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Turkey Incubation and Hatching Guide

Turkey incubation, hatching and raising poults. Including common diseases and prevention.
By yinepu, Mar 24, 2013 | Updated: Mar 30, 2014 | | |
  1. yinepu
    I figured since there is yet another Cinco de Mayo Turkey Hatchathon going on that I would re-post all this info in one place just to make life a bit easier for everyone.

    * ~ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ~ *
    Last year we deemed this the "Grimm Method" of incubating and hatching out turkey poults.. mainly because it's the way my grandparents and their parents and so on before them for over 100 years now hatched the little buggers out. Since their last name was Grimm... it seems appropriate to give credit where credit is due
    I was also happy to see it's the same method that Porter Turkey uses.. so my ancestors must have been doing something right!

    also added info on Blackhead disease further down.. giving credit where credit was due there as well

    * ~ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ~ *

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    The Basics:

    turkeys take about 28 days to hatch
    incubation temp is the same as it is for chickens and ducks.. so 99.5 ºF in a forced air
    100.5 to 101.5 ºF for a still air incubator.

    Humidity:

    Now this is where most people mess up.. most incubate with the humidity way too high.. then at hatch have it too low for turkeys.. if in doubt.. check the air cells. the air cells will be the perfect guide as to what those particular eggs require in that particular incubator in your home for that time of year.


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    the number next to the line shows where the bottom of the air cell should be on that day of incubation

    If the air cells are getting too big too fast.. add water!
    if they aren't growing in size fast enough.. remove water from the incubator.. it's just that simple.

    For me I usually incubate turkey and duck eggs dry if the relative humidity in my home is high enough. Otherwise I'll add a little water.

    Now.. I don't do "lockdown" simply because I don't believe in it... and also because I use a Reptipro incubator.. which is pretty air tight.. so I HAVE to open the incubator during all stages of incubation and hatch.. every day.. several times a day


    lets assume your humidity has been perfect during incubation.. the air cells are on track and you have happy little turkey poults bouncing around in your bator... how do you get them to come out and not die in their shells???
    the key to getting the turkey poults from incubation to hatch is:... (drumroll please)


    * ~ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ~ *


    THE HATCH:

    Hatch is when the first turkey poult begins to break through the membrane into the air cell.. "Internal Pip".

    I start looking for internal pips around day 24.. so I candle every turkey egg from that day on until i see the first internal pip...
    If you don't want to bother with that.. just pull them from the auto turner around day 24 / 25 or so and let them lay down on their sides for hatch. Then do the following:

    OXYGEN / AIR FLOW:

    step #1 is HAVE ALL VENTS OPEN!!!

    Ok.. they should be open anyway.. but there is honestly no need whatsoever to close the vents on an incbator.. especially at hatch. Why would you want to restrict oxygen right when the little guys need it most???
    So regardless of what anyone tells you.. never ever ever close those vents.. i don't want to hear whining about "i can't get the humidity high enough".. uhm.. BULL.. yes you can..
    toss the hygrometer because it's probably inaccurate anyway.. trust the eggs and the air cells

    HUMIDITY (yes again...):

    then at hatch KEEP THOSE VENTS OPEN and add lots of wet sponges or surface area to the water pan to increase humidity.. you really can't have it too high at hatch (80% or higher for all you people who HAVE to have a number) for a turkey poult because if it's too dry the membrane will become like rubber and they will be trapped .. unable to break through it and die in their shells. The high humidity also helps to soften those shells a bit to make it easier for the poults to break out of their little prisons.

    The other main cause of death for a turkey poult is CARBON DIOXIDE POISONING!

    remember those plugs or vents that came with the bator??? LEAVE THEM OUT / OPEN.. unless you enjoy having dead in the shell poults ... that's the bottom line.. so no arguing (I really don't think I can repeat this enough...)


    TEMPERATURE AT HATCH:

    Ok.. so you threw away the plugs or have the vents wide open.. and you have wet sponges handy to toss into the bator.. what else do you need?

