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    Care Recommendations For Turkey Chicks

    A young large breed turkey stretching out on grass.
    Elijah enjoys some supervised time outdoors. Photo: Rocky Schwartz

    This resource was been updated in preparation of veterinary review. It was originally published on May 24, 2019.

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    Veterinary Review Initiative
    This resource has been reviewed for accuracy and clarity by a qualified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with farmed animal sanctuary experience as of March 2023.

    Check out more information on our Veterinary Review Initiative here!

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
    For compassionate caregivers of avian residents, highly pathogenic avian influenza  (“HPAI”) has presented a dual pronged threat. HPAI is both a serious health threat to birds and with regards to associated legal control measures. We strongly urge that sanctuaries caring for avian residents stay informed about HPAI risks both in their region and more broadly so that they can take appropriate measures to keep their residents protected. This includes implementing a biosecurity checklist as well as associated measures, such as cleaning and access logs to avian residents. Heightened quarantine measures are also highly suggested while the threat of HPAI persists.

    Baby turkeys (also known as turkey poults or turkey chicks) have their own set of care needs that differ from the care needs of mature turkeys. Understanding these needs and ensuring you are meeting them is imperative if you are to take on the care of a turkey chick (or chicks). Below we will discuss important aspects of turkey chick care.

    Intake Recommendations For Turkey Chicks

    When a new turkey chick finds their way to your sanctuary, it’s critical to follow appropriate intake and quarantine guidelines in order to protect your new resident and the existing flock. Upon intake, the chick should be evaluated for signs of health issues, and any issues should be discussed with your veterinarian. If your turkey residents are vaccinated against certain diseases, be sure to coordinate the administration of these vaccinations to the chick in consultation with your veterinarian. If the chick is with their mother, you should not separate the two unless absolutely necessary, such as if one of them has a communicable illness or needs extra space to recover from a health issue.

    Nutrition Recommendations For Turkey Chicks

    Watch Their Weight If They’re Large Breed!
    Large breed turkeys, such as broad-breasted white or broad-breasted bronze turkeys, have been bred to have disproportionately large breast muscles and to gain a lot of weight in a short period of time. This causes serious health problems for the turkeys and, as a result, their diet will need to be closely monitored. Adult large breed turkeys should not be free-fed. Very young large breed turkey chicks can potentially begin with free feeding, but you will want to monitor their intake and growth closely. Though they can certainly overdo it and gain weight too quickly, they tend not to gorge themselves in the same way as young large breed chickens who might eat so much that they damage their crop. If you find that large breed turkey chicks are developing crop issues or gaining weight too quickly, you will need to offer frequent, smaller meals. Speak to your veterinarian about a healthy diet and weight for your turkey chick residents (keeping in mind that many veterinarians are unfamiliar with the specific needs of large breed turkeys). Non-large breed turkey chicks (often referred to as “heritage” turkeys) typically should not have their food intake restricted unless there is a medical reason to do so.

    Unfortunately, much like with large breed chickens, not much is known about what turkeys need nutritionally in order to thrive and live long, healthy lives. Food formulas marketed for turkeys, as well as nutrition recommendations for turkeys, are almost exclusively coming from individuals or groups that view turkeys as commodities meant to be consumed. Because of this, it can be difficult to know exactly what to feed sanctuary turkey residents of all ages. 

    Information about turkey chick nutrition tends to emphasize that turkey chicks require more protein than chicken chicks. While it is understood that a turkey chick’s protein requirements are highest in newly hatched chicks and then decrease as they grow, there is conflicting information regarding just how much protein they require at each stage of development. For newly hatched chicks, most information we encountered suggested starting with around 28% protein. When considering protein content, it is important to keep in mind that lower protein diets are usually recommended for sanctuary bird residents because the goal is health and longevity rather than rapid growth. According to Nutrient Requirements Of Poultry, “reduced levels of protein can decrease early growth,” and because the authors’ intended audience is folks in animal agriculture looking to maximize profits, slowing down growth is something to be avoided.

