four to six weeks of age the preferred temperature range is  20 – 28oC for poults. Temperatures below 10oC and above 32oC cause stress.

Light

Shedded birds must have reasonable light and not be kept in dark. The birds should experience a light and dark cycle. Light is not an issue in a free ranging system and natural light cycles are always preferred for ultimate health and wellbeing.

Ventilation

Avoid draughts and chilling winds. Ventilation is required to prevent ammonia build-up in intensive situations. Ammonia causes as much distress to all poultry as it does to humans. To prevent ammonia building up to the level where it becomes unpleasant, reduce the number of birds in a given area, clean out the litter and improve ventilation.

Shelter

Shelters must be sufficient to protect from extremes of climate, e.g. temperature, wind, rain and direct sunlight. In locations where hot weather is experienced, shelters should be fitted with a sprinkler system to cool the area on hot days. This reduces the incidence of heat stress, which turkeys are very susceptible to. Shelter needs to be provided with purpose built sheds and trees and bushes for shade.

Bedding

Clean, dry litter of rice hulls, shavings from non-treated timber, straw or sand.

Cleaning

Little required, if deep litter and kept dry, however if litter becomes damp its MUST be removed. Build up of faeces under roosts needs to be removed regularly and nest boxes should be kept to ensure they are clean.

Nesting

Turkeys require nesting area to sleep, lay their eggs and brood. Adult turkeys cannot roost and so they require an elevated nesting spot where they can easily climb to the top. Nesting material such as straw, rice hulls or wood shavings should be provided for turkeys to make a nest. Stacked bales of straw are an appropriate structure for turkeys to nest on. Female turkeys will also require a nesting area for laying their eggs and brooding. This can be provided with the same materials in a sheltered quiet area that is protected.

Fencing and Security

Fencing and security for turkeys is a very important aspect of caring for them. Turkeys are a very vulnerable prey species due to their inability to run, fly or defend themselves and are very susceptible to dog, fox, cat and rat attacks.

Enclosures must be designed to ensure that there is no way a dog, fox, cat or large rat can enter. To ensure this, fences should be dug into the ground and concreted in approximately 20 cms deep at least to prevent animals from digging into the enclosure. For turkey enclosures that are not fully enclosed sheds, any netting low to the ground needs to have solid barriers such as iron at least 1m high to prevent rodents from entering. Fully-grown turkeys cannot roost, leaving them vulnerable to rat attacks.  Fences should be constructed entirely of good quality/condition chicken mesh, at least 2m high with a fully enclosed roof made of either mesh or a solid structure. Reinforced wire and posts should be used to provide support and strength for the mesh. The door to the turkey pen should meet flush with top, side and bottom of doorway to prevent animals from entering here.

Where turkeys are kept in a free-range system with an area too large to have an enclosed roof, standoffs with a hotwire should be constructed on the exterior of the top of the fence to prevent animals climbing or jumping over. If kept in a large free-range area that cannot be fully enclosed by solid walls, turkeys should be secured in a fully enclosed shed at night to prevent rat attack while they are nesting.

Shelters and trees must be provided in free-range areas to provide turkeys with shade. Poults can be vulnerable to eagle or hawk attack and should always be kept in an enclosure with a roof when they are young.  Adult turkeys are of sufficient size to protect them from an eagle attack but young poults are an easy target for predator birds.

Paddock Rotation

Where turkeys are kept in a free ranging system on the grass, it is important to perform regular paddock rotation, spelling each paddock every second cycle of turkeys to prevent the grass from being damaged beyond recovery and reduce the risk of worms and faeces build up.

When turkeys are kept in small portable pens on the grass these should be moved regularly. Turkeys are much less damaging to the environment than fowls and do not scratch up the dirt and grass as much. Turkeys graze off the top of the grass rather than digging it up, making it possible for grass to continue growing in a turkey enclosure. A sprinkler system installed in a grass area is also recommended to settle dust and aid the grass in recovering.

Rodent Control

It is very important when keeping any type of poultry to implement strategies to control rodents. This is particularly important when keeping turkeys as they are vulnerable to rat attacks. Due to bedding materials required for turkeys and the easily accessible supply of food that rodents can eat, enclosures are often an attractive spot for rats and mice to forage for food and nesting. Outdoor enclosures are very easy for rats and mice to get into and this can become problematic if rodents begin to live, nest or feed regularly in the turkeys enclosure.

Rats and mice can carry ticks, lice and diseases that can infect all types of poultry as well as nesting in their bedding, eating their food and consequently rapidly multiplying and easily infesting an area with large populations that become hard to control. In addition, rats will attack adult turkeys that are too big to get up on a perch and have to nest on the ground.

In order to prevent rodent infestations, feed in outdoor enclosures should be kept in a feeder off the ground and covered or enclosed at night when turkeys are sleeping. Any feed that is on the ground and not eaten should be removed and bedding should be refreshed regularly to ensure there are no nests.

Where turkeys are kept in sheds, rodent baiting stations can be used to control rats and mice. These should be safe, enclosed baiting stations that can be purchased from a local farm supplier outlet and should always be checked, maintained and correctly signed to ensure safety to students and teachers. Ensure that baiting stations are kept well away from all animals to prevent poisoning. Any holes that are found where rats and mice are digging into enclosures should be filled to reduce attraction and ease of entry to rodents. Due to the rat attack risk with turkeys, it is also vital that the nesting area of a turkey enclosure is completely rat proof. Sheds need to be fully enclosed and pens constructed of netting must have the lower part of the fence constructed of solid material.