Turkey Farming

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Source: http://www.loupiote.com

Turkey, scientifically known as Meleagris gallopavo belongs to the family of birds called Meleagrididae. The young birds are called poults; the male birds are referred to as turkey cocks or toms while the female are called turkey hens (Ogundipe and Dafwang, 1980) [1]. Turkey is reared primarily for meat or as breeders to produce hatching eggs. They are rarely kept for the production of table eggs though the eggs are edible.

The growth of turkey industry in Nigeria has risen to 1.5 – 2 million tons per year. This fast growth in the industry was made possible by intensification of production and development of large breeds with standard weights ranging from 15-17 kg for male and 8-10kg for female; some of these come from homestead, (Ogundipe and Dafwang, 1986; Ojewola, 1993) [2]




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 the 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

Males 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 whiteBeltsville whiteWhite HollandLarge 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 depicting their genetic background. A typical example of this is the “Nicholas”. All commercial turkeys produced today are the white-breasted turkey breed.



To attain standard performance, optimum environmental conditions 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 buildings equipped with brooding facilities.

Disease risks are minimized by avoiding certain areas in locating turkey houses. These include near wooded land that may shelter snakes and other predators, and 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 affects 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, and minimizes 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 is 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 specifications 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 troughs are double the sizes of those used for domestic fowl. Smaller feed troughs and drinkers would be unsuitable as they require more frequent refilling, or may be pushed over.


Number of Birds Per:
Age Feeder Drinker
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, followed 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 is also equally good in warm weather with maximum size of 200 poults. Coal pots are 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 a 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 poults. 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 the 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 encouraged 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 by 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 behaviour.

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 organisms should be afforded by including protective medication such as coccidiostat or antibiotics (when permitted) in the feed and by immunization. At one day old, they receive intraocular vaccine, followed 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 months of age, in 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 nail 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 nails. An 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 males 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. Where there is retarded growth due to moderate undernourishment for the first 3 to 10 weeks of age, it 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 mature 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 observed for symptoms of diseases. Record of weight gains (sample weighing), mortality and feed consumption is 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 than 7 days in a room that provides a temperature of 10°C and 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, reduced 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.


Factors to Consider in Setting Up a Good Turkey Enterprise

The following are required for good management of the Turkey production Enterprise.



The facilities required for a certain number of chickens should be doubled for the same number of turkeys. The stocking density is 0.12 sq. meters[3].

A brooding area with a heating source is essential for the first four weeks approximately. Young turkeys are weaned off heat gently and carefully over several days. The behavior of the flock is the best guide to indicate if the birds are comfortable. When birds are huddled together it indicates inadequate heat. Ideally the birds should be spread out over the space provided. From six weeks onwards turkeys can thrive well with good litter or bedding such as chopped straw or white wood shavings. House size is based on the maximum weight of birds to be in the house at any one time. For best farm fresh results generous space should be allowed – 0.4 to 0.5 square meters per bird and houses (without controlled environment) should as a general rule not be stocked at rates greater than 20 kg per square meter[4]

Extensive management of turkey requires the establishment of well managed fenced pasture having ranged shelter.



The feeding regime for turkeys reared intensively is as shown below

  • Turkey starter diet: 0 -8weeks
  • Turkey grower diet: 8 – 16 weeks
  • Turkey finisher diet: 16 – 20 weeks
  • Turkey roaster diet: > 20 weeks of age.

Turkeys are marketed as meat birds any time from 16 weeks of age. The Crude protein of starter is 28% while finisher has CP of 18 – 20%. The feed intake up to 24 weeks of age is about 25kg/bird [5].


Routine Management

Debeaking (beak trimming)

The young flock should be debeaked in order to control feather picking and cannibalism, most especially when they are to be raised in confinement. Debeaking is done at 10 days of age to prevent cannibalism.