    Of course, protein is necessary for all growth, including healthy growth. Therefore, the question becomes, how much protein do turkey chicks really need for proper development while avoiding unhealthy weight gain? Unfortunately, because of the dearth of information regarding what turkey chicks need to thrive in a setting where they are allowed to live into old age, it’s difficult to offer concrete recommendations. Instead, we’ll look at two options for you to consider – using a turkey starter or a chicken starter formula – and will consider the potential pros and cons of each. If at all possible, we strongly recommend you work with an experienced veterinarian or avian nutritionist to determine the most appropriate diet for your residents.

    Medicated vs. Unmedicated Formulas
    Both turkey and chicken starter are available in medicated and unmedicated formulas, with the medicated foods including a coccidiostat to protect against coccidiosis (described below). The continuous use of anticoccidial drugs can contribute to the emergence of drug-resistant coccidia strains, which can have a detrimental effect on your turkey residents. Therefore, unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian, we do not recommend using a medicated formula. If, based on veterinary recommendations, you do decide to feed a medicated food and are considering one formulated for chicken chicks, make sure the medication added is safe for turkeys.

    Turkey Starter Formulas

    Unsurprisingly, because information about turkey chick nutrition suggests that they need more protein than chicken chicks, starter food formulas designed for turkey chicks are higher in protein than those designed for chickens. Different brands offer different formulations – we have found formulas ranging from 26-30% protein. Because turkey starter food is formulated “to maximize growth potential,” it could result in individuals gaining weight too quickly, especially large breed turkey chicks. Closely monitoring the weight gain and body condition of large breed turkey chicks is important regardless of the food they are on, but will be particularly important if using a turkey starter formula. Because of the higher protein content of turkey starter, attempting to free feed large breed turkey chicks on this formula may result in unhealthy weight gain, so you may need to feed them frequent smaller meals. Of course, you’ll also have to take care not to restrict their diet too much in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

    Chicken Starter Formulas

    Based on our conversations with experienced caregivers in the sanctuary community, it seems more common for sanctuary turkey chicks to be fed a chick starter designed for chickens rather than for turkeys. Online recommendations (which, again, are likely focused on maximizing growth), suggest that turkey chicks who are fed a starter food designed for chickens should receive supplemental protein and niacin by adding brewer’s yeast to their food (2 to 3 cups brewer’s yeast per 10 pounds of starter food). However, caregivers we talked to who use chicken starter food for their turkey chick residents stated that they did not supplement for protein or niacin and report that the chicks went on to be happy and healthy adults. There are also studies to show that lower protein diets for turkey chicks will not inhibit their growth. While, ultimately, large breed turkeys must have their food portions managed, we talked to multiple experienced caregivers who were able to free-feed chick starter to very young large breed turkey chick residents for a period of time before transitioning them to a restricted diet. 

    Do Not Feed Adult “Layer” Or “Breeder” Food To Turkey Chicks
    “Layer” and “breeder” food formulas are not nutritionally appropriate for turkey chicks and contain toxic levels of calcium. Even if you find yourself in a situation where a new turkey chick arrives at your sanctuary after your local feed store has closed, and you do not have a turkey or chicken starter food available, these foods should be avoided. Instead, you can offer them a 1:1 ratio of oats and cornmeal, blended to a crumble consistency. This should only be used as a one-time emergency ration. Do not continue feeding this as it cannot meet a turkey chick’s nutritional needs.

    The bulk of a turkey chick’s diet should consist of a complete diet starter formula (as described above). A small amount of scratch can be provided to older chicks, but only as a treat as it is not nutritionally whole. Be aware that the addition of scratch may not be appropriate for large breed residents. Finely chopped leafy greens such as romaine or kale can also be provided in small quantities.

    As turkeys have no teeth, turkey chicks will need chick-sized insoluble grit to help them break down any food other than their starter food, though if they have regular time outside, they should be able to get enough insoluble grit on their own (by eating small bits of sand or pebbles). DO NOT offer grit that contains oyster shell or additional forms of calcium as too much calcium can result in health issues for chicks. Be aware that large breed turkey chicks may gorge themselves on insoluble grit, which can cause serious issues. If you feel your large breed turkey chick residents need insoluble grit, you may want to discuss how to safely supplement with your veterinarian. Instead of offering insoluble grit free-choice, which is the typical recommendation for non-large breed turkeys, we’d recommend offering only very small amounts and watching closely, removing it if the chicks seem to be overdoing it.

