Feedback on Turkey Production

A reader and turkey farmer in Texas writes in to take issue with faulty advice about turkey production in Jack Widmer's book "Practical Animal Husbandry."

| November/December 1973

  • turkey flock - Fotolia
    In an effective turkey production operation the birds are allowed to range freely rather than confined, contrary to the advice in "Practical Animal Husbandry."

  • turkey flock - Fotolia

Dear Mother:

The chapter on "Turkey Production" from Jack Widmer's Practical Animal Husbandry was so misleading that it undermined the whole issue. What good is a how-to publication that tells how to do it wrong? 

Your assumption that this book predates factory farming because it was published in 1949 is based on ignorance. The big agribusiness turkey ranchers of today raise their stock under much freer conditions than "we on Toowoomba." I question your whole concept of blind acceptance of Widmer's work. Some chapters are excellent, others are full of outdated information. In any case, I'd hesitate to entitle my remarks "Turkey Production" if I raised only 12 a year as Widmer did. I know people within San Antonio's city limits who keep larger flocks than that.

The first statement in this hymn to agribiz circa 1950 is the truest one in the whole chapter. Maybe you ought to read it again. "Advances made by the veterinary profession in recent years have completely changed the entire picture of turkey production." OK? Got that?

One of those "advances made by the veterinary profession" is that if anyone is losing one-third of his turkeys— at any age— as Widmer used to, he's doing something drastically wrong. With my primitive, organic, small-scale methods my losses run two or three out of a hundred birds (unless something unforeseen I turn the critters out and go to town and it rains). I have reason to believe that commercial producers lose a few more than that, because they're raising these stupid creatures without the personal attention I have the time to give them, but the rate is certainly nothing like one-third.

Since chilling is the main cause of mortality in baby turkeys, however, I'm not surprised at that high a loss if Widmer attempted to raise them on wire, as he suggests. Also, if anyone gets the foolhardy thought of raising more than 12—say 150, as I often do—be sure to have a heat source the poults won't huddle under. If you have more than 50 birds and one heat lamp, they'll pile up under it and next morning you'll be left with, maybe, 40. Use two tamps, or a brooder.


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