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Meeting Tackles International Turkey Issues

28 March 2014

UK - The first day of the Turkey Science and Production Conference yesterday, 27 March, at Carden Park near Chester covered a range of topics focusing mainly on the health and welfare of turkeys, reports Jackie Linden.

On its opening day, conference organiser, Dr James Bentley explained that the aims of the series of Turkey Science and Production Conference are to give participants the opportunity to meet each other, do business and learn how to compete with other meat industries.

This, the eighth event in the conference series, has attracted more than 250 delegates representing 165 companies and institutions from 25 countries. Attendance is slightly up on last year.

The first presentation was entitled 'The Hatching Egg - Role of the Shell Architecture', presented by Professor Sally Solomon of the University of Glasgow, who gave a fascinating insight into the complex structure of the eggshell. She illustrated some of the issues that can go wrong in shell formation and the consequences for reproduction.

The next session had a common theme of turkey health, starting with a paper on necrotic enteritis in turkey production in Finland. In the unavoidable absence of the author, Eija Valkonen from the Finnish feed company, Hankkija Oy, presented the paper, which included two studies that looked at the pathological findings and changes in gut microflora that occur when there is an overgrowth of Clostridium perfringens.

Blackhead disease - now more accurately known as histomonas - is an infection associated with turkeys, explained Dr Jeroen De Gussem of Poulpharm in Belgium. Control of the disease has become increasingly challenging since previously used drugs have been banned in many countries and although vaccination offers some promise for the future, an effective vaccine has been elusive so far.

Professor Arjan Stegeman from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands outlined work carried out in the Veneto region of Italy into the surveillance of low-pathogenicity avian influenza in turkeys. It is an area of high population density of turkeys and surveillance has been carried out there since a long-term history of the low-pathogenic form of the disease in turkeys became highly pathogenic around 1999-2000. Active surveillance with serological and virological testing was shown to be most effective, he explained.

The control of hepatic lipidosis in turkeys was the topic covered by Dr Peter Gazdzinski of Cuddy Farms in Canada. The pathogenesis of this condition - which causes sudden death and, at post-mortem, fat accumulation on the liver lobes and haemorrhages on the liver itself - remain unclear but there have been no further outbreaks since early vaccination against avian encephalomyelitis has been carried out on all flocks.  

An interesting overview on the importance of cloacal health by Paul McMullin of Poultry Health Services in the UK was followed by his description of a case study of a health issue in a turkey flock. Around one-quarter of the birds had vent damage, which was noted during insemination. After extensive investigation, it appeared that splinters of plant material were found in the exudate, which were identified as originating in a new form of litter that was being tested in the turkey house.

Also from Canada, Dr Helen Wojcinski of Hybrid Turkeys highlighted the need for vigilance in the management of turkeys so that even minor health or behavioural issues are noted and addressed before they become major problems. She cited the example of Bordetella avium, which is commonly found in water systems, especially in North America. On its own, it may cause mild symptoms but heavy losses are possible if other infectious agents such as as Newcastle Disease.

In a two-handed presentation from Aviagen Turkeys UK, Dr James Wade explained the concept of SPIDES or Short Periods of Incubation During Storage in turkey eggs as a means to increase hatchability while evening out the production of hatching eggs and poults. His colleague, Andrew Cleare outlined the research, which has found that the optimum length of the incubation period is around 12 hours. 

In-vitro and in-vivo approaches for a new turkey semen diluent were presented by Dr Jean Pierre Brillard of Fertil'Avi SARL, France. He explained that in Europe, turkey hens are usually inseminated with fresh semen, while other countries (the US, Canada and Brazil) store the semen for a short time in order to test the ejaculate and better match collection with requirements. He showed that semen stored in a new diluent produced results of fertility and hatchability as good as for fresh semen.

The challenges in selecting for health traits in turkeys start with the definition of "health", according to Dr Ben Wood of Hybrid Turkeys in Canada. Furthermore, health and welfare traits are poorly heritable and may be contradictory. Molecular genetics has potential in this field to identify the locations in the genome with a link to a particular condition, such as pendulous crop.

Dr Paul Hocking of the University of Edinburgh Roslin Institute reviewed recent studies on foot pad dermatitis. Key to controlling the condition is to keep the litter dry (under 30 to 40 per cent moisture), which has economic benefits too as turkeys kept on wet litter eat more and grow more closely than those kept in dry conditions.

Transect methodology has been tested as a practical method to  assess the health and welfare of turkeys on commercial farms by Professor Inma Estevez of Neiker-Tecnalia in Spain. It involves observers walking up and down the house, assessing the condition of the birds in front of them for signs of sickness, lameness, other injuries and mortalities. Agreement between trained observers was high and although the method appears to underestimate the extent of problems, it has the advantage that it disturbs the birds much less than individual assessments. A Smartphone App has been developed with the aim to make recording of the assessor's findings easier.

Finishing the day's programme on an optimistic note was Managing Director of Aviagen Turkeys UK, Clay Burrows. On production trends in the global and European turkey production, he forecasts similar growth in output for the next five years and then more rapid expansion as the growing middle classes in Asia, Africa and South America choose turkey meat as a more affordable meat than beef or lamb. Warning that feed cost is an important driver, he predicted that global turkey meat production may reach six million tonnes by 2030.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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