    Keep Their Food Clean!
    It’s a good idea to provide food in dishes that cannot be tipped in order to prevent turkey chicks from spilling and then soiling their food. Unfortunately, even with spill-proof dishes, chicks can be quite messy. Be sure to regularly replace food that has been soiled and to clean food dishes that have become dirty.

    Transitioning Older Turkey Chicks To An Adult Diet

    Turkey chicks can typically be transitioned to the same food you provide to your mature turkey residents some time between 12-16 weeks of age, but keep in mind that a “layer “formula will have more calcium than a turkey who is not currently laying eggs will need. Turkeys typically don’t start laying until around 7 months of age.

    Water For Turkey Chicks

    Turkey chicks should always have access to fresh, clean water, but this must be provided thoughtfully. Open water dishes are difficult to keep clean and can also pose a serious safety risk to very young turkey chicks who may get into these water sources. Wet chicks will become chilled, which can have devastating consequences and, tragically, there have also been heartbreaking reports of chicks drowning in open water dishes. Chick fountains are typically a safer alternative to open dishes. Chick fountains prevent turkey chicks from getting wet and are often easier to keep clean throughout the day. If you absolutely need to use a water dish, be sure to use a shallow dish, and try filling it with rocks or pebbles that are too large for the chicks to ingest. This gives the chicks access to small pockets of water without the drowning risk associated with an open dish. 

    Ideally, water should be lukewarm – not too cold or hot. Be sure to check their water often, cleaning and replenishing if water has become soiled from food, bedding, or droppings. To help prevent chicks from scratching food and bedding into their water, you can start by laying a towel underneath it, and then raising it onto a slightly elevated surface as the chicks grow (making sure they can still reach it easily).

    Living Space Recommendations For Turkey Chicks

    It is important that chicks live in a draft-free living space with proper ventilation. Drafts and poor ventilation can cause unwanted health problems. Do NOT place them in cages with wire bottoms, as this can cause serious foot injuries. Their living spaces should include soft bedding that is regularly replaced in order to keep it clean, dry, and comfortable, and you can use rubber drawer liners or rubber mats on the floor, under the bedding, to ensure a non-slip surface. Though straw is a frequently used bedding option, it may not be the best option for turkey chicks. Firstly, because straw can harbor fungus spores, its use carries an increased risk of leading to aspergillosis and may not be appropriate in all living spaces (more on this below). Additionally, because it does not absorb moisture as well as some other bedding options, it may also increase risk of bumble foot (inflammation or infection of the feet, which can be caused by high moisture, among other things). Kiln-dried pine or aspen shavings may be a safer choice than straw. Cedar should never be used in avian living spaces, as it can cause severe respiratory issues. Whatever bedding option you choose, always be on the lookout for signs that chicks are eating their bedding. If this is the case, you can switch to fabric bedding such as sheets, towels, or non-woven blankets. As they grow, large breed turkey chicks may benefit from deeper bedding, but you must ensure that it is not so deep that it makes walking difficult.

    You can begin providing short roosts for turkey chicks as early as 3 weeks old, but you must take care when offering roosts to large breed turkeys. When they are young, they can fly and perch up on higher elevated spaces, but as they grow this will become more and more difficult. Flying/jumping down from a high perch, especially onto a hard or slippery surface, could result in injury. Therefore, a wide, flat roost might be a better option than a rod-style perch – just make sure these surfaces are regularly cleaned. Additionally, make sure the flooring/bedding combination provides adequate traction and cushion.

    Heat Sources For Turkey Chicks

    Young turkey chicks will need a heat source. If they are with their mother, she will be the best heat source for them (though in cold temperatures, she will benefit from supplemental heat, too). Sadly, turkey chicks often come in without their mother, and therefore need supplemental heat at temperatures mature turkey do not. As a general rule, you should start off at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) for newly hatched turkey chicks and decrease temperature by 5 degrees over each week until they are fully feathered (around 6-8 weeks of age) or until you reach the ambient temperature of the space they are housed in. When providing supplemental heat, be sure to do so thoughtfully, avoiding heat sources that carry a high risk of causing a fire or injury, always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding safe and proper use, and keep heat sources away from flammable materials (such as their bedding).