The removal of the snood, the tubular fleshy appendage on top of the head near the front, is referred to as “desnooding”. It helps to prevent injuries that might from picking or fighting and may result in erysipelas disease. The snood can be removed at day-old by thumbnail and finger pressure. After about 3 weeks, it can be cut off close to the head with sharp, pointed scissors


Toe Clipping

This is the removal of toenails usually done at the hatchery, but it can also be done at 5 weeks old. Turkeys kept in large groups, especially when excited, often step on each other causing scratches or skin tears on the backs and sides; also to prevent back scratching and tearing of flesh during mating. The problem is aggravated with increased flock sizes and densities, especially when turkeys are reared in confinement.

The most common form of toe clipping involves cutting the inside and middle toe (front) on each foot. Toes can be cut with surgical scissors, a nail clipper or a modified hot-blade debeaker.


Wing clipping

These are practiced when the birds are placed on range usually at 15 weeks of age in order to prevent flight.



Feeding Turkeys from Start to Finish

Feed Homestead Turkey Starter (Medicated) to turkey poults for the first 6 weeks.  Turkey poults sometimes need a little help getting started so extra care must be taken to ensure that they know how to get both feed and water.  If the feed is in egg trays or shallow paper plates, the poults should start to eat.  Poults that are not eating often learn how if their beaks are dipped first in water, then in the feed.  After a few poults have been taught how to eat, the others should learn by example.

In some situations, young turkeys may begin feather pulling or even become cannibalistic.  These habits are usually brought on by stresses such as crowding overheating, lack of feeder space, mixing of different age groups or other management factors.  These habits can be controlled by having the birds debeaked at the hatchery.

After 6 weeks, the turkey should be fed Homestead Turkey-Grower (Medicated).  Increase the pen area to 5.0 meters square per 100 birds.  Double the waterer capacity and the feeder space.

When the turkeys are 12 weeks of age, change the feed to Homestead Turkey Finisher.  Keep the turkeys on this feed until market weight is achieved.

Turkeys can be grown to various market weights.  Turkey broilers usually weight over 5 kg and take 11 weeks to achieve this weight.  Heavy tom turkeys can be grown to weights of 14 kg in 18 weeks while heavy hens reach a market weight of about 7.3 kg in under 13.5 weeks.  The Homestead turkey program can be used to grow all the various market weights of turkeys.


Homestead Turkey Feeds

Shur-Gain Homestead Turkey Starter, Grower and Finisher have been specifically formulated for turkeys that are raised in small turkey flocks.

Derived from Shur-Gain’s commercial turkey programs, the Homestead turkey programhas been designed to provide small flock owners with high quality, economical rations and a simplified feeding schedule.

Provides nutritionally balanced diet for turkeys from start to finish.

Contains balanced calcium and phosphorus levels to promote good leg strength.

Supplemented with fat-soluble vitamins, B-complex vitamins and trace minerals for optimal growth and performance.

Homestead Turkey Starter and Turkey Grower are medicated to give the birds protection against blackhead (Histomoniasis), an acute protozoan disease that can have devastating effects in a turkey flock.


Feeding Schedule:

Homestead Turkey Starter                                                         0-6 Weeks

Homestead Turkey Grower                                                       6-12 Weeks

Homestead Turkey Finisher                                        12 Weeks to Market



Health Management

It appears that turkeys are susceptible to diseases, indicating that they require a much higher level of management and skill other domestic fowls. There are four primary causes of disease: genetics, nutrition, environment and infection.

Bio-security must be a priority to control infectious disease and minimize introduction of pathogens into flocks. Biosecurity is utilization of measures which can stop or slow down the introduction and spread of infection into or between components of production systems. It includes managing people, equipment, pests and their potential for carrying diseases into a flock. This includes proper employee and visitor hygiene such as appropriate footwear, clothing and sanitation stations.  Mortality disposal should be part of the bio-security protocol.


