Feed Intake Critical to Growth Rate of Turkeys

The importance of starting early, and tips of management and environment are covered by G. Tom Tabler, Applied Broiler Research Unit (Savoy) Manager at the University of Arkansas in the Summer 2003 issue of Avian Advice (Volume 5, number 2).
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Arkansas is ranked third in turkey production nationally, outpaced only by Minnesota and North Carolina. Each year, the primary turkey breeders supply the industry with birds that are genetically capable of faster growth rates and improved feed efficiencies. It is up to the integrators and growers to do the rest.

Starting Early

"Nutritional demand is high when poults arrive at the farm, so it is critical to maximize feed intake from day one."

Given proper conditions, the turkey grows at a remarkably fast pace. It will have multiplied its hatching weight by more than 20 times by 28 days of age. By 20 weeks of age, males will have multiplied their original poult weight by almost 300 times (Nixey, 1989). To achieve this feat in a normal manner requires considerable demands on nutrient intake.

Nutritional demand is high when poults arrive at the farm, so it is critical to maximize feed intake from day one. In fact, recent reports indicate poults that experience poor early growth never fully regain the weight they have lost by market age (Mitchell, 2002).

Management and Environment

"Managerial skills of individual turkey growers play a key role in keeping feed intake high from day one."

Turkeys require your managerial skills to provide them with an environment that will allow them to utilize feed to their full potential. Possibly the most critical time for your management skills to be at their sharpest is during the first six weeks of the young poult’s life. If poults receive a poor start during this period, it does not matter how good your management program is later on; you simply will not be able to re-capture what has been lost in terms of growth and performance. Feed intake and utilization is more critical during the first six weeks of life than at any other period in the grow-out.

Excellent management and high-quality feed must work in combination to reach expected performance levels. In most cases, you have high-quality birds in your houses and high-quality feed in your bins. When that is the case, your management skills will be the determining factor to how well the flock performs. The importance of the brooding period, especially the first two weeks, cannot be over-emphasized. Temperature (both air and floor), litter conditions, ventilation, humidity, dust, ammonia, carbon dioxide and other air quality parameters should be at recommended levels at all times. Proper assistance with feeders and drinkers must be provided to newly arrived poults. Proper assistance means being there when needed but also leaving them alone when they need to rest.

Follow integrator guidelines but be aware that you cannot manage your farm simply 'by the book'. It does not matter how good 'the book' actually is, sooner or later you will be faced with situations that are not in the book. For those situations, on-the-job training will have to get you through. No one knows your farm better than you, so take advantage of that fact. You know how your houses react to changing weather conditions and how your birds respond to different conditions. Changing conditions should prompt you to take action in a timely manner and in response to what your turkeys are telling you. By doing so you will more likely keep a steady, consistent environment which is more beneficial to the turkeys than wide swings in temperature and air quality variables which put stress on the respiratory and immune systems.


Primary turkey breeders supply the commercial turkey industry with birds that, each year, are genetically capable of improved feed efficiencies and faster growth than the year before. Excellent on-farm management is required throughout the life of the flock, if optimum feed intake is to be achieved allowing birds to perform to their genetic potential.

Managerial skills of individual turkey growers play a key role in keeping feed intake high from day one. The importance of the first two weeks of the brooding period must not be taken lightly. This period sets the stage for performance throughout the entire flock. Poults must receive a good start if we expect them to meet expectations at harvest time.

Pay close attention to air and floor temperature, litter conditions, ventilation rates and air quality parameters at all times. Make adjustments as needed and in a timely manner to prevent little problems from becoming worse. By staying on top of things, it will be easier to maintain a quality, consistent environment at all times. A quality environment will reduce bird stress and help maintain high feed intake necessary for optimum performance.


Mitchell, R. 2002. Opportunities for improving poult performance with feed. Multi-State Poultry Meeting. May 14-16. Indianapolis, IN.
Nixey, C. 1989. Nutritional responses of growing turkeys. In: Recent Advances in Turkey Science (C. Nixey and T. C. Grey, eds.), pp 183-199. Butterworth and Co., London.

January 2009
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