Spotlight on Turkey Research

Recent research has shed new light on the likely causes of foot pad dermatitis in turkeys, an alternative to antibiotics that improves growing bird performance and a new treatment that aims to improve breast meat quality.
calendar icon 10 June 2015
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Foot pad Dermatitis-Soybean Link in Turkeys Explained

Diets with soybean meal as the main protein source are linked with high water intake, which may increase the prevalence of foot pad dermatitis (FPD) in growing turkeys.

That was the conclusion drawn by Dr Paul Hocking of the Roslin Institute and his co-authors in a poster at the recent meeting of the UK Branch of the World’s Poultry Science Association (WPSA).

Their results suggest that replacing soybean meal with another protein source might reduce water intake, leading to drier litter and a lower incidence of FPD, which the researchers described as a prevalent condition in growing poultry related to high moisture levels in litter.

The high water intake associated with soybean meal diets has been attributed to the high potassium content and non-starch polysaccharides.

In this experiment, turkeys were reared for the first four weeks on diets based on wheat or maize as the main cereal and either soybean meal or a combination of peas, sunflower meal, potato protein, fishmeal, rapeseed meal and wheatfeed as the main protein source.

All the diets contained the same levels of metabolisable energy (11.8MJ per kg) and crude protein (29.6 per cent).

There were no differences between the groups in terms of daily water intake, feed intake or bodyweight at four weeks but there was a highly significant difference in daily water intake, with the birds fed soybean meal drinking much more water than those receiving the alternative protein mixture.

Assessment of Pain Caused by Foot Pad Dermatitis in Turkeys

At the same meeting in the UK, Anna Sinclair from the Roslin Institute presented some of the results from her Masters dissertation, which show how wet litter affects the behaviour of turkeys. These conditions appeared to compromise their welfare and there was also evidence that severe FPD is painful to the birds.

Previous research, she explained, has demonstrated differences in behaviour between turkeys with severe FPD housed on wet litter compared to those with no problems housed on dry litter.

In this work, birds were transferred with low or high foot pad scores (indicating no/mild FPD and severe FPD, respectively) onto wet and dry litter, with or without analgesia in the form of the anti-inflammatory, betamethasone.

There was an interaction between analgesia and litter moisture in terms of bird behaviour, i.e. the length of time they lay down or stood. Turkeys with severe FPD stood more on wet litter when they received the pain relief but there was no effect of the analgesic on the time spent standing by birds with no FPD.

Patterns of behaviour were more complex in the sound turkeys than those with severe FPD, even on dry litter, the researchers found, confirming that the condition is painful to affected birds.

Turkey Performance Improved with Direct-fed Microbial

Two feeding trials were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of a direct fed microbial (DFM) comprising Bacillus licheniformis and B. subtilis in diets for female turkeys, reported Anee Berg Kehlet of Chr. Hansen A/S to the International Poultry Scientific Forum in the US earlier this year.

The work was carried out with the University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland and MTD s.p.

Both trials showed significant improvement of production parameters in birds fed diets containing DFM, which were fed in a ratio of 1:1 (1.28E+6 colony-forming units per gram) to female turkeys from one to 56 days of age.

In the first trial, turkeys fed diets containing DFM were significantly heavier – by 2.7 per cent – than the control birds at the end of the experiment and feed conversion ratio was numerically better by 4.5 points.

The final weight of turkeys fed the DFM was four per cent higher than the control in the second experiment, also a statistically significant difference, while the feed conversion ratio was again numerically superior to the control by four points.

Poultry Efficiency Index score was significantly better for the DFM group than the controls – by six per cent.

The researchers concluded that the probiotic feed additive had significant effects on production performance in female turkeys in these two independent studies performed under commercial conditions.

Pulsed Electrical Field Impact Turkey Breast Meat Quality

Pulsed electric fields (PEF) is a novel non-thermal technology that has the potential to cause physical disruption to muscle tissue that could alter the sensory aspects of meat in both a positive (e.g. enhanced tenderisation) or a negative way (e.g. off-flavour development), according to James G. Lyng of University College Dublin, Ireland and co-authors in a paper in ‘Poultry Science’ recently.

The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of various PEF treatments on the quality attributes of turkey breast meat.

They found that lipid oxidation in all PEF-treated samples progressed at the same rate with storage as the untreated samples and was not found to be significantly different to the control.

There were no differences in weight loss, cook loss, lipid oxidation, texture or colour – either in fresh or frozen samples – relating to the PEF treatment although the trained taste panel detected slight differences between the PEF-treated samples and the controls in terms of meat texture and odour.


  1. Hocking P.M., T. Veldkamp, L.J. Vinco and P. Woodward. 2015. High water intake is associated with soya compared with non-soya protein sources and may be associated with foot pad dermatitis in growing turkeys. Proc. Annual Meeting of UK Branch of World’s Poultry Science Association. Chester, UK. 14-15 April 2015 (poster).
  2. Sinclair A., C. Weber Wyneken, T. Vedlkamp, L.J. Vinco and P.M. Hocking. 2015. Behavioural assessment of pain in turkeys with foot pad dermatitis. Proc. Annual Meeting of UK Branch of World’s Poultry Science Association. Chester, UK. 14-15 April 2015.
  3. Kehlet A.B., K. Kozlowski and V.Machander. 2015. Improving turkey performance using a Bacillus-based feed additive. International Poultry Scientific Forum, Atlanta, Georgia, US. January 2015.
  4. Arroyo C., S. Eslami, N.P. Brunton, J.M. Arimi, F. Noci and J.G. Lyng. 2015. An assessment of the impact of pulsed electric fields processing factors on oxidation, color, texture, and sensory attributes of turkey breast meat. Poultry Science. 94: 1088-1095.

June 2015

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