Death – and Life – on the Farm

So the week before last we lost two of the six baby turkeys. When Aurélie  and I first agreed to take on the raising of turkeys for the farm, the idea was to raise one for each of us – so four turkeys total. But because, upon doing some research, it seemed as though turkey poults are extremely easy to accidentally kill (for example if the temperature is too hot or too cold, if they catch a disease called blackhead that chickens carry but do not get sick from, or if they simply fail to find the food and water you have given them), we decided to get two “insurance turkeys.” That way if we lost a couple we would still each have a turkey. And a good thing too, for two weeks ago  coccidiosis struck our happy, healthy little flock.

Coccidiosis is a disease that is spread by protozoan parasites of the genus Eimeria that all poultry are susceptible to, although it seems (as usual) that turkeys are more likely to get it than other types of poultry. They are also more likely to get it when they are younger and their immune systems are not strong enough to fight it off. Because it seems a little bit like the common cold or the flu in humans – birds will almost definitely be exposed to it and come in contact with it, it is whether or not they are strong enough to fend it off that determines if they will get sick from it. And while young birds can be given medicated feed to begin with or antibiotics if they become ill, that did not seem to be the route we wanted to go. It also all happened very fast – a matter of days – and we didn’t really get the chance even if we had wanted to.

Not that we knew any of that when our first poult got sick. But sick she definitely was – she was huddled up in the brooder, with her head drawn back into her shoulders. She wasn’t moving much, and she wasn’t eating or drinking much either. Without knowing what was wrong with her, we put her into a little incubator brooder, with food and water and a heat lamp, and hoped for the best. She was dead by morning.

At that point I had done some research and was pretty sure it was coccidiosis, but by the end of the day, another poult was showing similar signs. So into the incubator he went, and two days later he was dead too. The other four poults seemed to be healthy and strong, but we gave their brooder area a thorough clean, nonetheless, and began putting apple cider vinegar into their water as a preventative immune booster. And maybe we were just lucky, but the remaining poults seemingly had strong enough immune systems to fight the parasites off.

On a happier note, the lucky (or strong) survivors got moved from their brooder to their new range last week. We decided that at six weeks old they were big and feathered out enough to survive the still somewhat chilly night time temperatures. Which is a good thing, as they were fast outgrowing their brooder, and kept on trying to fly the coop – literally. Not to mention that while we had to keep them in an insulated brooder to keep them warm enough at first, animals with access to fresh air and pasture always seem so much healthier and happier than their cooped up counterparts.

It has been a fun week watching they poults explore their new home. At first they were very perturbed, and simply sat inside the new brooder, refusing to go outside. But then they realised there was grass, and shade and probably bugs too, and now they are all over it. In a few weeks we will expand their run more, giving them access to more space and grass, as well as some trees for their roosting pleasure.

And so while there was death on the farm, there were also turkeys that survived to see the great wide world outside of the brooder. Now they will get to enjoy the fresh air and the grass – at least until Thanksgiving.

The young turkeys cautiously exploring their new home.
The young turkeys cautiously exploring their new home.
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Getting a little braver now…
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