Turkey is another poultry bird (like the ostrich and the emu) which is not native to India but is imported and bred here. The name turkey is derived from the fact that ages back Turkish merchants exported these birds from Madagascar to Europe. For some reason Frenchmen thought the bird came from India so it got named dindon or poulet d’Inde meaning Indian chicken; and, ironically in Turkey they thought so too and therefore they call it hindi; whereas in Hebrew it is tarnegol hodu or rooster of India and kalkun in Dutch, a derivation of Calicut!

Wild turkeys can fly at 50 miles per hour and roost in treetops. In comparison farmed turkeys can barely walk. The male is too broad-breasted and heavy to mate naturally so artificial insemination (as for other livestock) is used by breeders. Many develop painfully diseased hip joints as they can weigh as much as a nine-year-old child.

Selectively bred for many generations to grow fast and get bigger than their ancestors in the wild, turkeys are traditionally eaten in the West on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, any “sumptuous roasted fowl” (like duck, goose, guinea fowl or chicken) is prepared for the table. Some proudly obtained from so-called “ecologically sound and organic hencoops of backyards”.

The normal life span of domesticated turkeys is 10 years, but they are kept alive for only about 6 months by which time they gain the desired weight or enough flesh/meat. Turkey broilers are slaughtered between 12 and 27 weeks as soon as they can provide 5.5 to 7.5 kgs of meat. The demand is at Christmas and New Year and, to a lesser extent for Diwali and Thanksgiving. However, Chettinad restaurants have it on their regular menu as turkey varuval.

Business of breeding, killing and eating

The Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Hengbung, near Kangpokpi, north of Imphal, Manipur, in 2010 began an experimental-training-cum-demonstration farm for rearing turkeys and emus with the aim of enhancing the income of farmers in the area. The project funded by ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) through and NGO called FEEDS (Foundation for Environment and Economic Development Services) has 200 turkeys and 80 emus. Turkeys are expected to pick up faster in this meat-eating region.

Way back in 1994, day-old turkey chicks were flown in from Germany and breeding commenced at a private farm in Saswad, Pune district of Maharashtra. (Today this slaughterer not only breeds and kills turkeys, but also rears ducks at another location, and, processes and markets chicken alongside turkey and duck meats.) The birds are mainly supplied to five-star hotels.

Turkey farming would not have grown if the government had not taught farmers how to breed and kill turkeys, or even gone to the extent of providing slaughtering and marketing facilities. It is sad that every state of India promotes the breeding-killing-eating animals’ businesses. In 2005, the Punjab state government introduced turkey farming, marketing turkeys in department stores as an exotic alternative to chicken.

A Turkey Mela was organised during 2006 at Thanjavur by the Veterinary University Training and Research Centre and Rotary Club. Marketing the meat from the 30-odd turkey farms of the area was posing a problem. In other words, the supply was more than the demand, so a demand was created for turkey meat by the Department of Meat Science and Technology, Veterinary College and Research Institute, Namakkal. They began marketing the meat under a “custom slaughtering scheme of cutting, cleaning and packing” charging Re 1 per bird and selling the meat for the farmers at Rs 80 a kg. (They also slaughter pigs and chickens.)

The following are some government institutions in South India that maintain small turkey units and hold orientation courses to promote turkey faming:
• Central Poultry Development Organisation, Hessaraghatta, Bengaluru
• Central Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar
• Department of Animal Husbandry, Kerala
• Department of Animal Husbandry, Tamil Nadu
• TNAU Agricultural University, Coimbatore
• Tamil Nadu University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences
• University of Agriculture Sciences, Bengaluru
• Hissar Agriculture University, Hissar

In October 2012 at the Central Poultry Developement Organisation, Hessaraghatta, Bengaluru, 3,481 turkeys died of bird flu. CPDO also houses chicken, emu and ducks.

In India the Livestock Census classifies turkeys as Backyard Poultry, meaning generally raised in small flocks and open pens, rather than factory farms (although this is not strictly so.) By end 2019 there were over 4 lakh turkeys in India, an increase of 66.8% since 2012. More people in Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura are raising them. They are also raised in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

Exploitation and cruelty

With the help of a 16-page Turkey Management Guide, the Central Poultry Development Organization (Southern Region) situated at Bengaluru, has promoted turkey farming in the south, particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Some of the cruelties recommended (beginning and ending with debeaking) to be inflicted upon the birds as stated in the guide are reproduced verbatim:

Debeaking: Poults (young fowl) should be debeaked to control feather picking and cannibalism. Debeaking can be done at day old or 3-5 weeks of age. Remove the beak at about one half the distance from nostril to the tip of the beak.

Desnooding: Removal of the snood or dewbill is to prevent the head injuries from picking and fighting. At the day old the snood can be removed by thumbnail or finger pressure. At 3 weeks of age it can be cut off close to the head with sharp scissors.

