December 14, 2018

No matter how much time you spend in your turkey house, ensuring every little thing is in working order, your turkeys might still get sick. When they get sick, my hope is to teach you a checklist that you can go through on your own before calling your veterinarian to try and figure out what might be going on. This might help you identify the problem on your own, or at the very least will help you present your situation to your veterinarian.

To begin, when your birds get sick, you must first ask yourself how old are the birds. The reason age is important is because certain diseases tend to affect certain age birds. For example, if the birds are still in the brooder and start getting loose and mortality is increasing, enteritis secondary to coccidiosis challenge is a top rule out. If you just moved those birds out of the brooder and into the finisher and they are having similar problems then enteritis secondary to Hemorrhagic Enteritis Virus or Roundworm infestation are top rule outs.

The second thing to know is the status of your flock. Are you growing conventional, ABF, or organic turkeys? This is important because if your birds are on an ABF or Organic program, then they will have a different cocci control program than what you might be used to with conventional birds. This might mean that they are more likely to break with coccidiosis than their conventional counterparts. Organic flocks are also not allowed to have any routine deworming, so roundworm and/or tapeworms might be an issue. 

The third question that we need to answer is, what are the clinical signs? Just determining which system is affected can lead you down one path or another. Are the turkeys coughing, sneezing, have swollen sinuses or do they have wet, sticky droppings? Has there been an increase in water consumption or a decrease? Knowing what signs the birds are showing can help determine if there is an infectious cause, where a specific disease is involved, or if maybe there was a problem with a feed delivery.

The fourth question might seem to overlap with the clinical signs, but it is important to report anything new that happened or that changed just prior to the birds getting sick. For example, did you just receive a new feed delivery. Or maybe it’s that you only had 4 days down time in between flocks this time or that you did a total cleanout and disinfection on the other 3 barns but didn’t have the time or the money to do the fourth and that is where the birds are dying. Did you recently vaccinate those birds with anything? If so, how did you do it and how quickly did the birds drink it? Maybe we didn’t get the birds fully vaccinated and we are seeing clinical disease because of that. Have you been doing routine serology of your flocks to notice any trends over time? This can pinpoint age of disease introduction, for example Bordetella. Maybe your 8-week serology shows no exposure to Bordetella but your 12 week serology shows a huge spike. This means something with your water sanitation program might need to be adjusted in the finisher.

The fifth question, arguably the most important, is did you open any of the birds to see if anything was going on? Many people think that it is only the veterinarians job to post birds, but if you can do one or two and tell your veterinarian what you see or take a picture, then that might be the difference between getting birds started on a treatment course when the mortality is in the teens verses waiting until the veterinarian can come out and the mortality is already in the hundreds. Growers and Service Technicians are the eyes and the ears for veterinarians in the field. The more info and details you collect, the faster the diagnosis and the faster the treatment.

Although the checklist might seem complete, sometimes the answer to the question “what is wrong with my birds” lies right inside your barn door. You can’t forget to ask yourself, are my fundamentals in order? I like to use the FLAWS analogy (Feed, Lights/Litter, Air, Water, and Security) when I go through these basic management practices. The take home is that you take the time to think through each one. You see this house and the bird’s environment every day and you often have many more important things to do while you’re in there than this, but when you’re seeing issues, take 5 minutes and evaluate each of the FLAWS. Did you have a feed change? Does the pellet quality look worse than normal? Do you have a different brand of light in one area of your barn and you tend to have more mortality there? Are your floors getting wetter? Are ammonia levels higher than they should be at night when houses go into minimum ventilation? Do you have a footpan inside each door that you use and change regularly? Or do those footpans have flies in them from 2 weeks ago. Did you go hunting in your barn shoes last weekend then chore your birds on Monday? Do you check those rodent bait stations every 2 weeks? An issue with any one of these FLAWS can make the birds sick.
When you have problems with two or three of the fundamentals, then the birds can really be in trouble.

Unfortunately, I cannot teach you my decision tree and 4 years of vet school in one paper, but hopefully I got you thinking about things in categories. More importantly, I hope I have helped you understand why we (veterinarians) ask you those 5 questions when you call with sick birds. Raising turkeys is ever evolving and complicated process. As long as we continue to work together and learn, then we will continue to make birds healthier and their environments safer.

For More Information:


Dr. Meagan Slater, DVM, MAM
Technical Service Veterinarian

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