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Poultry Farming: Management of Turkey Production, Breeds of Turkey

One of the peculiarities of the poultry industry is the developing countries particularly the tropical countries is the virtual exclusive dependence on the domestic fowl for poultry production.

This factor contributes to the shortage of animal protein with its attendant adverse consequences in these countries. Less appears to be know about the management of poultry species other than the domestic fowl under tropical condition and even in this case, much remains to be known.

However, in other parts of the world, other species of poultry are managed under tropical conditions. This lecture note will highlight the peculiarities or the points of emphasis for the management of Turkey production and in this way, unnecessary repetitions are avoided.

The Breeds of Turkey

Turkey is believed to have originated from Meleagris gallopavo and occelated turkey (Agriocharis ocellato), a truly tropical breed found in Central America and Mexico. It is also believed that the domestication of turkey started in Mexico.

Here are the breeds of Turkey:

1)      The Broad Breasted Bronze

  • Black plumage and dark-coloured pin feathers
  • Females have white tips on the black breast feather
  • The beard is black in males
  • Females normally do not have beards
  • Shanks and feet are pinkish
  • The beak is light at the tip and bark at the base
  • It is largest of the turkey varieties, stages – 22kg, females -18kg
  • Fewer eggs with low fertility and hatch-ability
  • Artificial insemination is generally used – heavy males are not good breeders.

2)      The Broad Breasted Large White

  • Developed from crosses of the broad breasted bronze and the white Holland
  • Plumage colour is white
  • Male have a black beard
  • Some females have very small beards
  • The shanks, feet and beak are white to pinkish white
  • Has a good body conformation

3)      Norfolk Black

  • Good meat conformation
  • Medium sized birds, stages 7-8kg, hens 4-5kg,
  • Plumage is black
  • Black quill in skin, low carcass value
  • Ninety eggs/year

Other breeds are the Australian white, Beltsville white, White Holland, Large white and Warragansett. These breeds serve as the basic material for the synthesis of the hybrids which are used in commercial turkey production. The hybrids are given names with the view of more of advertising the birds than of depicting their genetic background. A typical example of this is the “Nicholas”. All commercial turkeys produced today are the white breasted turkey breed.

Turkey Housing

To attain standard performance, optimum environmental condition are as important as the superior genetic quality of the birds. To a certain extent, the environment is determined by the housing of the birds. In commercial operations, all the species of poultry are started off in fixed open-sided building equipped with brooding facilities.

Disease risks are minimized by avoiding certain areas in locating turkey house. These include near wooded land that may shelter snakes and other predators, other poultry farms especially where domestic fowl is kept. Proximity to this location is associated with the blackhead disease while proximity to pig farms with another disease known as “Erysipelas” which also affect pigs.

Swampy and overexposed locations are also undesirable. Ideally, a location should be used for a batch of the same age of turkeys, going to market at the same time. Many small scale operators manage turkeys of different age groups in one location or event in one house, which practice is health hazardous.

Houses should be spacious and well ventilated, 30-180m long, 7.2-15m wide depending on scale of operation and the terrain of the land. In the tropics, narrow houses are better to assist ventilation while for more effective prevention and control of diseases. Shorter houses are better than longer ones, if the house is too long, partitioning along the length, possibly having a store at the centre, is advised to prevent disease spread and stampeding. Roofs should be high possible 5m and should have garble and ridge ventilation.

Wire floor prevents;  coccidiosis, blackhead and filth borne disease, minimize losses from piling up or crowding. The floor space required by the turkey depends on its age and strain. The usual practice is to house from day old, the number of birds that the house can take at marketing with some extra poults to offset mortality to marker age. Hence specification of floor space on weekly basis is practically unnecessary.

However, up to slaughter age the recommended floor space are as follows:

Age (weeks) Floor space (m2)
0 – 4 0.045
5 – 8 0.12 – 0.15
8 0.15 – 0.20
12 0.18 – 0.23
16 0.21 – 0.27
20 0.25 – 0.30
24 0.27 – 0.35


These specification are sufficiently large  to prevent crowding and the resultant vice habits like peeking. As a general rule, floor, feeding and drinking spaces at any age least double those of the domestic fowl of corresponding age. Houses should be installed with lighting.

Feeder and Drinker Space Requirement

Feed and water trough are double to the sizes of those used for domestic fowl. Smaller feed troughs and drinkers would be unsuitable as they require more frequent refilling, or be pushed over.