    Many online sources will recommend the use of a heat lamp, but you must be aware that these come with serious risk. Not only are heat lamps a fire risk, some glass bulb heat lamps are coated with substances containing polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). At high temperatures, these bulbs can put out highly toxic fumes, resulting in Polytetrafluoroethylene Toxicosis (also known as Teflon Flu and Polymer Fume Fever). PTFE coated bulbs (and any other items containing PTFE or Teflon) should never be used around birds. Ceramic bulb heat lamps are a safer option, but be sure they are secured so that residents cannot come into direct contact with them, and keep them at least 18 inches away from any flammable materials to prevent burns and fires. Also make sure they are positioned so that curious chicks who are learning to fly and perch cannot reach the heat lamp. Place them at one end of their living space so chicks can adjust where they’d like to be in proximity to the heat. An even safer alternative heat source is a radiant heater like the EcoGlo from Brinsea. You adjust the height each week until the chick’s feathers have come in. 

    For an option that does not need to be plugged in, you can use Snuggle Safe microwavable heat discs, but you must ensure this is enough to keep chicks appropriately warm. Be sure to keep discs in a Snuggle Safe cover or wrapped in a blanket or towel to prevent chicks from coming into direct contact with the disc, and pay attention to when they need to be reheated. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and reheating. If caring for a group of turkey chicks, make sure to offer enough heat discs so that everyone can get to a warm area if desired, but make sure they still have plenty of non-heated space, too, so that they can choose how near or far they need to be from the heat. 

    Though keeping turkey chicks warm is important, you also need to take care not to overheat chicks in warmer weather. If you live in a warmer climate and have draft-free living space for the chicks, they may not require a heat source. A regular light bulb may provide enough warmth for chicks in this situation. Observe the chicks’ behavior. If they are too cold, they will crowd and huddle near the heat source. If they are too hot, they will attempt to spread out along the edges, away from the heat, and will hold their wings away from their body.

    Venturing Outdoors

    Until they are fully feathered (around 6-8 weeks), turkey chicks need to be kept warm and protected from drafts. However, if the weather is warm and calm, you may be able to take healthy turkey chicks out for miniature supervised “outings” before they reach this age. In addition to making sure the weather is appropriate for them, you also must think carefully about the outdoor spaces you give them access to. Due to the risk of disease spread, turkey chicks should not have access to spaces where wild birds or other avian residents have had access.

    Turkey chicks should not be left unattended or remain out all day until they are fully feathered. Even after they are old enough to spend time outside without constant supervision, be aware that they may need to be encouraged back into their indoor living space during inclement weather and always need robust predator-proofing. 

    Protection From Predators
    All turkeys require safe and secure housing that will protect them from predators. Chicks are particularly vulnerable and care should be taken to ensure predators cannot get into their housing and any outdoor spaces where they spend time. Be aware that cats, who rarely pose a risk to mature turkeys, have been known to kill turkey chicks. All turkeys should be safe and secured in their indoor living space each night.

    Social Considerations For Turkey Chicks

    Turkey chicks are social and should be brought up with other turkey chicks when possible. If you rescue a group of chicks, you can typically quarantine them as a group, separating them only if individuals aren’t getting along or if someone has a health issue that requires separation. Chicks learn important skills from their mother and, as mentioned above, should not be separated unless absolutely necessary.

    Despite their social nature, if you are caring for a single turkey chick who is without their mother, it’s still important to follow proper intake and quarantine procedures. Failing to do so and immediately introducing them to your turkey residents (or other avian residents) could potentially spread disease. In the case of a single turkey chick in quarantine, additional attention should be paid to addressing their social needs during this time. You might place a stuffed animal turkey in with them as “company” (some stuffed animals are even designed to hold a microwavable heat disc, providing both heat and comfort), and you can consider other safe social enrichment strategies as well. In some cases, sanctuaries that have rescued a single turkey chick have decided to welcome another turkey chick in need of rescue so that the two can grow up together after they have completed their quarantine and/or gotten the all clear from a veterinarian.

