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Getting your turkeys off to a good start!

Baby turkeys have a reputation of ‘finding a way to die’, but this is based on the commercial turkeys that are especially fragile in their first 2 weeks. I think you will find the Minis more robust, but care in the brooder is a little different for turkey poults than it is for chicks.

Chicks are quick to show you, by their behaviour, where the brooder is at the right temperature vs. where it is too hot or cold. You hardly need a thermometer with chicks. But turkeys do not behave this way - they may wander into a cold corner and go hypothermic, or fall asleep under the heat lamp and cook themselves. So monitoring their temperature and making sure there is enough space for all of them to be at the right temperature is key to success with your poults.

First - Make sure your brooder is clean and sanitary. If it is wood you might repaint it or whitewash it. Microscopic ‘dirt’ can cause problems, so seal germs and parasite ova out of harms way. Or better, use a big cardboard box, like the oval produce bins you see in supermarkets, that will be sanitary and can be recycled after use so you have no washing up to do.

Then set up your brooder several days before the poults arrive. You can use 250 watt heat lamps or radiant heaters (my preference). Make sure the temperature in the brooder has settled into a steady 95̊F. Often it is useful to cover 2/3rds of the top of the brooder with a blanket or towel to retain heat and block drafts. If the brooder is big, a cardboard cuff around the area that is 95̊F will keep them from wandering away. USE A THERMOMETER. REALLY! An infrared thermometer allows you to get a quick and accurate picture of different temp zones.

The brooder should be prepped with litter at least 2 inches deep, dry, and covered over with a cloth or no-nap towel (not newspaper or anything slippery) for the first few days. Don’t use sawdust, the poults might eat it. Wood shavings, peat moss or sand make good bedding. The brooder needs to have good ventilation without drafts at poult level.

When the turkeys arrive, they will almost certainly be cold. Put them in the brooder and let them warm up for an hour or so. You can take their temperature with a baby thermometer inserted 1/4" in their vents. Their body temperature should be 103 - 104̊F. If they are cold, monitor their body temp once an hour until it reaches the ideal temp. If it doesn’t rise in 3 hours try turning up the heat in the brooder for a few hours, but don’t overdo it. Hypothermic poults will not be able to digest food and will ‘starve out’ in a few days. Temperature is key!

Here is a video showing how to take a poult’s temperature:

They should have their beaks dipped in warm water when you place them in the brooder. Provide at least one waterer for every 25 poults, placed in areas that are 95̊F (not under the heat lamp, which would make the water too hot). Plain water is okay. If they have been travelling a long time, a little sugar in the water (1 tsp./quart) can help restore their energy. A supplement of avian probiotics &/or vitamins (primarily B12, Niacin and Biotin) may do some good.. Make sure they are drinking. Dehydrated chicks will become weak, then lame, and then die.

Feed: Don’t give them food until they are at a good temperature and have been able to rehydryate themselves. Start them with a 28% turkey starter. Put it in feeders but also on the floor until they have more experience finding the feeders. Our poults are not given the Cocci vaccine, so do not buy medicated feed - your brooder is sanitary, right? so they won’t get coccidiosis. Don’t buy cheap feed. If you cannot get turkey starter use chick starter (20%) and supplement with finely chopped hard boiled eggs plus a vitamin supplement.

That’s the essential 3 things: Body temp at 103 - 104̊F

Drinking well

Eating good food

Turkey poults want a mama turkey to show them what to do, and many people will put a few robust chicks of the same age in with them to model drinking and eating.

After a few days you can remove the cloth over their litter and begin to expand the cardboard cuff you may have put around the heat zones. The temperature should be dropped 5̊F once a week until it gets to ambient.

You will notice that between the 1st and 2nd week they come into themselves and need less management. This is the end of the ‘fragile poult’ period! Then you can give them more space. Don’t let them go outside until they have grown a body cover of feathers.

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