Turkeys – health

Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in turkeys.

Administering treatments

Approved activities Category
water 2
topical – dip 3
oral – drench 3
injection – subcutaneous 3

General health information

It is important to maintain a program of vaccination and control of parasites for all turkeys. When treating for internal and external parasites, all birds should be treated at the same time. These activities need to be documented in the appropriate records.

Whenever chemicals are used including drenches, vaccines and external parasite control treatments, care must be taken about the following:

  • Reading all labels
  • Maintaining appropriate storage
  • Adhering to withholding periods
  • Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
  • Determining the correct dose rate
  • Using protective clothing if required
  • Using the correct equipment for application
  • Disposal of chemical containers
  • Documenting the dose, chemical name, batch number, expiry date, withholding period, identity of animal(s) administered to and date of administration.

Oral medications to be administered include worming compounds and vitamin and mineral supplements. They may be administered in the feed or water depending on instructions.

If water-based treatments are to be used, water is generally withdrawn from birds overnight to increase their thirst. Avoid water withdrawal during the day, particularly in hot weather. Drink containers need to be suitably anchored to prevent tipping.

Effective disease protection involves undertaking regular preventative measures such as vaccination, worming and monitoring. Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian or NSW Agriculture officer.

Turkeys can suffer from a variety of both internal and external parasites and diseases. Internal parasites are quite common and can be very detrimental to turkey's health. A high level of hygiene and regular monitoring is essential to ensure turkeys stay in good health.

Turkeys are most commonly affected by large roundworm and gape worm, lice, coccidiosis, respiratory infections, mycoplasma infections, black head, sour crop, impacted crop, and joint infections.

Signs of worm infestation include loss of weight, greatly increased feed consumption, poor feather condition, gaping or gasping for air, lethargy, diarrhoea, black stools, and bloody stools. Faeces should be collected for testing and an appropriate treatment can be administered, usually in the birds’ water supply, however some parasites require individual treatment. A veterinarian can suggest an appropriate worming routine and suggest products that should be purchased and used. A high level of hygiene is essential for successful parasite control and daily removal of faeces and any dirty or wet bedding materials can greatly reduce the risk of worm infestation. Paddock rotation for free range set up is also recommended, spelling paddocks with no stock for an extended period of time to ensure that all worm eggs in the ground die off.

Quarantining new birds and washing handlers’ boots in between enclosures is also important in parasite control. When drenching meat birds, the meat-withholding period of worming products must be considered.

External parasites that effect turkeys are usually body lice. To prevent and treat lice infestations, birds should be regularly examined for signs of lice infestations and dusted or sprayed with an approved lice dust or spray which can be purchased from your local farm supply shop.

Blackhead disease

Blackhead disease is a fatal disease that effects the lower digestive tract of turkeys and other poultry species however it is not as fatal in other species. Signs of the disease include a blackening of the comb and face, yellow droppings, not eating, a stiff gait and ultimately death. The organism responsible for the disease is transmitted via direct contact with infected faeces, eating the eggs of parasitic worms that act as a host for the organism or eating earthworms that have consumed the organism. Other birds, rodents and dirty clothing can also act as a vector, to spread the disease. A high level of hygiene is necessary to avoid black head disease including using hard floors with clean bedding on top, regular removal of faeces and dirty bedding, cleaning water and feed troughs daily, rodent control, washing handlers’ boots between enclosures, quarantining animals entering the property and spelling paddocks, pens and enclosures every second cycle of birds. Young birds should also be fed a medicated feed when young to prevent the disease.

Joint/Keel infections

Turkeys will often develop leg joint infections from sitting down on their hocks for a large period of the day. This may be because they are overweight or because they have joint pain or arthritis. The keel or breastbone in turkeys is also an area that is prone to these types of pressure sores. The contact and pressure from the ground causes the formation of scabs or sores, and these can develop into wounds through which bacteria can enter. Usually wraps and antibiotics are necessary to treat this type of infection and, if it is not treated, the infection often spreads to the bone and requires surgery or cannot be treated. Checking these areas routinely on your birds is the best way to prevent this condition. Providing heavy bedding if there is a sign of keel or joint sores is also important.

An annual parasite and disease control program should be developed and documented. All birds should be examined, quarantined and treated for parasites prior to moving them to the school farm or introducing them to the school stock.

The health of turkeys should be monitored at least daily. Birds should be observed standing and sitting down. Young poults require more frequent monitoring as they can deteriorate rapidly if they are failing or to eat or drink. The first sign of illness may be a change in the natural demeanour of a turkey.

Signs of illness

A sick turkey may display signs of:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Nervous signs or paralysis
  • Inactivity, head under wing, feathers ruffled or isolated from group
  • A pale or purple comb
  • Frequent shutting of eyes
  • Little response when touched or pushed, or often pecked at by others.

Turkeys failing to thrive or grow are also a sign of illness. Common ailments include; worm infestation, coccidiosis, respiratory infections, mycoplasma infections, black head, sour crop, impacted crop, and joint infections. Bird owners should always be aware of the signs as exotic disease and seek veterinarian advice immediately if they have any reason to think that a bird is showing symptoms as these diseases could have a disastrous effect on the Australian poultry industry. Major exotic disease includes Newcastle’s disease and Avian Influenza.

If unable to identify the problem and begin suitable treatment, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian. Any illness identified and treatments given must be recorded appropriately.


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