    Once new turkey chicks have completed their quarantine and are deemed healthy, you can consider introducing them to your turkey residents. The age at which you slowly start introducing turkey chicks to the flock will be dependent on personalities, nutritional needs, flock arrangements, and your set-up. In most cases, you should wait until they are fully feathered, though some caregivers prefer to wait until they are quite a bit older. If you are considering introducing turkey chicks into a mixed flock that also contains chickens or other galliformes, be sure to consider the risk of blackhead disease (discussed more below). Additionally, keep in mind the large breed turkeys have specific needs when it comes to safe cohabitation. You can read more about this topic here.  

    Ideally, introductions are done in short, supervised meetings, spread over several days (or longer). If conducting a springtime introduction, keep in mind that male turkeys (toms) may behave more territorially and should be closely monitored – some toms may be too rough for growing turkey chicks. 

    During introductions, you should watch for any signs of older turkeys “picking on” or biting the chicks and intervene immediately. If it seems to be too much to introduce them to the entire group, but there is a turkey who has taken to the chicks, you might opt to set up a space for them to spend time with the chicks away from the rest of the flock. You can read more about the introduction process here.

    Turkey Chick Health Considerations

    Turkey chicks can be particularly susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. When caring for chicks, it’s important to be familiar with some of the more common health challenges they face so you can prevent them when possible and can watch closely for signs of these issues in your residents. Turkey chicks should be monitored closely for any signs of illness including ruffled feathers, lethargy, decreased appetite, diarrhea, breathing that is labored or wet-sounding, swollen sinuses, sinus flaring, and nasal discharge. If a turkey chick appears to be separating themselves from the flock, this could be a sign of illness or a sign that they are getting picked on. Pay close attention to their mobility – healthy chicks should walk and run without any sign of lameness, and when they stand, both legs should be evenly under them. If you have any concerns about a turkey chick in your care, contact an experienced veterinarian for guidance.

    While not an exhaustive list, turkey chick caregivers should be familiar with the following health issues.


    Aspergillosis (also referred to as “brooder pneumonia”) is a non-contagious fungal disease that typically manifests as respiratory illness in birds. While there are numerous species of Aspergillus, Aspergillus fumigatus, a ubiquitous soil fungus, is the most common cause in chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Aspergillosis is an opportunistic infection – while birds are constantly exposed to fungal spores, often without developing disease, immunosuppression (such as from stress, corticosteroid use, disease, or malnutrition) and being exposed to large numbers of aerosolized spores may result in disease. Poor ventilation, unsanitary conditions, wet bedding, moldy food, and warm, humid conditions increase the risk of aspergillosis. Therefore, you can help protect your residents by properly storing food, keeping living spaces clean and well ventilated, and ensuring spaces do not become warm and humid. Straw bedding can harbor mold and fungus, so wood shavings or other non-straw (and non-hay) bedding is a better option if aspergillosis is a concern. Signs of aspergillosis include open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, tail bobbing, gasping, and an elevated respiratory rate. Other signs include inappetence and lethargy. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect aspergillosis. Diagnosis can be challenging, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to see what diagnostics they recommend. Treatment is also challenging and often requires aggressive and prolonged antifungal treatment (such as itraconazole) as well as supportive care. In addition to treatment, be sure to take steps to reduce your residents’ exposure to spores by keeping living spaces dry, ensuring food and bedding are not wet or moldy, switching from straw to a safer bedding option, and improving ventilation.


