Thanks for the link, masterofnone. The article they post has some good points, but it’s considerably out of date, which makes it hazardous in some ways.
For example, the specific disease they are talking about in the excerpt you posted is called Histomoniasis, or Black Head. It is caused by a microscopic parasite called Histomonas meleagridis that is carried by another parasite, an intestinal worm common in chickens called Heterakis gallinarum. (Parasites of parasites - Ain’t biology grand?) The eggs of intestinal worms are themselves transmitted by earthworms. If a turkey eats an earthworm that is carrying Heterakis eggs, and if those eggs are infected with Histomonids, the turkey is very likely to get sick and die. Chickens, on the other hand, don’t usually die from Histomoniasis. That’s why we don’t generally keep chickens and turkeys together, or even on the same ground consecutively.
The article you posted says “Sand is considered the ideal litter for starting poults.” A layer of sand on top of normal, earthworm infested soil is a great way to get lots of earthworms on the surface where birds can eat them. I’m not sure exactly when the transmission cycle for Black Head was worked out, but I’ll bet it was after Mr. Widmer wrote in 1949.
I curious though: When you were raising birds on wire, did you use metal wire, or plastic? Were these the birds that you let get so heavy? If so, how did you deal with massive birds on wire, and did you notice any foot problems? Also, you mentioned that you had more birds die when they were on range, but do you know what they died off? The birds on wire were, by necessity, enclosed, and so were protected from predators and other problems.
Balthisar: Sorry for the poor word choice. Like Rick figured out, I meant “allowed” in that the majority of turkeys are sent to slaughter before they are sexually mature. There are no laws stopping anyone from producing turkey eggs for people to eat. There are only practical and economic factors.
Vetbridge: Evan L. Stubbs didn’t sound familiar, but, in Googling, I see he is Pennsylvania’s version of our A. Rosenwald. It’s neat that the whole of modern poultry production can be traced to a handful of individuals. But, it’s kind of sad that the industry is running down towards those same numbers now. Alas. Why do you ask?