Diseases and Vaccination

Some common diseases of turkeys include:

  • Blackhead (Histomoniasis)
  • Newcastle disease
  • Erysipelas
  • Fowl cholera,
  • Fowl pox and
  •  Haemorrhagic enteritis.


As in other poultry species such as chickens, parasites affect the turkeys by causing discomfort or significant mortalities in birds, thus reducing the birds’ productivity levels. The most common parasite of turkeys is the fowl mite and roundworms are a very common internal parasite. A regular, once-a-month deworming with an appropriate dewormer will reduce roundworms to a harmless level.


Typical Vaccination Schedule For Commercial Turkeys[6]


1 Antibiotics Inject subcutaneous in neck
10 Coryza (if endemic)
Drinking water
14 Coryza (if endemic) Drinking water
23-24 Hemorrhagic enteritis Drinking water



6 Weeks Newcastle Drinking water
7 Weeks Cholera (M9) Drinking water
9 Weeks Cholera (varying sero-types) Drinking water
14 Weeks Cholera (varying sero-types) Drinking water


Source: www.agriceducation.org


Economic Potentials of Turkey Production

According to the Federal government of Nigeria and UNICEF (1990), Turkey has no consumption problems as 116 million Nigerians are active consumers.

The growth of Turkey industry in Nigeria has risen to 1.5- 2 million tons per year. This fast growth in the industry was made possible by intensification of production and development of large breeds with standard weights ranging from 15-17 kg for male and 8-10kg for female; some of these come from homestead, (Ogundipe and Dafwang, 1986; Ojewola, 1993).

Turkey production in Nigeria has largely remained at the small holder level due to various reasons ranging from management problems to lack of incentives by the Government. This is the case with the soldier-farmers (Udokainyang, 2001)[9]. There is an obvious lack of information on specific requirements for turkey production in Nigeria, which may be attributed to low level of research in Nigeria. More so, the lack of interest in turkey production was mainly due to the government policy that liberalized turkey importation since 1977. According to Thear and Fraser [10] imported turkey formed about 60% of the total turkey in Nigeria market, while the rest is supplied by other sources including soldiers. Nigerians consume about 8.6g of animal protein per day with turkey accounting for about 1.5g despite its great potential in the supply of good quality animal protein and high rate of turnover of investment [11]]



Lack of interest in turkey production was mainly due to the government policy that liberalized turkey importation since 1977. In addition to importation, a lot of the imports are from soldiers returning from peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries.



[1] Ogundipe, S.O. and Dafwang, I.I. (1980). Turkey Production in Nigeria. National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Service (NAERLS) Bulletin No. 22. pp 2-22.

[2] International Journal of Poultry Science “Socio-economic Determinants of Turkey Production among Nigerian Soldiers”  3 (8): 497-502, 2004

[3] www.unaab.edu.ng

[4] Culled from: http://www.teagasc.ie/ruraldev/docs/factsheets/13_Turkey.pdf

[5] Culled from: www.unaab.edu.ng

[6] Source: http://agroeducation.com

[7] Ogundipe, S.O. and I.I. Dafwang, 1986. NEARLS Extension Bulletin No. 22.

[8] Ojewola, G.S., 1993. Production Performance and body composition of broilers as influenced by dietary and energy and protein in the Humid tropics. Ph.d Thesis, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

[9] Udokainyang, A.O., 2001. Growth Performance, carcass characteristics and Economy of local poults fed varying dietary Energy levels. Project Reports, University of agriculture, umudike.

[10] Thear, K. and A. Fraser, 1986. The Complete book of Raising Livestock and Poultry, Nigerian Edition, University Services Ltd, Lagos

[11] Oluyemi, J. A., 1985. Meat and Poultry Production in Nigeria, An overview. NOFOJ, Vol. 2 and 3, pp: 33.

[12] Thear, K. and A. Fraser, 1986. The Complete book of Raising Livestock and Poultry, Nigerian Edition, University Services Ltd, Lagos.








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