    Blackhead, or histomoniasis, is caused by Histomonas meleagridis, a parasitic protozoan that can be transmitted by the cecal worm Heterakis gallinarum. Turkeys are particularly susceptible to this disease, and turkey chicks even more so. Because chickens and other galliformes can spread this protozoa without being obviously affected, most sources recommend never housing turkeys with these species. Many sanctuaries have been able to house chickens and mature turkeys together without issue, but because information suggests that mortality from blackhead is highest in turkey chicks under 12 weeks old, it’s recommended that, at a minimum, turkey chicks younger than 12 weeks of age be kept away from chickens and other galliformes (as well as spaces they have inhabited). Some sanctuaries have made it a policy to wait until turkeys are at least 6 months old before introducing them to chickens and other galliformes, while others feel it is best to always house turkeys separately so as to further reduce the risk of this serious disease. While many sanctuaries may have turkey and chicken residents housed together, it is common for avian veterinarians to recommend housing them separately due to disease transmission that can be fatal in turkeys, but not in chickens. If you decide to house turkey residents in mixed species flocks, we recommend having a discussion with your veterinarian about the risk of blackhead disease and how to best mitigate this risk (which may include frequent fecal testing and/or routine deworming). They can also offer recommendations regarding how long to wait before introducing growing turkey chicks to galliformes or spaces they have inhabited. Turkeys can become infected by ingesting food, earthworms, or feces containing H. meleagridis. Transmission is also possible through a process called cloacal drinking (in which rhythmic contractions of the cloaca carry contaminated fecal material from the environment into the colon). Signs of blackhead disease include decreased appetite, lethargy, drooping wings, ruffled feathers, and mustard-yellow droppings that may also contain flecks of blood. Sadly, mortality in turkeys is typically between 80% and 100%. Currently, there are no approved treatments for blackhead disease in the US, but according to information provided by Merck Veterinary Manual, “Historically, nitroimidazoles such as ronidazole, ipronidazole, and dimetridazole were used for prevention and treatment and were highly effective.” Be sure to contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect a resident has blackhead disease. 

    Bordetellosis (Turkey Coryza)

    Bordetellosis is a highly contagious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects young turkeys – evidence suggests that turkeys become more resistant to this disease at 5-6 weeks of age. While the bacteria Bordetella avium was once believed to be the only cause, B. hinzii is now also recognized as a potential cause of this disease. Bordetellosis is spread through close contact with infected turkeys or by coming into contact with bedding, food, or water that has been contaminated by an infected individual, and these can remain sources of infection for up to 6 months. Within flocks of susceptible turkeys, infection typically affects 80-100% of the flock. On its own, bordetellosis is rarely fatal and individuals usually recover within 4-6 weeks. Unfortunately, secondary infection, such as with Escherichia coli, is not uncommon and results in more serious disease and an increased mortality rate. Signs of bordetellosis include swelling around the eyes, bubbly or watery eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, abnormal breathing sounds, and a change in vocalization. Turkeys with bordetellosis may also be lethargic, show a decrease in appetite and water consumption, and may be seen huddling together. The nares, as well as the feathers on the head and wings of individuals with bordetellosis often become crusted with sticky discharge during the first two weeks of the disease. Contact your veterinarian if any of your residents are showing signs such as these. They can recommend diagnostic testing as well as treatment options. Unfortunately, antimicrobial treatment is rarely effective against B. avium (the efficacy of antimicrobial treatment against B. hinzii is unknown), but antibiotics may be recommended to treat secondary infection. B. avium can be killed by most common disinfectants, but we recommend talking to your veterinarian about how to decontaminate potential sources of infection and how to best protect other residents.


    Coccidiosis in turkeys refers to disease caused by the protozoan parasites Eimeria spp. While turkeys of all ages can become infected, disease is most often seen in younger chicks. Eimeria oocysts are spread in the feces of infected turkeys, which can result in contamination of food, water, soil, and bedding. Oocysts can also be spread by mechanical means on shoes, equipment, and other fomites. After being shed in the feces, oocysts sporulate and become infective. Other turkeys become infected by ingesting infective oocysts, with clinical disease occurring in susceptible individuals who ingest relatively large numbers of infective oocysts. Following infection, the turkey develops protective immunity against the particular species of Eimeria they were exposed to. Of the species of Eimeria that affect turkeys, four are considered pathogenic: E. adenoides, E. dispersa, E. gallopavonis, and E. meleagrimitis. Signs of coccidiosis in turkeys include diarrhea, bloody feces, loss of appetite, weight loss, ruffled feathers, droopiness, and other more general signs of illness. Eimeria oocysts can be detected via a fecal float, and if necessary, your veterinarian can recommend an anticoccidial treatment.

