Feeding strategies and disease control were both on the menu at the recent annual Turkey Science and Production Conference. Ken Randall reports

More radical approaches to feeding turkeys may be needed to maintain improvements in growth performance in the future.

According to Prof Peter Ferket from North Carolina State University, a number of nutritional factors may soon begin to limit the expression of the genetic potential of commercial turkeys.

“Growth performance and meat yield will continue to improve with new techniques in genetics, biotechnology and developmental biology,” he said.

“Nutritionists are striving to meet the nutrient input needs that optimise the expression of that genetic potential.”

One key area for attention was early nutrition, said Prof Ferket. “The few days before and after hatch are critical for development and survival.”

In particular, feeding the embryo while still inside the egg (in ovo) presented great potential to optimise early nutrition and prepare the young poult to express its genetic potential for growth.

Although access to feed soon after hatch was also critical for development of digestive capacity and muscle, feeding the embryo by injecting an isotonic solution into the amnion could accelerate gut development and its capacity to digest nutrients.

The technique could yield several advantages including:

  • Greater efficiency in feed utilisation
  • Reduced post-hatch morbidity and mortality
  • Improved immune response to gut antigens
  • Lower incidence of skeletal disorders
  • Better muscle development and breast meat yield.

Once chicks have hatched, producers should consider using a pre-starter feed during the first two weeks as a means to establish a sound gut morphology and microbiota as a priority over cost.

This could be met by including nucleotide-rich yeast extracts and yeast mannan oligosaccharides (MOS), organic trace minerals and butyrate derivatives.

For gut health throughout the life of the bird, supplementary phytase and/or xylanase-amylase-protease (XAP) enzyme products were recommended.

Finally, including a portion of the grain in the diet as a coarse grind would help normalise gut motility and digestive function, and maintain a stable and symbiotic microbiota, suggested Prof Ferket.

Campylobacter control

Campylobacter is a problem the turkey industry needs to solve before it affects farming practices, Jeremy Hall, group technical director of Bernard Matthews Farms, told the conference.

“With human infections rising by up to 10% a year, we must find strategies that reduce the levels from all of the main sources,” he said.

Poultry was one of these, and both the European Food Safety Authority and the UK’s Food Standards Agency saw campylobacter as the main pathogen to control over the next five years.

Turkey levels were generally much less than in broilers and were already close to the FSA’s target level for 2015, said Mr Hall.

However, there was a danger that the turkey sector could be caught up in any legislation that was aimed primarily at the broiler sector.

One of these potential measures was a ban on thinning of flocks, which in the turkey sector would have a serious impact on free-range enterprises, and the option to use “brood and move” systems, which were vital to many UK operations.

An obvious approach to control, which had worked well for salmonella, was on-farm biosecurity.

“However, this has not been shown to be an effective strategy for campylobacter, with a number of focused trials failing to deliver substantial improvements.”

The alternative was a form of intervention in the processing plant – one that acted around the scalding, plucking and evisceration process.

To this end, research, mainly in broilers, had been taking place over a number of years, but without any real success.

Cleaning the carcass with ozone, electrolyte water, chlorine and lactic acid had achieved little, while other treatments based on ultraviolet light, steam and hot water caused downgrading of carcasses.

“We have five years’ research under our belts and are no further forward,” admitted Mr Hall.

Hopes now rest on perfecting a rapid-freeze technique on the skin surface, without breaching EU rules that chilled poultry must not be previously frozen.

Blackhead cases rise post treatment ban

Histomoniasis or “blackhead” in turkeys has been on the increase since the two main treatments, Nifursol and Dimetridazole, were banned in the EU in the early 2000s, reported Keith Warner of the Minster Veterinary Practice.

Since then there have been sporadic outbreaks in the UK, usually affecting small flocks of turkeys on earth floors for the Christmas market. “However, over the past few years an increased incidence has occurred in breeding and commercial flocks kept indoors on concrete floors,” said Mr Warner.

“They have usually been directly associated with a recognisable biosecurity breach, leading to contaminated soil entering the house.

“The scale of losses seen with this condition causes major concerns but, when infection is present, no authorised medications are available to successfully treat turkeys.

“From our recent experiences, attention to biosecurity can help protect housed birds on concrete floors, but is not reliable as the only control method. Rapid use of Fenbendazole appears to have a beneficial effect, and is certainly used in preventative programmes.”

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