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Live Performance Characteristics, Pathogen Load and Foot Pad Lesions in Range-Reared Heritage versus Conventional Turkeys

20 November 2012

There were large differences between conventional white turkeys and the heritage line with regard to live performance and carcass data, according to a new study from Auburn University in the US. The older breeds had a much reduced tendency towards foot pad lesions and also had significantly fewer Clostridium perfringens-positive carcasses and total anaerobic counts than the conventional white line when kept free-range.

B.A. McCrea of Delaware State University in the US and co-authors there and at Masterfeeds in Canada and Auburn University have reported a study to compare the performance of heritage (Bourbon Red) and conventional (Broad Breasted White) turkey varieties in an outdoor range management system in the Southeastern United States.

In their paper in International Journal of Poultry Science, they explain that turkeys were brooded indoors to four weeks of age and then moved to outdoor pens until processed at 17 weeks of age.

Period and cumulative bodyweight gain, feed intake and feed conversion were compared at seven, 10, 13 and 17 weeks of age. The final live weight, carcass weight and carcass yield were compared for both varieties and sexes of turkeys. Foot pad lesions were scored at four, seven, 10, 13 and 17 weeks of age.

The presence of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, total aerobes and total enteric counts were determined via cloacal swabs or carcass rinsate.

Significant differences between varieties with regard to live performance and carcass data were noted. The BBW turkeys had a higher feed intake, weight gain, live weights, carcass weights and carcass yields than the BR turkeys.

Significant differences between the sexes for live weight and carcass weight but not carcass yield were also noted.

Foot pad lesions were often identified in the BBW strain, with the majority of the BBW turkeys (75.2 per cent) having detectable lesions by week 17. In comparison, the BR turkey had no lesions at week 17.

The pathogen load of the two varieties was not different with the exception of Cl.perfringens and total anaerobic counts, both of which were higher in BBW.

The data collected in this study will aid small producers with alternative production of heritage turkey varieties, concluded McCrea and co-authors.


McCrea B.A., M.A. Leslie, L.M. Stevenson, K.S. Macklin, L.J. Bauermeister and J.B. Hess. 2012. Live performance characteristics, pathogen load and foot pad lesions in range-reared heritage vs. conventional turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). International Journal of Poultry Science, 11(7):438-444

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November 2012

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