    A DROP IN TEMPERATURE..
    yup.. you need to lower the incubation temp by ONE degree when you raise the humidity... (98 or 98.5ºF for a forced air)

    ever tried to work when it's hot AND humid?.. hard to breathe isn't it?.. well it's hard for the poults to breathe too.. so make sure you drop the temp by one degree at hatch.. you want to increase the amount of oxygen in the air for them.. so a slight drop in temperature will help a lot.
    Do you HAVE to drop the temp?.. well.. no.. you can still get poults to hatch out if you don't.. may even get a few to hatch out if your humidity is off as well.. but do you want high hatch rates?.. if so, then they will do better if you have correct humidity and temperatures.


    when I raise the humidity I drop the temps by a 1 to 1.5 degrees.. seems to me the reasoning behind it is that at warmer temps the air can hold more moisture.. but it also starts to restrict the amount of oxygen that it can hold.. (which is another reason why the plugs and vents on a bator need to be OPEN at lockdown) so dropping the temps allows more oxygen

    to break it all down
    humid air = less oxygen
    hot air = less oxygen
    hatching chicks / poults need more oxygen
    hatching chicks / poults need more humidity
    hatching chicks / poults in hot humid air = chance of carbon dioxide poisoning

    so by dropping the temp a smidge allows for more oxygen for the chicks.. however vents being open allows for better air exchange than them being blocked

    AS A NOTE:

    I hate the way some incubators are designed.. some have the fan blowing directly onto the eggs.. So IF you have a chick (regardless of species) who makes a LARGE pip hole .. then goes and takes a nap.. rests.. watches TV,.. whatever he does in his shell instead of actually HATCHING.. there is a good chance that fan will dry out his little membrane and turn him into a shrink wrapped baby. Now Shrink wrapping is fine for a bird going off to Camp Kenmore.. it's not something you want to happen to a hatching one!.. So if you see one make a LARGE pip.. then take an extended break.. keep an eye on him in case he gets stuck in there and can't escape!.. It's not that there is something wrong with him.. he just didn't use proper judgement on getting out in a timely fashion.

    * ~ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ~ *

    AFTER THE HATCH:

    Some people hatch out "turkey tutors" to help the little dummies figure out how to eat and drink.. some people add bits of chopped greens to their feed and water.. others add shiny marbles to the food and water dishes..

    DO WHAT IT TAKES TO GET THEM EATING AND DRINKING

    Yes.. they can be a little dumb.. but all it takes is a teeny bit of effort on your part to make sure they are eating and drinking like they should!

    There are TWO main reasons why poults die a few days after hatch
    1: failure to eat and drink
    2: getting chilled.

    So if you can help them find food and water (and make sure EVERYONE is eating and drinking) then the next thing is to make sure they stay warm and dry..

    Ever heard that turkeys are so dumb that if they are out in the rain they will look up with their mouths open and drown?... well.. it's not drowning that kills them.. it's getting wet and then chilled that will kill them pretty quick!

    Many people won't even put them outside until they are well acclimated and are feathered out.. and even then care must be taken that they don't get wet and chilled. .. they are not as tough as a chicken or a duck in that respect!

    in regards to food:


    Yes.. you can feed a turkey poult 18%, 20% or 22% feed and so on so if you have turkey tutors in the hatch there are no real worries...

    some people will swear that a lower percentage feed will kill a turkey.. that's simply not true..
    BUT the lower % feed will result in slower growth than a poult that is fed 26% or 28% or 30%

    so if the goal is a nice filled out bird by thanksgiving.. you may come up a bit short of it's a heritage bird


    the bigger concern for the well being of the poult is that the feed, regardless of protein % have enough niacin for leg and joint growth... simply because it doesn't matter how well the bird is growing if the hocks and hips are weak and the bird goes down...


    26%, 28% and 30% feed has proven to cause liver issues WHEN FED LONG TERM to layer chickens.. and will usually cause flip in the majority of meat bird bloodlines
    You can usually feed it SHORT TERM with no issues.. however some strains of meat birds can't handle it for more than a week before they start to die from flip.

