Ask the Expert: Turkeys

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How Old Are These Toms?

I live in the woods and we have two tom turkeys that come in two or three times a day for the scratch and water I put out for them. They respond to my voice, know the sound of the feed barrels, love to be talked to and let me within three feet of them.

Is there any way to estimate their age by the length of their “beards?” When they’re eating they drag on the ground. They’ve been coming in for two years now.

Spring is very interesting when the ladies come around.

Doree Juliano, New Hampshire


Hi Doree,

Correctly judging the age of a wild turkey is not an exact science. There are a lot of references from hunters. You can tell if a turkey is immature (a jake) or not by looking at the tail feathers. A jake’s tail feathers will be irregular when they are standing up with the middle feathers being higher than the feathers on the sides. Their beards will stick out and not down and they’re only a few inches long. The beard on a mature bird is much longer and can drag the ground. Some hunters say a two-year-old tom’s beard will be about five to seven inches. A three-year-old tom’s beard will be about eight inches or more. It sounds like your turkeys are around three years old or more from your description.


Sick Turkeys

I think my newly acquired turkeys may have coccidiosis. They have bloody butts and discharge. Is there a way to treat them or should I harvest them?

Mary Vavrik


Hi Mary,

We think if they seem fairly healthy otherwise, it might be best to harvest them. Coccidiosis is not a human health concern.

You could also treat them with amprolium in the water. We don’t believe it has a withdrawal period in poultry, though in cattle, there is a 24-hour withdrawal period before slaughter.

If it is some other disease of the intestine (bacterial, for example) then the treatment won’t help.

We think those are your two best options at this point (process now, or try to treat with amprolium).

Good luck with them.


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