Activities with turkeys

Information about the approved activities that may be carried out using turkeys in schools.

Turkeys – introduction to activities

As required by the Animal Research Act, the Schools Animal Care and Ethics Committee have prepared a list of approved activities. These activities are those that may need to be carried out in the school setting and have been deemed appropriate, when carried out by a person with the appropriate skill and experience and educationally justified.

The activities have been organised into categories 1-5. The category reflects the potential impact on the animal and requires a greater justification and expertise of those carrying out the activity. Visit Categories of activities for further explanation.

Non-invasive measurement of turkeys.

Turkeys – non-invasive measurement

Approved activities Category
body weight 2
growth 2
body proportions 2
pulse or bloodflow 2
respiration 2
temperature (non-invasive) 2
mild dietary effects — high/normal protein 3
mild dietary effects — high/normal energy 3
mild dietary effects — high/normal fat 3
palatability 3

Measuring body weight

Only turkeys accustomed to being handled should be used for measurement of body weight. Young birds can be weighed directly on a triple beam balance. Adult birds will need to be restrained in a cardboard box. (Weight of box can be subtracted from final weight). Do not weigh turkeys by hanging them from the legs. This can cause injury to their legs as adult birds are very heavy. Readings should be taken as quickly as possible and the bird returned to its enclosure to avoid prolonged stress.

Measuring growth

Growth is measured by body weight changes. Recording regular measurements of weight can give an accurate measure of a bird’s growth. Growth can also be shown by photographing or drawing a bird against an appropriate back ground scale. Use a sufficient number of birds to determine individual difference.

Measuring body proportions

Two handlers are required for the measurement of body proportions. One handler is required to restrain the bird while the other measures. Do not distort a bird excessively to make measurements of body parts. A soft plastic tape measure can be used to measure different body parts of the animal.

Measuring pulse/blood flow

Due to birds very high pulse rate, pulse rate is difficult to measure and a stethoscope is required. One handler should restrain the bird while a second handler measures the pulse.


This can be measured by observing birds in warmer weather conditions as indications of respiration become more obvious. Observe and record a bird with its beak naturally open and tongue moving, recording the number of tongue movements.


Restrain a bird by the hand and arm method and insert a clinical thermometer into the vent or cloaca. Slide the thermometer in carefully and wash after each bird. Warm the thermometer in cold weather.

Measurement of mild dietary effects

A variation in diet can be achieved by using commercially prepared foods, which use a different formula than the usual one provided. Any variation in the diet should be an enhancement to, rather than deprivation of, the diet. The minimum level of protein, energy or fat selected for the trial must be the minimum acceptable for the life stage of the particular bird type. The trial period should not be longer than is necessary to achieve a clearly observable result. Ten to fourteen days is sufficient for young birds, after which the birds should be returned to their normal diet.

Where comparative food trials are being undertaken, no less than the minimum protein levels should be fed to birds. The maximum amount of protein permitted is 20% above the minimum levels.


For adult birds, use a variety of commercially prepared layer pellets and mash, ensuring a plentiful supply of clean fresh water. Observe two adult birds in separate pens and record the food selection of the birds.

Collecting samples from livestock.

Turkeys – collection of samples

Approved activities Category
Collection of samples from livestock:
1. Faeces (non-invasive) 2
2. Blood 5

For collection of faeces, place the bird in wire-floored pen, elevated off the ground, so that faeces can be collected. Do not force faeces from a bird.

Blood samples should only ever be taken by a veterinarian.

Turkey husbandry practices.

Turkeys – husbandry

Toenail clipping

To prevent damage to other birds all breeder turkeys should have their toenails trimmed.

Leg banding

Leg bands can be used for identification of any poultry. The school farm may use different coloured leg bands to identify birds born each year. Leg bands must be checked regularly and loosened appropriately or removed if they begin to become too tight. Legs bands that become too tight can cause pain and severe injury to birds.

Turkey breeding activities.

