Nipple Drinkers for Brooding Turkeys

By Jesse L. Grimes, Department of Poultry Science, NC State University; Summer Russell, Prestage Farms, Inc and published in the North Carolina Poultry Industry Joint Area Newsletter - Fall 2007. The use of nipple drinkers for rearing broilers has become common.
calendar icon 16 November 2007
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However, the use of nipple drinkers in the turkey industry is restricted to the brooding period except for some trials and certain drinker types with commercial hen and tom grow-out. Even during the brooding period, there are many questions about what is the best type of drinker and optimal age of transfer to grow-out (or to open drinkers). With that in mind, we planned research trials to provide information concerning the use of nipple drinkers for brooding turkeys.

There were six different drinkers tested including the control and five nipple drinker systems. The control was the Plasson Turkey Bell and the nipple drinker systems tested were the Plasson Easy Start, Valco Turkey Drinker, Lubing Traditional (commercially known as Feather- Soft® high flow nipple with Littergard®), Lubing Easy Line, and Ziggity Big-Z Activator. For the most part, the birds were brooded on the test drinkers and switched to the bell drinker at six weeks of age for the remainder of the growing period. Three experiments were conducted with Large White commercial turkeys brooded using six drinker types.

In Trial 1, sixweek body weights of toms brooded on the Plasson Easy Start and the Ziggity, Big-Z Activator were less than the body weights of those toms brooded on the Plasson Bell. Differences in body weight due to drinker type remained through 10 weeks of age. At 20 weeks, body weights of toms brooded on the Lubing Traditional Nipple and the ValCo Turkey drinker were significantly lower compared to body weights of toms brooded on all other drinkers. There were no differences in feed conversion by drinker type until 20 weeks of age when birds brooded on the Lubing Traditional nipple and the Lubing Easy Line had lower (improved) feed conversion.

Trial 2 with hens was terminated at three weeks because of excessive mortality. Hens of two strains brooded with the Easy Line did not show a desire to find the water which is typically located in the bottom of the drinker well. One strain, in particular, demonstrated less activity than the other strain and experienced high mortality on all drinkers but especially on the Easy Line drinkers.

In Trial 3 with hens, plastic “brooder” balls provided by Lubing were added to the wells of the Easy Line drinkers. There were no issues with the poults finding the water in this trial nor was there any problem observed in the tom trial where the plastic balls were not used.

Body weight of hens brooded on the Plasson Bell and the ValCo Turkey drinker was higher compared to body weights of hens reared the Plasson Easy Start and the Ziggity, Big-Z Activator with the body weights of hens on the Lubing EasyLineTM being intermediate at six weeks. The Lubing Traditional Nipple yielded significantly lower hen body weight compared with all other drinkers through 10 weeks of age. By 16 weeks of age, there were no longer differences in hen body weight due to drinker type. Drinker type did not have a significant effect on hen feed conversion.

The use of nipple drinkers for turkey rearing has shown mixed results. Hulet (1999), in Pennsylvania, reported that nipple drinkers were effective in brooding conditions or up to 10 weeks of age. However, the results of his study resulted in reduced body weights with comparable or improved feed conversion. Similarly, in a field trial with commercial birds in North Carolina reported by Rives (2001), body weights seemed to be reduced at 5-6 weeks, but were stabilized by 10-12 weeks of age when the birds were put back on the Plasson Turkey Bell drinkers for the grow-out phase. In our study, like the Rives (2001) field trial, we found that birds experienced compensatory growth when put back on the Plasson drinker. We (for our studies) and Rives (for his field trials) concluded that a combination of the two drinker types may be optimal in certain instances. For example, in our study, birds which were brooded on the Plasson Easy Start and Ziggity and then switched to the turkey bell performed as well as the control birds. However, some new systems seemed to work well for the entire life of the flock. For example, birds on the Lubing Easy Line, which remained with the birds throughout the study, exhibited comparable performance to birds on the conventional Plasson Turkey Bell.

In general, turkeys brooded on nipple drinkers can experience decreased body weight, improved feed conversion, and improved bird health. In some cases, this reduced body weight during brooding can be made up during the rearing phase. Hulet (1999) noted many advantages of nipple drinkers that can offset the disadvantage of reduced body weight. On a performance basis, even though body weight is reduced, feed conversion can be improved, and overall bird health can be improved due to the access to clean, less contaminated drinking water. Since nipple drinkers are a closed system, their use can result in drier litter which also contributes to improved growing conditions. Practically speaking, nipple systems provide growers with a labor saving alternative to traditional open-water systems especially since nipple drinkers need less cleaning. However, the water lines themselves still need regular cleaning and maintenance. As observed in our studies, some systems, whether they be new or improved, may result in comparable growth rates, improved litter quality and reduced grower labor depending, in most cases, on how they are used and managed.

November 2007
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