How can I protect pastured turkeys from predators?
Answer: As with all poultry in a pasture-based system, turkeys are susceptible to predation. Most predators will view a flock as an easy target if it is not properly guarded. Common predators of poultry include coyotes, weasels, skunks, opossum, raccoons, snakes, rodents, hawks, eagles, and owls.
Domestic animals such as cats and dogs can also be of concern. Dogs, especially strays, will chase a flock and become more excited as the flock tries to escape, often killing many in the process.
The first line of defense in protecting a flock from predation is secure housing. Doors should have latches that cannot be shaken open easily. Siding should allow for airflow and ventilation, but should not have gaps large enough for a predator to enter or reach through. Chicken wire can be installed in offset layers to reduce the opening size, or hardware cloth can be used. The material must be strong enough to prevent stretching. If using a mobile range house, the pen should be properly staked down to prevent predators from burrowing under or lifting up the pen. Pieces of rebar fashioned into “U” shapes can be put over corners to help secure the pen to the ground.
Domestic animals used as livestock guardians are a popular choice among pastured poultry producers. Dog breeds such as Great Pyrenees or Anatolian Shepherds have been bred to be around various species of livestock and protect them from predators such as coyotes. Guardian dogs should be introduced to livestock early in life and monitored as they are trained to ensure that they do not chase the flock out of boredom or hunger. Puppies should be bonded to livestock in controlled environments such as smaller paddocks or holding pens. Guardian dogs tend to roam, and the majority of injuries and losses happen as they venture beyond a property. As a dog is introduced to a farm, it should be taught to respect the boundary fence (Redden et al., 2015). Goats and donkeys are also compatible with turkey flocks as guardian animals. Producers need to factor feed, equipment, and veterinary costs for the guardian animal into the overall costs of production for the entire flock. Livestock guardians are especially important in day-range systems that only utilize a shade structure for water and roosting at night. Predators can often be deterred if they feel that they are encroaching on a larger or unknown predator’s territory. Devices are available that are meant to mimic light reflecting off of a nocturnal predator’s eyes. This will scare away some predators, but if the pattern of use is not randomized, predators may adjust and learn to disregard these devices. Scents can also be deployed to ward off predatory animals. However, scents will wear off quickly and must be reapplied. Pie pans, streamers, CDs, or other reflective materials can be hung on or around the range coop to ward off nocturnal predators. Light reflecting off of these materials will disorient predators such as owls and will help keep them away from the flock.
You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Pastured Turkey Production. It will introduce you to the concept of raising turkeys on pasture and the many considerations related to breed selection, housing, nutrition, welfare, processing, and marketing.
Redden, R. Reid, John M. Tomacek, and John W. Walker. 2015. Livestock Guardian Dogs. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, College Station, TX.