    CHICKENS, TURKEYS and BLACKHEAD

    In some areas of the country Blackhead is an issue. It's a disease caused by a protozoa.. the best way to find out if there is a problem in your area is to contact your local agricultural co-op.
    Chickens can have blackhead and not have any problems.. however they can give it to turkeys, guineas and peafowl.
    Symptoms are NOT a blackhead in the turkey as the name would suggest.. if you find one of your turkeys has a blackhead it's usually from the birds fighting.. which is a different issue altogether.

    thank you "Sandy" from another forum for this info (would post a link ..but it's forbidden here on BYC)
    quote:
    Black head


    Blackhead (Histomoniasis, Enterohepatitis)

    Birds affected
    Birds affected are: turkeys, peafowl, guinea fowl, pheasant and chickens

    Blackhead is an acute or chronic protozoan disease of fowl, primarily affecting the cecae and liver. called Histomonas meleagridis

    The disease is present wherever poultry are raised
    It is a parasite organism called a protozoa, and is a distant cousin of the coccidia parasite
    For the disease to spread amongst fowl the flock must also be infected with the caecal worm
    This worm survives in the fowl yard soil, earthworms
    This disease affects the large intestine, then attacks the liver
    The chooks bowl is eaten by the parasite and then it attacks the liver
    When the chooks die their heads go black, hence the name

    Turkeys:
    Blackhead is one of the critical diseases of growing turkeys and game birds
    It is carried by an intestinal parasite and the symptoms are:- loss of condition, drowsy appearance, ruffled feathers, and diarrhoea, sometimes mixed with blood.
    It may cause stunted growth, poor feed utilization and death.

    It is of lesser economic importance in chickens since they are more resistant, but the incidence in chickens apparently is increasing

    Occasionally the caruncles of the turkey may become dark blue or purple (hence the name black head)

    If you have an outbreak, dead birds and their droppings must be burned
    All utensils should be disinfected daily and, where possible, quick lime should be applied to the run

    To prevent an outbreak, Turkeys should not be run with fowls, and young turkeys should not be run in contact with adult birds

    If this is not possible, then chicks and hens should be kept on clean dry, well-drained pasture and move about frequently

    Symptoms
    Birds develop foamy yellow diarrhoea and sit huddled up
    They appear depressed and ill
    They stop eating and get very thin
    Increased thirst
    Droopiness
    Drowsiness
    Darkening of the facial region
    The birds can be so ill, that their wattle and comb goes blue (thus the name blackhead)
    If not treated the birds usually die
    Any sulphur coloured foamy droppings should be considered as blackhead, even if the bird is not showing any other signs of the disease
    Blackhead acts as an immune suppressor, which will allow other diseases to have greater effect on your bird’s health
    It may cause stunted growth, poor feed utilization and then death


    Transmission

    The organism in passed in the fecal material of infected birds. In many instances, the organism is shed within the eggs of the cecal worm of chickens, turkeys and game birds. Free-living blackhead organisms do not survive long in nature, but those in cecal worm eggs may survive for years. Therefore, most blackhead transmission is considered due to ingesting infected cecal worm eggs. Transmission may also occur by the earthworm.

    Chickens are frequently infected without showing signs of the disease. These chickens may shed enormous numbers of blackhead organisms, many of which are protected by cecal worm eggs. Outbreaks in turkeys can often be traced to direct or indirect contact with ranges, houses or equipment previously used by chickens. Free-flying birds may also contribute to an infection.

    Losses

    Most blackhead losses occur in young birds (six to sixteen weeks).
    Morbidity and mortality are variable, but mortality seldom exceeds fifteen percent; however, it may approach one-hundred percent in uncontrolled turkey outbreaks. Losses are usually low in chickens

    Prevention

    Good management practices can do much to control the blackhead problem. Do not keep birds of different species on the same premises. Do not range turkeys on ground previously used by chickens unless several years have elapsed. Rotate ranges periodically if possible. Cecal worm control is necessary to reduce blackhead incidence. Wire or slatted floors reduce exposure.

    Good management is the only effective method of preventing this disease since many of the effective drugs used in past years are no longer available commercially. Drugs that reduce the presence of cecal worms, and thus reduce the infection rate, are available but do not have an effect on the Histomonas organism. Refer to the cecal worm section for recommended control practices.


    Necropsy
    Lesions of uncomplicated blackhead are confined to the cecae and liver, thus the reason for the synonymous term, enterohepatitis.
    The cecae are ballooned and walls may be thickened, necrotic and ulcerated.
    Caseous (cheesy) cores within the cecae may be blood tinged.
    Peritonitis may be present if ulcers have perforated the ceca walls.
    Livers are swollen and display circular depressed areas of necrosis about one-half inch in diameter.
    Smaller lesions coalesce to form larger ones.
    Lesions are yellowish to yellow-green and extend deeply into the underlying liver tissue. Healing lesions may resemble those seen in visceral leukosis.
    Blackhead diagnosis is made readily on the basis of the lesions.
    Atypical forms, particularly in chickens, must be differentiated from cecal coccidiosis and Salmonella infections in particular.
    Medications may interfere with atypical lesions.
    Laboratory tests may be required for positive diagnosis in such cases.

