My Turkeys had blackhead, and no this is not some strange pimple my turkeys got when they were adolescents. It was actually a very devastating microorganism that nearly wiped out my whole flock of birds.
When we started with turkeys we were lucky enough to get eggs from a friend. We had eighteen eggs and out of those eleven hatched. At first, they were doing great, growing well and fast. Right at about 10 weeks we lost our first bird, just walked outside to check on them and one was dead. At this point, we decided to move them into a different area so they had even more space in hopes that would keep them even healthier. This is when things started to go downhill. Every few days we seemed to be losing a bird. They would be fine one day then suddenly dying the next. I was at a loss as to what it was or how to cure them.
My oldest took it upon himself to discover what was wrong, he got out his phone and started searching for what matched the symptoms. He came out of his room all excited that he had figured it out, he discovered Blackhead disease. This is not a very pleasant disease to have to deal with. For starters, it is passed on by a single-celled organism that tends to affect the turkeys more so than the chickens. We discovered that our chickens were likely carriers of the disease and that when you mix species you have a better chance of getting this disease in the flock. This is when we didn’t know what to do. We have to keep the birds together but how could we prevent more death?
We continued to research this topic, trying to find a solution that would allow us to keep the birds together. I read that when you keep the acid level in the stomach up you have a better chance of the organism dying. So we started to feed the birds multiple small meals a day, as the digestive process keeps the acid level higher in the stomach. We also made sure to add apple cider vinegar to their water as another way to increase the acidity. As we continued to read more we also discovered that heritage breed birds had a better chance of surviving and those that do tend to be immune so their offspring also tend to be immune.
We ended up losing about half of our birds, leaving us with 6 surviving birds. From these birds, we processed two for Thanksgiving that year and kept four to breed from. This past year we raised a total of 10 birds, 4 were from our original group and 6 were their offspring. With the good genetics and taking the precaution of feeding the young ones a little more often and adding apple cider vinegar to the water, we lost no birds to Blackhead. The new challenge will be to find birds from others to expand our breeding stock but also have the blackhead immunity. This is a very tricky disease that can easily wipe out your whole flock. When you are getting ready to combine multiple types of fowl be aware that you may encounter blackhead and lose many of your birds.
Some symptoms you may notice are:
- Drooping wings
- Lack of apatite
- Increased thirst
- Mustard, yellowish stool
- Lack of inquisitiveness
Please note that once symptoms occur most birds die within a few days. The mortality rate in turkeys is 80-100%.