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, Lottie Farrow, will help to keep you up to date.

There was a variety of discussions at the Turkey Science and Production Conference 2024, touching on management strategies, legislation, and novel feeding approaches. It also included maximising the genetic potential of modern turkeys in mind, whilst being reminded they are not to be treated as big broilers!

Management and Welfare

One early discussion from Felipe Bugueno, Hybird Turkeys, showed how some key areas of turkey production lifecycle can be optimised to unlock the full genetic potential given that performance is influenced by not only genetics but the environment that an animal is raised in.  

Bugueno identified poult quality has a lasting impact on a bird’s success. Given a poult has an inability to regulate temperature for the first 3 days of life, it is important to maintain optimum conditions through not only hatch, but also transport to placement. Poult start was described as an extension of the hatching process. Thus, further highlighting set up and placement importance, specifically quick access to food and water was essential for intestinal development. Early intestinal development is key given that the intestinal tract grows 6 times its size in the first 48 hours. 

Bugueno described that environment and genetics work in combination to impact performance and this nicely linked with Bram Visser’s presentation describing how Hendrix Genetics use innovative selection methods to drive product performance. Visser suggested how selections are made to bring forward a desirable production trait and that this needs to be done with economics and sustainability in mind. The method of selection requires data collection not only from the whole flock, but on animals as individuals; methods that allow this include wearables such as cameras and motion trackers. In addition, Visser suggested there was advancement in technology cross-pollination and highlighted the benefits of a multi species approach in data collection. For example, smart monitoring in farrowing sows. Farrowing crate cameras had the ability to recognise when piglets were born, thus enabling selection for shorter farrowing. Camera applications in turkeys have progressed, enabling motion trackers to analyse gait scoring and monitor mating behaviour to 95% accuracy. Hence, quantifying a rooster’s mating ability which is a key area of importance in any breeding operation.   

Leg health, liveability and robustness are some of the current core welfare areas for turkey production that John Ralph, of Aviagen Turkeys highlighted in his presentation “Achievements in breeding for turkey welfare and future challenges”. He emphasised that breeding selection needs to be a balance of performance and welfare traits, however these commonly have unfavourable relationships. For example, genetic correlations of increased weight coincide with other problems i.e., leg problems in the heavier the bird. Recent research for identification of welfare characteristics is taking place to measure and record when birds can express in their natural environments, further challenges lie in the future as Ralph suggested genetic impact on welfare is small compared to the overall observed variation. Management is often more of a key factor, but optimising both will be of benefit.

Novel Nutritional Approaches

The work presented by Vasil Pirgozliev, Harper Adams University, to understand how metabolisable energy of rapeseed meal for turkeys and understanding variety by batch is fundamental in the use of rapeseed meal as an alternative to soyabean meal (SBM). Rapeseed meal is readily used in the UK as an alternative to SBM, given its wide availability and relatively high protein content. To reduce anti-nutritional factors, whole rapeseed requires processing and these different processing methods can affect the nutrient value of rapeseed meal. Pirgolzliev shared data that concluded that cultivars had no impact on apparent metabolisable energy (AMEn) and rapeseed meal obtained from the same processing facility also showed no difference in energy. However, further, wider research was needed to investigate a correlation between NDF and AMEn as well as different crushing plants impact on AMEn. Pirgozliev and others throughout the conference highlighted the importance of turkey specific research as they differ greatly from broiler chickens. Mike Bedford, AB Vista, presented a paper written by himself and Markus Rodehutscord, titled 'Comparison of phytase efficacy in broilers and turkeys – is the broiler a relevant model?'.

Bedford pointed out the limited number of scientific articles that had been written that includes keywords “turkey(s)” and “phytase” compared to that of “broiler(s)” and “phytase”. Part of this difference can be attributed to the fact the broiler market is larger than the turkey market and, therefore, funding is more available. However due to the limited turkey specific research, we tend to extrapolate broiler data and apply to turkeys. There are physiological differences between turkeys and broilers and to maximise the value of phytases in turkeys, more investigation should be done.

Phytases are routinely added to most commercial poultry diets and improve digestibility of phosphorus, calcium, sodium, amino acids and energy, with most nutritionists ascribing a “matrix” within the phytase raw material usually offering economic and environmental benefits.

Work some 20 years ago carried out by Applegate and Angel showed that phosphorus release from phytase was greater in turkeys than in broilers. In addition to this, matrix values taken commercially for phytases could be seen as conservative and therefore continued use of extrapolated broiler data will unlikely cause issues, but enzyme value will likely not be maximised.

The answer to the title question is not an easy one. While there are physiological differences between turkeys and broilers, fundamental components of the diet also differ. Mineral levels differ, of which turkey typically have higher calcium which we know to negatively impact phytase functionality. Therefore, when looking at trial results involving both broilers and turkeys, it should be noted if species specific diets are used or if both species are fed the same diet.

Bedford concluded by stating that in order to formulate more precisely, maximising phytase potential in turkeys, more work should be done to determine turkey specific data.

Alexandra Desbrulais, Anpario, introduced her paper by pointing out the significant improvements in growth performance that have been made in the previous 60 years and suggested that we may be nearing genetic potential in terms of growth rate. With this in mind, to further improve efficiency, alternative strategies need to be adopted. There is a vast array of feed additives in turkey nutrition on the market to improve efficiency and increase productivity with various modes of action. Desbruslais’ paper focused on optimising gut health to improve nutrient utilisation, rather than purely increasing nutrient availability – something which is ultimately limited by the absorptive capacity of the gut.

Many factors can affect gut health, such as presence of disease (microbial, parasitic, chemical) or stress. Historically the use of antibiotics may have masked some of these challenges, and with the drive to reduce the use of antibiotics in poultry production, alternative strategies are being examined. Desbruslais introduced the audience to “Eubiotics, a new approach to maintaining a favourable environment.” The aim is to have a healthy intestinal microbiome and eubiotics can achieve this by supporting the favourable microbes in the gut and preventing the colonisation of pathogens, thereby preventing any physical damage to the gut cell walls and ensuring optimum absorptive capacity. An example of a eubiotic is oregano essential oil (OEO) which has been shown to have antimicrobial, antioxidant and antiparasitic actives and contains over 100 different compounds.

In summary, discussions throughout the Turkey Science and Production Conference 2024 were industry relevant and touched on a wide range of subjects. If you have any questions regarding the topics, or applying them within your turkey nutrition programme, get in touch with your Premier Nutrition Account Manager.