    Treatment:
    Dose birds with EMETRYL (Active ingredient Dimetridiazole) at the dosage recommended by the manufacturer or use Hepzide, Enhaptin –always follow vet advice & read label recommendations before giving any medication
    You can only get it these from a veterinarian
    It is important to worm your flock every eight to twelve weeks using an efficient wormer eg. Levamisole at the manufacturers dose rate
    Do not mix it with any other medication

    Treat for blackhead first – EMETRYL
    Then treat for worms – Levamisole
    Without proper worming treatments, blackhead will be a recurring problem

    References used in this article are
    Book - A Guide to Keeping Poultry In Australia: by Dorothy Reading
    And
    http://www.msstate.edu/dept/poultry/index.htm /quote

    There is also some wonderful info here on using cayenne pepper for treatment of birds affected with blackhead:

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/134230/hope-this-saves-a-turkey-from-blackhead

    to sum it up (also from that same thread):
    quote: HOT NEWS FOR TURKEYS

    By Larry Ross, RR # 3, Clifford, N0G 1M0

    Soon after I started keeping turkeys (from the second year on) blackhead has been a problem for me. For those not familiar with blackhead, this is a disease caused by protozoans. It can kill a flock of turkeys in less than a month. Protozoans are single-celled, microscopic animal life. (The Ministry of Agriculture's factsheets have good descriptions of all types of poultry diseases.)

    I have tried several natural remedies to kill the protozoans responsible. I started looking for something else after my trails with garlic powder proved only partially effective. Although I've only tried it one year, I've had excellent results with cayenne powder. I use it at a rate of 1 rounded tablespoon per 20 litres of chopped feed. Cayenne isn't water soluble, but it still works in the drinking water. I use the same rate, allowing the cayenne to soak and then stirring the mixture well. The water method is essential for the sicker birds who won't eat. During the outbreak of 1993, I used cayenne in both the feed and water at first. Later on, I put it in the feed only.

    Cayenne does more than just prevent and cure blackhead in turkeys. It is also seems effective in preventing and treating coccidiosis in chickens and turkeys.

    With range birds it is often difficult to ensure all the birds are consuming the cayenne-treated feed and water. If the birds are penned up at night, giving them their treated feed before letting them out for the day is one answer.

    Cayenne has several advantages. The flavour of the meat was not affected. (I kept the birds off cayenne for three days before slaughter.) Being a food substance (for humans), cayenne bypasses

    registration as a drug, a lengthy and expensive process. This makes it relatively cheap - often for as little as $5/lb. through a meat processor. This is a real bargain compared to Emtryl at $30 - 40.00 per 500 mg! /quote






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    2014 poults..

    Sweetgrass X Buff
    first 5
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Comments

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  1. TCFarm
    Thinking about trying some Turkeys, so thanks a million for the great article!
  2. djronron
    very helpful
  3. stretchy4u2
    What if we don't know how long the mommy had been sitting on them before we got them. The mother got killed and she had been sitting on them so we took and put in our incubator. We need help cause I haven't ever done any turkey eggs
  4. LinaNate
    When you say drop temperature at hatch are you referring to a temp drop at lock down or when the external pip is made?
  5. MountainDirt
    Thank you so much! Wonderful information! I have a few of questions. Will the typical starter turkey feeds from Tractor Supply have enough niacin for the poults or should I supplement? My first poults will come in late May and hopefully next year I can provide a more sustainable food source (i.e. grow myself) for all of my poultry; how could I make sure they get enough niacin then? Any natural sources?
    I'm hoping to also have baby chicks with my turkeys to teach them. Will baby chicks with no interaction at all with adult birds or any thing they may have touched be safe to rear with turkey poults?
  6. charlindabob
    Thank you, I like the fact that directions are easy to read AND understand.
  7. HappyAcresKY
    Thank you! Great info :)
  8. ChooksChick
    Nice resource I will share with all!
  9. Sally Sunshine

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