Researcher looks at turkey management and bird health

Changed management practices should aid in turkey welfare

Emily Leishman, a PhD candidate with the University of Guelph hopes to understand housing and management practices on turkey farms as part of her doctoral research.

She is investigating the association between housing and management, and footpad dermatitis and aggressive pecking.

Why it matters: There are no studies outlining the severity of footpad dermatitis (FPD) and aggressive pecking in Canada and the risk factors that come with this.

Turkey producers in Canada recently received a questionnaire, a visual aid and scoring system to take part in a study associating animal welfare with management styles.

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The study is being completed by Leishman.

Footpad dermatitis and aggressive pecking can vary depending on the season and management styles. Both have animal welfare and economic consequences.

Farmers were asked to pick a specific flock of birds on their farm and analyze data on that flock — the sex of the birds, where they were sourced from, how they are reared and basic management questions around litter management, air quality, ventilation and lighting.

Leishman says she has determined through a literature search that these management factors might play a role in some health problems.

“In a perfect world, we’d go on these turkey farms ourselves and do all of this health scoring, but we want to capture the population of Canada as a whole and with commercial turkey farms coast to coast, so we’ve created this questionnaire,” says Leishman.

“FPD can get very painful, so the birds lay down a lot and their bodyweight suffers,” says Leishman. “The pecking injuries cause carcass damage. If there is enough carcass damage it will reduce their grade or they will be condemned.”

Once the surveys are complete and the information is returned, Leishman and her team want to see if there is a relationship between the questionnaire, which analyzes the management of the operation, and the scores, which analyze the welfare of the flock.

Researchers hope to share the associations they find and pull together a management tool to pass onto farmers showcasing what they found to be related to the aggressive pecking and footpad dermatitis.

Leishman says researchers also want to leave the score sheets with farmers so they do their own benchmarking, and see if their scores improve after following suggestions from the study.

The packages were mailed to farmers in early May and Leishman hopes to receive data back within a few months and be analyzing it this fall.

The project is part of a larger initiative, the Genomic Applications Partnership Program through Genome Canada providing funding to all the different aspects of turkey production.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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