Many farmers in Kenya rear chicken as opposed to turkeys. But as consumer needs keep changing, there is a growing interest in turkey production as a commercial venture. Turkey farming is concentrated in urban cities where the birds are reared on free range system. If we look at the turkey breeding pyramid with the pedigree selection occurring at the top and consumers at the bottom, we have a low population of Parent stock and no pedigrees. Hybrid parent stocks are still imported from western countries. Most of the primary breeders locally produce commercial birds through a natural incubation system, which is highly inefficient. Females are generally slaughtered at 12-14 weeks weighing 5.5kg while males are slaughtered at 18-21 weeks weighing between 14-17 kg. In the UK alone, more than 10 million turkeys are consumed during Christmas season. In Kenya, there is certainly untapped market for this bird.
Young turkeys are reared in brood rings for six weeks and then moved to grow-out accommodation until ready for slaughter at 12-18 weeks depending on the preferred weights of your customers.
Breeds of turkey in Kenya
The common breeds are white holland, black turkey and Beltsville white. Some farmers practice in-breeding that makes it difficult to know the kind of breeds we are currently producing. Most farmers keep these birds on free range and deep litter systems. A turkey egg will be incubated for 28 days either naturally or in artificial incubators before they hatch into poults.
Common turkey diseases
Between two to six weeks young poults are prone to non-specific gastrointestinal infections leading to diarrhoea, wet litter, uneven flock, and poor feed conversion rates. This kind of gut health disease is commonly caused by cocci, some bacteria, and a mix of viruses. Other stressors like starvation, chilling, poor ventilation may exacerbate the problem. The condition can be managed by a good antibiotic treatment after carrying out sensitivity tests in the laboratory.
Turkeys are also prone to coccidiosis infection. The disease-causing organism is called Eimeria and can be controlled using coccidiostats such as monensin, lasalocid or diclazuril, which can be put in feeds. These must however be administered by professionals to avoid toxicity as turkeys are more sensitive to excess levels of additives in their feed.
This disease is caused by the parasite Histomonas meleagridis. It affects the liver and the ceacum completely interfering with digestion and metabolism of nutrients. It is common in free range turkeys where worm infestation helps to establish the disease in mature birds. There is no treatment for this disease. You can manage the worm infestation to disrupt the lifecycle of the disease-causing organism. Deworming using Levamisole can help manage Blackhead attacks in a population of turkeys.
There is a list of intestinal viruses that affect turkeys that can be managed properly through supportive therapy using multivitamins, good management practices, proper hydration and provision of warmth and treatment of secondary infections.
Turkeys are prone to several respiratory diseases, among these are Avian rhinotracheitis, Turkey rhinotracheitis, swollen head syndrome and a pneumo virus. The good news is that these diseases can be vaccinated against at hatch as poults through spray application. Early warning signs include a cough and lameness with a swelling above the hock joint. Other respiratory diseases like Newcastle and infectious bronchitis can be managed through vaccination.
Rickets is a disease associated with soft leg bones due to poor mineralisation of bones. The bones become ‘bendy’, ribs get swollen, and the skull may cave in during culling. This condition is caused by low calcium levels in the diet, low level of metabolisable vitamin D3, inability to utilise calcium or Vitamn D3 from the gut due to poor quality chicks at hatch. Buy your feed from reputable sources. [The writer is head Vet at Kenchic]