Recommendation for the use of feed trough and water trough as follows:


Number of Birds Per:




  Types Birds Types Birds
0 – 4 1.5 – 2m 60 8 50
  Tube 20    
5 – 8 2m 60 12 50
  Tube 15    
9 – 16 2 – 3m 60 12 50
17 – 24 3m 60 16 50
After 3m 60 16 50



Brooding aims at providing an environment from day one that will encourage activity, feed consumption, and growth and minimizing stresses that negatively impact future growth or reproductive potential. Artificial brooding requires that the brooder house be made of pathogens by thorough cleaning, removing old litters, washing floor with a hot solution of disinfectant under pressure and allowing the house to get dry. The equipment also should be washed with detergent rinsed in disinfectant solution and dried.

The floor is then littered, following by the arrangement of heating equipment, feeders and drinkers on the littered floor.

Propane radiant hover brooder without smoke-exhaust is most widely used for turkey, being portable and durable. Infra-red electric heat lamp supplies enough heat in only warm weather as it provides no reserve heat. Electric hover hover is also equally good in warm weather with maximum size of 200 poults. Coal pots now popularly used and may be suitable for other species but not turkey because of the inadequate control of brooding temperature.

Poults are notoriously difficult to start drinking and feeding at day-old. Small heaped amounts of feed should be evenly spaced over the floor in the brooding area. One small round feeder (25kg capacity) is adequate for 25 poults. Drinking water is even more important for day-old poluts. The producer should introduce poults to water dipping their beaks in the water immediately they are placed on the floor. A drinker 4-8 litters capacity is enough for 50 poults or a 1.2m trough for 80 poults placed at the hovers. After two weeks, the drinkers are replaced with larger ones.

Attract the poults to water and feed by hanging bright 100 watt spotlights over  these areas 1m above litter level. Provide poults with full light for the firest24 hours, afterward, provide 6 to 8 hours of continuous darkness per night. Move quickly through house every hour (or more if needed) to check activity of poults, confirm that all equipment is operating correctly, and make any necessary adjustment. Poults can be further encourage to eat by placing feed in small silver-coloured aluminium trays, and to drink by putting coloured marble in the water. The temperature for the day-old poults should be around 35 °C , as day-old poults need plenty of heat. This temperature should be reduced  1°C every 3 days until a temperature of 21 °C is reached. Temperature is to be used only as a guide because the best way to adjust the temperature for the comfort of the poults is to observe their behavior.

If they crowd near the heat source and chirp loudly, the temperature is too low. If they move well away from the heat source and start panting, they are too hot. Ideally they should be fairly quiet and spaced evenly under and around the heat source. Poults are best brooding in small groups of preferably up to 250, separated by 50cm high broodier surrounds.

Full protection against disease organism should be afforded by including protective medication such as coccidiostat or antibiotics (when permitted) in the feed and by immunization. At day old, they receive intraocular vaccine, following by vaccination at 6 weeks against Newcastle disease.

At 5 weeks, fleshy protuberances called “caruncles” appear on the head of the male. This extends down the throat at 7 weeks while the single throat is seen in both sexes, which is known as “shouting the red”. At the base and top of the snood. At 3-4 month of age, males and females, the red of feathered part is overlaid with blue.

Debeaking is from 3-5 weeks but not for those in range. Desnooding  to remove snood or dewbill (tubular fleshy and reduces the spread of erysipelas. At day old, this is done by combing thumb nil exertion with finger pressure. Up to 3 days, the snood can be cut close to head with sharp pointed scissors.

Wing clipping is practiced when the birds are placed on range and at 16 weeks. For breed hens, clipping is repeated at market age. Breeding males should not have their wings clipped after 16 weeks as this throws them off balance. Note that Wing cutting and debeaking degrade market value. Toe clipping to prevent back scratching and tearing of flesh is performed with surgical shears by removing the tips of the toe just to the inside of the outermost toepad including all the nail. Electric cauterizing device prevents bleeding but it is slow and may not be used for older turkeys. Sexing is by vent examination.

Rearing sexes separately have the advantage of preventing treading injuries, marketing at different ages, less fighting among males and more efficient feed utilization.