Detoeing or toe clipping: Clipping is done at day old by removing the tip of the toe just to the inside of the outer most toe pad including the entire toenail.

Turkey egg: … Under proper feeding and artificial lightening management turkey hens lay as much as 60-100 eggs annually. Nearly 70 percent of the eggs will be laid in the afternoon…

Points to be noted during brooding: …Turkeys are not the best starters in life and will really need some tender loving care (sic) to get them safely through the first four weeks of life. The average mortality rate is 6-10% during this period.

Force Feeding: Starve out problem is one of the major factors for early mortality in poults so special care has to be taken for supplying feed and water. In force feeding, milk should be fed at the rate of 100 ml per litre of water and one boiled egg have to be given at the rate of one per 10 poults up to fifteen days and that will compensate the protein and energy requirements of the poults.

Free range feeding: Since turkeys are very good scavengers, it can consume earthworms, small insects, snails, kitchen waste and termites, which are rich in protein and that will reduce the feed cost by fifty percent. To avoid leg weakness and lameness in free ranging birds, calcium should be supplemented at the rate of 250 gm per week per bird in the form of oyster shell.

Health cover: Turkeys in the free range system are highly susceptible for internal (round worms) and external parasites (fowl mite) hence once a month deworming and dipping is essential to improve the growth of the birds.

Intensive system of rearing, Housing: … The young stock house should be at least 50 to 100 meters away from the adult house.

Catching and handling of turkeys: Turkeys of all age group can be easily driven from one place to another with the help of a stick. For catching turkeys a darkened room is best, wherein they can be picked up with both legs without any injury. However, mature turkeys should not be kept hanging for more than 3-4 minutes. … The temperament of turkeys is usually nervous; hence they get panicky at all stages.

Natural mating: The mating behaviour of tom is known as strut, wherein it spreads the wings and makes a peculiar sound frequently. In natural mating the male female ratio is 1:5 for medium type turkeys and 1:3 for large types. On an average 40-50 poults is expected from each breeder hen. Toms are rarely used for mating after first year due to reduced fertility. There is a tendency in toms to develop affinity towards a particular female, so we have to change the toms for every 15 days.

Artificial insemination: The advantage of artificial insemination is to maintain high fertility from turkey flock through out the season.

Collection of semen from Tom:

• The age of tom should be 32-36 weeks for semen collection
• The tom should be kept in isolation at least 15 days before semen collection.
• The tom should be handled regularly and the time required to collect the semen is 2 minutes.
• As the toms are sensitive to handling, the same operator should be used to get maximum volume of semen.
• Average semen volume is 0.15 to 0.30 ml.
• Use the semen within one hour of collection.
• Take the collection three times weekly or on alternative days.

Insemination in hens:
• Artificial insemination is done when the flock attains 8-10% egg production.
• Inseminate the hens every three weeks with 0.025-0.030 ml of undiluted semen.
• After 12 weeks of the season it may be better to inseminate every fortnight.
• Inseminate the hen after 5-6 o’clock in the evening.
• The average fertility should be 80-85% over a 16 week breeding season.

Economic Parameters in Turkey Farming:
Food efficiency: 2.7 – 2.8 (kgs feed given to produce 1 kg of meat)
Mortality during brooding period: 3-4%

Common Diseases of Turkey:
Blue comb disease
Chronic respiratory disease
Fowl cholera
Fowl pox
Haemorrhagic enteritis
Infectious synovitis
Infectious sinusitis
New Castle disease
Turkey coryza
Turkey venereal disease
Blue back
Pendulous crop
Breast blisters

Stampeding: Turkeys are subject to fright especially during night. Severe losses from injury, straying, smothering, bruising, broken limbs and death by predatory animals may result into stampedes. Avoiding disturbances at night and providing low intensity light at night may lessen it.

Cannibalism: Feather picking is a mild form of cannibalism to which turkeys are addicted, especially during the growth period. It can be prevented almost completely by debeaking.

Thankful at Thanksgiving

The President of America publicly pardons one or two turkeys every year, that is to say that the selected ones are not killed and eaten as part of the Thanksgiving tradition. (Thanksgiving Day in USA falls on the fourth Thursday in November.) Few bother about the other millions of turkeys doomed to be slaughtered every year – the US Turkey Federation estimates that 46 million birds are killed for Thanksgiving and 22 million for Christmas (2.62 million tons); and global production was 5.47 million tons (7.25 kgs is the average weight per turkey slaughtered) in 2011. In fact, some pick-your-own-turkey farms exist for those who wish to choose the bird they plan to eat.

Interestingly, a family in Mumbai handed over a live goose the father had bought for Christmas to a NGO because the children refused to see it killed and cooked.

Page last updated on 10/06/21