Updated June 17, 2020
Because they are rarely given the opportunity to live anywhere close to their natural lifespan of up to 10 years or longer (unfortunately large breed turkeys are prone to certain health challenges which may result in shorter lifespans than their non-large breed cousins), there is not very much publicly available information about how to accommodate the needs of older turkeys. Due to the result of intensive breeding practices (and the size of large breed turkeys’ bodies), there are a number of areas where a sanctuary may have to make changes to help their older turkey friends thrive at their forever home.
As a turkey ages, they may face more health challenges, so it’s especially important to be vigilant in monitoring their health through regular examinations and weigh-ins to effectively treat issues early on. Even common ailments like parasites can be harder to control in older birds and require early and effective treatment to maintain their quality of life. Mobility issues tend to be quite common in older turkeys, especially large breed turkeys, so keep an eye on the older residents in your care!
Special Food Recommendations For Older Turkeys
It’s important to monitor an older turkey’s weight as they age to ensure that they aren’t under or overeating to a concerning extent, as both conditions can have health repercussions. Older turkeys may have a harder time eating in a group setting (especially large breed turkeys who are on measured amounts of food and only have access to food during specific periods of the day). Since they tend to slow down as they age, they may have a more difficult time competing with other turkeys for food and may miss out on their full portion. Turkey residents with arthritis may find it uncomfortable eating from a dish at ground level and may do better with their bowl elevated so they don’t have to bend so much. Be sure to watch how all of your residents do during meals, paying extra attention to older residents. In some cases, it may be best to give an older turkey their own private space to eat and make whatever modifications necessary to make the process of eating more comfortable for them.
In other cases, even if they eat their full portion, you may find that this amount of food no longer allows them to maintain a healthy weight. Perhaps they are losing weight because they aren’t absorbing the proper mix of nutrients from their typical food, or perhaps they are gaining weight due to a decrease in their overall activity level. Be sure to adjust their food as they age to ensure they maintain a healthy weight. Generally, an older bird should be on a diet with lower protein and calcium levels to prevent Gout, a common and deadly disease.
Beyond these changes, continue to feed the individual well with a diverse diet of appropriate food, greens, vitamins and minerals, and the occasional healthy treat!
In the wintertime, some people recommend adding powdered cayenne pepper to an elderly turkey’s food to help improve their circulation.
Indoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Turkeys
Older turkeys who are used to perching may need to have a lower perch (one to two feet off the floor of their living space) to prevent any issues when they jump down in the morning. Rod-style perches can be wrapped in vet wrap in order to make it easier for older birds to grip the perch. Some individuals may have trouble continuing to use this style perch and may do better with another sort of slightly elevated roosting area, such as a sturdy platform or a bale of straw. These areas may need a thicker layer of bedding to help protect against pressure sores, which are more common in older residents who may spend more time laying down than they did when they were younger.
Older birds with arthritis may have difficulty walking through long fibered straw. If necessary, transition their indoor space to wood shavings or shorter fiber straw in order to accommodate those with more limited mobility. Make sure that their food and water sources are close by and easily accessible! An older turkey might also need a gentle ramp to their indoor living space in order to help get them in and out safely and comfortably. Just make sure the ramp offers appropriate traction.
Outdoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Turkeys
If an older turkey is having a harder time thriving due to decreased mobility or increased bullying from the rest of the flock, it might be time to give them (and their closest companion) their own pasture to spend time in. A smaller pasture with close access to food, dust bathing, and water, can give them the opportunity to get around easier and not have to compete with younger or more confrontational turkeys for resources like food and water.
Social Recommendations For Older Turkeys
As turkeys are flock-oriented animals, they tend to form strong bonds with some of their fellow turkeys. As a result, turkeys who live alone may be prone to depression. If you decide that it’s best to give an older turkey their own special indoor or outdoor space, make sure to house them with one of their flock friends– their closest friend if possible! This can help them feel more at home and at peace with their new surroundings.
Foot Care For Older Turkeys
Older turkeys tend to be less active than their younger flockmates, and as a result, will likely need their toenails trimmed more often than they used to in order to keep them comfortable. In addition, they may also need to have a moisturizing salve applied to their legs and feet to keep their scales from drying out too much! Be sure to monitor residents closely for signs of bumblefoot!
Managing Arthritis In Older Turkeys
Arthritis is one of the most common health concerns in older animals, especially large breed turkeys due to their size, but can also manifest in non-large breed turkeys as well. A turkey might develop arthritis or joint inflammation in either or both of their legs or feet. Untreated, this could eventually manifest as debilitating chronic pain. You might have to treat an older turkey with regular anti-inflammatory treatments or turkey-approved NSAID pain relievers such as Meloxicam or Carprofen (never use a combination of NSAIDs). In more advanced cases, the addition of Tramadol can be beneficial. Sanctuaries have also seen some success treating arthritis pains with more natural remedies such as Botswella (also known as Indian Frankincense) to successfully lower inflammation, as well as acupuncture, cayenne, turmeric, and anecdotally, CBD oil in conjunction with medication. Make extra sure that their environment is as arthritis-friendly as can be, minimizing steep grades (or installing elderly turkey-appropriate ramps) and long walks to food or water if possible! Make sure to talk to your veterinarian to assess the individual and create a treatment plan for arthritis.
If a turkey is in too much pain to move due to severe arthritis or injury to their leg, consider making them a soft fabric sling hammock with holes for their legs or fashioning or buying a cart or therapy chair to help them stand and to prevent them from developing pressure sores. They’ll be much more comfortable and safe that way- just be sure they have their food and water easily accessible, and be sure to closely monitor them to make sure they remain comfortable and safely positioned in the device.
Unfortunately, arthritis tends to lead to bumblefoot infections due to changes in how they walk, so be extra vigilant in their foot care! Increased amounts of time spent laying down can result in pressures on their hocks and keels, so be sure to frequently monitor these areas for signs of irritation before they develop sores. In some cases, extra bedding or padded wraps can be used to prevent irritated areas from turning into sores. Prevention is key- managing pressures sores is not impossible, but can be quite challenging and will make the individual vulnerable to other complications such as infections and flystrike.
Caring For Feeble Old Hens (Non-Compassionate Source)