Brooding is normally confined to the early part of the starter stage. Turkeys grow faster than domestic fowl. This is followed by the finisher stage culminating in marketing or slaughtering of the birds. A weight of 7kg is achievable at 20 weeks of age. The male grow faster than the females and it is no mere coincidence, that on commercial turkey farms, males are used. Turkeys possess the ability for compensatory growth whereby retarded growth due to moderate under nourishment for the first 3 to 6 but 10 weeks of age can be offset by subsequent improved growth rate resulting from standard diet. Birds that are maintained beyond this stage may be reared to make them more matured and meet demand as in Nigeria. But this is uneconomic because of the decline in feed efficiency with the age of the birds. Usually the purpose of rearing the birds is to use them as breeders.

Rearing consists largely  of feed and water supply ad libitum for the intensively reared birds. Deaths should be picked regularly and sent for post-mortem. The birds should be regularly culled and be observed for symptoms of diseases. Record of weight gains (sample weighing ), mortality and feed consumption are useful in this respect.


Turkeys start to lay at 24 – 32 weeks but should be housed earlier. Males should be housed at 1 to 2 years of age and preferably at 2-3 years. Mating ratio is 1:8 or 1:10 tom to turkey hens, depending on strain. There should be a serve if younger males, since the heavy weight of the older turkey may impede mating. Under natural conditions, egg laying is 6-7 months during which a breeder hen normally lays 88-93 eggs. But this can be lengthened by stimulating with a photoperiod of 16 hours, starting from 28 to 30 weeks of age for the light strain and 30 or 31 weeks for the heavy. This ensures that the birds start 1-2 months earlier; but starting earlier than this age carries the risk of lowered egg production, small egg and poults size. Generally, the conditioning period which consists of exposing the birds to photoperiod should end after sexual maturity of the females while males should not be conditioned. Turkeys are known to exhibit hypothalamic-hypophyseal refractoriness to increase in photoperiod during lay due to wrong timing, duration or lack of light conditioning. That is , they are recalcitrant to stimulation by lighting during lay.

In the tropics, the natural day length coupled with the housing system (open-sided) preclude any possibility of conditioning. However, an increase in photoperiod following the natural day length of 10-12 hours should considerably improve laying rate. This has been established for the domestic fowl. At the end of the laying cycle, the hen is “spent” and will usually be slaughtered. Some breeds find it economically feasible to molt the hen (give her a resting period) for another production cycle. It takes 90 days to molt a hen. The hen’s second laying cycle will produce a slightly lower number of eggs (75-80 eggs).

A breeder tom turkey can father as many as 1,500 poults during a hen’s 6-month laying cycle. It may be worthwhile to help maintain fertility by using two consecutive batched of toms during the season. Remove and replace all toms at the same time to guard against the odd birds being ostracized. Also as a further precaution, clip the tom’s toenails.

Artificial insemination is commonly used either entirely (with hens in cages) or to supplement natural mating. Artificial insemination is applied at two or preferably one week interval. Toms are milked once in three days. Broody hens should be removed regularly and placed in broody coops suspended above the ground. Provide broody hens with feed, water and overhead protection. Breeding birds must be in good condition before mating and should be checked for internal and external parasites.


To avoid breakage of eggs, provide a single nest 0.5m wide by 0.5m deep for every 5 hens, a community nest 0.6m wide by 2m long, suitable for 15 hens, may be used as an alternative to single nests; however, there is usually a higher incidence of egg breakages in community nests.

Nests should be in a protected area and be provided with a floor covering of rice hulls, coarse sand, shavings or straw. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the nests do not become a harbor for external parasites. The nests may be elevated from ground level but must be easily accessible to the hens. It is, however, usual for nests to be placed at ground level.


Collect eggs three times daily and store for no longer then 7 days in a room that provides a temperature of 10°C and a relative humidity of 85%. Turkey eggs hatching period is 28 – 29 days. In forced-draught incubators, eggs should be maintained at 37.7°C during incubation, reduce to 37°C at hatching. The relative humidity at setting should be 55%, rising to at pipping. These are equivalent to wet bulb reading of 30°C and 33°C. Turn eggs at least three times daily, until the 26th day, through an angle of 45°C. Larger  incubators are fitted with automatic turning devices.

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  1. bayo

    very educative

    • Mr Chukwuemeka N.


  2. oyirwoth simonpeter floyd

    am very contented with the mode of content delivery on turkey

    • Mr Chukwuemeka N.


  3. Michael

    is good i need more highlights in turkeys


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