Preparing Your Turkey for the Youth Market Turkey Show
You picked up your poults two months ago. They’ve taken a lot of your time and attention. They’re growing exponentially and the show is just weeks away! Are you on track to finish well? This article is a reminder of some basics to caring for your birds to ensure success down the stretch! Remember to watch for FLAWS in your animal husbandry routine.
F – FEED! By now, you should be switching from starter to grower. Grower feed should be 20-22% protein and 3-4% fat. Check that your feed is formulated properly with adequate vitamins and minerals. Store feed in a dry location; airtight containers are best. Watch for feed that becomes soiled or wet. Replace with fresh feed and be sure the feeder is kept full so birds can eat free choice. Feeder height is also critical and the feeder lip should be kept in close proximity to the birds’ backs. This allows for easy access at all times. Watch for needed adjustments!
L – LEISURE! Your turkeys should be taking it easy with no excessive exercise. Remember that you’re raising a meat bird. Growth is one of the most important factors and feed conversion is key. Feed conversion is a measure of how efficiently your birds turn feed into weight. Your birds need plenty of room to move freely and not compete for feed, water, or space. However, they shouldn’t have so much room that they’re running laps and burning excessive calories that could be used for growth.
A – AIR! As your birds mature, they may need supplemental air to eliminate heat stress during a hot summer. Fans can be helpful, but don’t overuse them. Watch bird comfort for guidance. Since birds can’t sweat, they cool themselves by panting. But panting burns calories, so you want to minimize this. With fall around the corner, so are cooler nights. It may be necessary to cut fans off at night and have them on just during the hottest part of the day, so watching your birds for cues is key.
W – WATER! Water is one of the most important aspects of caring for your birds. Make sure your turkeys’ water is clean, fresh, and topped off every day. Dehydration can happen quickly during a hot summer. Also, adjust waterer heights as your birds grow.
S – SANITATION & HEALTH! One of the best ways to keep your flock healthy is to keep their pen clean and dry. Be sure to keep their bedding clean and refresh when needed. Do a health check of your birds daily. You’ll want to check their heads – eyes, nares (a turkey’s nose), and mouth to make sure they are clean and dry and free of discharge. Check feet and legs to make sure they are able to properly walk, lay down, and stand up. Watch for activity changes of your turkeys. These may be signs of a health problem.
Biosecurity is crucial to managing flock health. The goal is to stop the spread of disease. If you have chickens and turkeys, make sure you take care of your turkeys first, as they are more disease-prone. Limit visitors to your farm as it is easy for them to unknowingly bring diseases to your birds from places they’ve visited. Have a dedicated pair of shoes for working with your birds and don’t wear these shoes anywhere else, especially public places! Lastly, be sure you have a secure environment for your turkeys, including proper fencing to keep the turkeys in, and predators out.
Now, it’s showtime! Transport your turkey in a safe, well-ventilated crate (open-air dog crates work great)! Your turkey may need to stay in this crate for the majority of the day. As you work with your bird at home, keep in mind the show criteria. Make sure your bird is easy to handle, showing you’ve been working with your bird consistently. Size and uniformity of muscling is important; more is better. You want your bird to be big and healthy. Although the show is based on the marketability of the bird, don’t forget to show off your skills too! Speak clearly and loudly. Be well-mannered and answer the judge’s questions as accurately as possible. Good luck at the show! Here’s a video on preparing for the show:
Written by Jonas Asbill and Margaret Ross, Area Specialized Poultry Agents