Turkeys – breeding

Approved activities Category
Collection of samples from livestock:
27. Artificial insemination 5
28. Semen collection 5

Semen collection and artificial insemination in poultry requires skill and experience. If the teacher or farm assistant wishes to demonstrate the collection of semen and/or artificial insemination to students, they must first seek approval from the SACEC to demonstrate these category five activities. This approval is conditional upon the operator being able to demonstrate appropriate qualifications and experience. Application is made by completion of Application form 4 and submission to the Schools Animal Welfare Officer.

Hand raising poults

Although turkeys have the natural ability to become broody, hatch their eggs and raise their young, it is common practice to take the fertilised eggs away and hatch them using an incubator, raising the poults by hand. This method ensures much higher success rates and much greater production ability. While this is done for production purposes, some schools also choose to hatch and raise poults by hand to provide students with an opportunity to observe the process and learn to raise and care for a baby animal.

In general, poults can be raised in very similar conditions to chickens and most methods of chicken raising can be applied with the exception of turkeys having larger space requirements and higher protein demands. Detailed information about brooding and rearing chickens is available at Small-scale poultry keeping – brooding and rearing chickens

Turkey eggs take approximately 28 days to hatch. Eggs are placed in an incubator, which keeps the eggs warm and rotates them, as the mother would turn her eggs to ensure warmth all over. The period from hatching until the poults no longer require supplementary heat is called the ‘brooding period’ and usually lasts for 3–6 weeks. Poults need supplementary heat when they first hatch, because they are unable to maintain their body temperatures. Naturally the mother provides this but the heat can be supplied with a heat lamp.

As with all young poultry, temperature is very important factor in the management of poults. Day old poults require 38°C, with the temperature lowered 1o to 2°C every three days, to reach 21°C 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 20–28°C for poults. Temperatures below 10°C and above 32°C cause stress.

As the poults grow, they develop adult feathers and gain body mass, which acts as insulation and the brooding temperature can be gradually reduced, until supplementary heat is discontinued at about 3–4 weeks. During the brooding period, the poults need warmth, shelter, fresh air, proper food and clean water.

Poults can be put in small pens on a lawn to encourage grazing after 3 days of age however they should not be left outside without shelter and heat over night. After 4 weeks poults should be fed a grower feed containing 24% protein for another 4 weeks, followed by a feed containing 20% protein until fully grown.

Space requirements for poults

Age Space requirement
Poults to 10 days 90cm2/poult
Poults to 6 weeks 90cm2/poult
From 8 weeks of age 0.6m2/poult

Humane treatment of sick, diseased and injured animals.

Turkeys – euthanasia

Approved activities Category
Slaughter/euthanasia of stock 5

Where an animal has become so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable on humane grounds, euthanasia must be arranged with a local veterinarian.

Students are permitted to watch a post-mortem of an animal provided there is no disease risk posed.


Turkeys may be sold privately, at auction or consigned to an abattoir.

Carcases must be disposed of in accordance with local council regulations.

It is illegal to kill any animal and sell the meat for human consumption unless it has been slaughtered and prepared in a licensed processing facility.

Keeping clear and accurate records.

Turkeys – record keeping

Teachers who use animals must keep clear and accurate records of:

  • The number of birds owned or kept at the school
  • Identification of individual show animals
  • The dates and sources of acquisition of each show animal or group of birds
  • Disposal details and dates for each show animal or group of birds
  • Complete breeding records
  • The dates and types of husbandry practices carried out
  • The name, dosage, batch number, expiry date, withholding period and dates of any chemicals administered
  • Any accident, illness or injury involving school poultry and the veterinary treatment provided (if required)
  • Any significant occurrences that adversely affect the welfare of school animals, such as vandalism, dog attack, outbreak of disease etc.

The type and format of the records maintained will vary from school to school and be dependent on the number of animals kept, number of staff involved in maintaining the records and the layout and location of the school farm.

The minimum requirement is a daily diary that is accessible to all staff involved in the care and use of the animals.

Where there are several staff members involved in the care of animals it is essential that there is a mechanism for each staff member to document notes about the general health status of school animals and that these notes are available to all other staff members who may be involved in animal care.

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