    Hemorrhagic Enteritis

    Hemorrhagic enteritis (HE) is a viral disease caused by Hemorrhagic Enteritis Virus (HEV). Transmission of HEV is primarily via the fecal-oral route or through cloacal drinking. Clinical HE is rarely seen in turkeys younger than 4 weeks old, primarily due to maternal antibody protection. Most cases of HE occur in turkeys between the ages of 6 and 11 weeks old. Acute HE causes a rapid onset of depression, bloody droppings, and potentially death, all within 24 hours. Turkeys who recover from HE develop temporary immunosuppression and may develop secondary infections within 10-14 days of exposure to HEV. Secondary Escherichia coli infection is especially common following HE. Subclinical HE, while not resulting in clinical signs of illness, can cause immunosuppression and secondary infection. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your residents have HE. If initiated early during an HE outbreak, vaccination can reduce clinical signs. In the past, HE has also been treated with antiserum from recovered turkeys. Secondary infections that develop should be treated based on your veterinarian’s recommendations. Immunity against HE following infection is long-lasting and may provide lifelong protection.

    Internal Parasites

    Just like their grown-up counterparts, turkey chicks are susceptible to other parasitic diseases besides coccidiosis. Sometimes cases are mild, but parasitic infections have the potential to be quite serious and, if left untreated, can even be fatal in chicks. Be sure to speak to your vet about the best screening protocols for turkey chicks, and if you suspect an individual has an internal parasitic infection, be sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding diagnosis and treatment.

    Leg And Foot Issues

    Turkey chicks may be born with obvious leg deformities or develop leg issues as they grow (the terms “splay leg” or “spraddle leg” are often used to refer to deformities that result in one or both legs turning outward). There are many potential causes of leg issues in turkey chicks, including incubation issues, nutritional deficiencies, or injury. Depending on the specific issue, correction may be possible, but this requires veterinary assessment to determine the cause. To help prevent leg issues caused by slipping injury, be sure to provide adequate traction for turkey chicks.

    Always Consult With A Veterinarian Regarding Leg Issues
    While some leg issues may require the turkey chick’s leg to be splinted or hobbled or may benefit from physical therapy exercises, it is imperative that you have the chick evaluated by a veterinarian first. Without knowing exactly what’s going on (typically through diagnostic imaging), you may implement interventions that actually cause more harm than good. Additionally, improper splinting or hobbling can make the primary issue worse or result in secondary issues, so you must be shown how to do this properly.

    Be aware that some turkey chicks may arrive at your sanctuary “de-toed,” a painful industry practice in which the toe tips are amputated in order to prevent scratching injuries to other turkeys. These individuals may be predisposed to foot and leg issues, such as osteoarthritis and bumblefoot, due to the unnatural way in which they must bear weight. 

    Omphalitis (Or, “Mushy Chick Disease”)

    Omphalitis is an infection of the navel and/or yolk sac. This may be caused by contamination of the egg or incubator, or due to chicks being exposed to contaminated environments before their navel has closed. Turkey chicks with omphalitis may have an inflamed navel, there may be discharge or a scab, and it may fail to close. The abdomen of infected turkey chicks becomes enlarged, the turkey chick may feel “flabby”, and there is typically a putrid odor from the turkey chick. Other signs include refusal to eat, lethargy, huddling near heat sources, and droopiness. Death can occur within the first 24 hours of hatching, and chicks may appear healthy until just a few hours before death. If you rescue newly hatched turkey chicks, keep an eye out for this disease and contact your veterinarian immediately any time a chick is showing signs of illness.

    Vent Pasting (“Pasty Butt”)

    Very young chicks are prone to a condition called “pasty butt” where feces stick to their vent, clogging it, and making it impossible for them to defecate. Left untreated, this is fatal. While some health issues can cause diarrhea that leads to vent pasting, other times stress or even temperature changes can cause vent pasting as well. “Pasty butt” is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and in cases where this is a concern, a veterinarian should be consulted to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. During the first two weeks of life, you should check a chick’s vent at least once daily, gently cleaning as needed. Be aware that chicks can chill easily, so clean their vent without getting them overly wet. A dampened cotton swab can usually do the trick.

    When Turkey Chicks Grow Up

    As we have covered, turkey chicks have different nutritional, environmental, and health needs than adult turkeys. The younger the chicks, the more protection, heat, and protein (amino acids) they need. As a chick matures, their needs change, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the proper housing, diet, and general care turkeys require so that you can continue to meet their needs in every stage of their life! Taking the time to consider the needs of each individual will help ensure your residents are happy and healthy!


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    Bordetellosis in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Overview Of Coccidiosis In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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