Turkey Science & Production Conference Round-Up

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If you didn't manage to get to the Turkey Science & Production Conference, then this handy summary from our poultry nutritionist, Alex Kemp, will help to keep you up to date.

Living with AI – Options to control the Avian Influenza challenge – Dr Gérard Lévêque

Now at the forefront of everyday poultry life, Avian Influenza (AI) is more commonly seen across the poultry industry than ever before since the first cases reported back in 1878. Outbreaks of AI were relatively infrequent, although since the 1990’s the number of outbreaks has increased, particularly so in the last three years.

Dr Lévêque of Hendrix Genetics highlighted that although economic reasonings may be the first things to consider, we should also consider the animals affected by the disease in terms of welfare, the use of euthanasia as a control and the ethical responsibilities surrounding that process, food security across the globe, the impact of loss of livestock and the stress AI can have on producers.

The risk of AI is related to the migration of wild birds primarily within the autumn period when migration is at its highest, travelling from North to South in the Northern Hemisphere. Although Lévêque explained that previously migrations had driven AI cases, now the virus has become endemic in local wild bird populations. Biosecurity remains the number one defence, to prevent the spread of the virus. A strategy recently in the spotlight within the EU and UK is the administration of a vaccine, although he stressed it needs to be done absolute or not at all to have a lasting impact.

To conclude, the impacts of AI on turkey producers could be vast as, compared to other poultry species, turkeys have a longer lifespan and are generally more susceptible to disease. If the virus was to become endemic, life without vaccines would be unthinkable although vaccines themselves are not a silver bullet. Overall, critical and fluid thinking are essential to protect the turkey and wider poultry industry.

Innovative selection methods to drive product performance – Owen Willens

Owen Willens of Hendrix Genetics also gave a compelling talk on innovative selection methods to drive turkey performance to answer the question: Can the use of modern technology help to create better selection methods for the turkey industry? 

Willens went on to explain that many innovative ideas such as RFID and CT scanning technology could improve selection methods and increase operational efficiency in breeder flocks.

RFID Technology could be used to monitor and gather data on individual animals such as feed consumption, water consumption and animal feeding behaviours to assess feed efficiency and inform future selections. Data on live body weights can also be collected as RFID systems will be able to distinguish and record individual weights of birds, reducing manual labour. It was explained that a small trial into developing an automatic nest could measure individual egg production in group housing, using RFID and video recordings to observe and validate data. The potential for downstream application of this collected data in relation to genetics could see the industry progress faster and further while enhancing breeder hen performance.

CT scanning is the process of using X-rays to produce a multi-dimensional model using a series of images of a specific object. This research used CT scanning to take data on skin, bones, body composition, and organ development. Scan data can then be 3D-modelled in various ways to work out key performance parameters such as breast meat yield which is considered as one of driving factors in terms of economic performance. Although key performance parameters are important economically, data from scans on the skin, bones and organ development are also important from a health and welfare perspective. By utilising this modern technology, the turkey market could become more sustainable and efficient while meeting any economic, social or environmental demands within the industry.