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Strategies for Successful Turkey Production

14 November 2004, at 12:00am

By G.T. Tabler, Applied Broiler Research Unit Manager at the University of Arkansas's Avian Advice - Over the years, through careful genetic selection, the turkey industry has created a turkey that today is a high-performance protein producing bird, but within a narrow window of conditions. This article looks at some key areas critical to successful turkey production including setting up for a flock, brooding, disease control and ventilation.

Setting up for a flock

A poult’s performance is dependent on its interaction with the environment. Birds that are started well have a much greater chance of finishing well. Since young birds are generally more susceptible to diseases than older birds and diseases can carry over from one flock to the next, the success of the flock may depend on how completely the house has been cleaned and disinfected prior to the arrival of the new flock. Most integrators have guidelines concerning cleaning and disinfecting which should be strictly followed. If such guidelines do not exit, Lacy and French (1989) outlined the following clean out steps (in order):

  1. Decide how and when to treat the house with an approved pesticide to eliminate litter beetles.
  2. Remove all the equipment you can from the house.
  3. Clean and disinfect the equipment you removed and store it in a sunny location.
  4. Remove all litter from the house.
  5. Wash down the house the house thoroughly from top to bottom.
  6. Disinfect the house and allow it to dry completely
  7. Return equipment to the house

Only clean, dry litter material which is absorbent and does not easily cake should be used for turkey houses. Litter should be free of excessive fines, large chunks, sharp edges, and be of a non-toxic material. Litter should be smoothed and spread evenly throughout the house in preparation for brooder ring set up. Tamping down the litter inside the brooder ring may provide better footing and make it easier for poults to maneuver and find feed, water and heat and will greatly improve their chances of survival during those first important days of life (Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms, 2000).

Brooding

It is of vital importance to light brooders 24-48 hours before poult arrival to warm the litter (not just the air temperature) and prevent poult chilling. If the poult becomes chilled because the floor is cold, its movement level decreases and it will not actively seek out feed or water. Obviously, ample feed and water must be available at all times and integrator guidelines regarding number of feeders and drinkers per brooder or brooder ring should be followed.

Feeders and drinkers must be arranged in such a manner within the ring as to allow poults to move unimpeded from the heat source to the edge of the ring. This will help reduce or limit the chance of piling inside the ring. Do not place feeders or drinkers directly under or too near the brooder; poults will not eat or drink feed and water that is too hot. Brooder stove height will vary depending on type being used and integrator guidelines. Lighting must be adequate and should be uniform to reduce incidence of shadows that can frighten poults and possibly cause piling.

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Disease Control

Modern turkeys are geared for growth, not biological warfare. While the bird is capable of reallocating body resources to combat disease challenge, this reallocation usually results in a reduction in growth, activity level, and defenses (Gross and Siegel, 1997). Producers should make every attempt to provide management conditions recommended by integrator technical service representatives that will minimize the disease threat and allow birds to perform to their genetic potential. These efforts should include a strict Biosecurity program that excludes unnecessary visitors from the farm (Tabler, 2004).

There is little disagreement in the turkey industry regarding the harmful effects of ammonia on turkey health. Research has shown what turkey growers already know, that high levels of ammonia can increase airsacculitis and feed conversions, and reduce performance and profitability (Sandstrom, 1990). Whenever the ammonia level in the air exceeds 10 ppm, the turkey=s ability to fight respiratory disease is impaired.

A minimum litter moisture of approximately 30% is required to support growth of ammoniaproducing bacteria and this growth accelerates as moisture levels increase from 30 to 40%. It is very difficult to keep moisture levels below 30% throughout the life of the flock without incurring high ventilation and heating costs or using very low bird densities (Bennett, 2001). However, proper drinker management, which decreases total water spillage, will reduce the total amount of moisture in the turkey house and lower ammonia production in the litter.

Ventilation

Turkeys are living creatures and must have adequate amounts of high quality air to breathe just like their caretakers. Due to the anatomic structure of their respiratory system, birds are very sensitive to air quality, especially ammonia and dust. Frame and Anderson (2002) noted the main reasons for ventilating are to:

  • Maintain an adequate supply of oxygen
  • Remove harmful gases, such as CO, CO2, and ammonia
  • Control moisture accumulation in the building (i.e., humidity)
  • Control temperature
  • Remove dust and dander particles

When it comes to ventilating the turkey house, producers have two options: natural or power ventilation. Natural ventilation consists of using the curtains and end doors along with natural wind conditions to move air through the turkey house. If there is any breeze at all this allows a large quantity of air to be moved through the building in a short period of time and requires no electrical power usage because fans are not running. However, in reality, natural ventilation allows producers very little control over the ventilation of their houses. It is difficult to regulate temperature and optimize airflow inside the house. Changing wind speed and direction and outside air temperature only complicates this problem. Turkeys under natural ventilation may be over heated from lack of ventilation or chilled as a result of over ventilation.

Power ventilation allows producers to efficiently move a consistent quantity of air in a given time period and fan run time can be adjusted to control humidity and temperature inside the turkey house. Stirring or re-circulation fans can also be used to move hot air off the ceiling and mix with the rest of the air in the house. Keep in mind that air exchange and air movement are not the same thing. Air movement is the process of relocating air to a different place in the house using circulation fans, while air exchange is the transfer of inside air to the outside and outside air to the inside of the turkey house. Air exchange rate is expressed in changes of air per minute, or in cfm/turkey (Frame and Anderson, 2002).

Proper static pressure is also important when power ventilating turkey houses. Static pressure is the negative pressure created in a turkey house when the exhaust fans are running. The higher the static pressure, the greater the velocity of the air entering the house. A simple rule of thumb is that each 0.05" of static pressure will shoot air about 12 feet.

Static pressure in turkey buildings should be maintained between 0.03" and 0.10" (Frame and Anderson, 2002). If the static pressure is too low, cold air will not mix with warm air, but will fall to the floor causing a cold spot that birds will avoid. Many times birds avoid the sidewalls because cold air has fallen to the floor immediately after entering due to inadequate static pressure. If static pressure is too high, fan motors have to work excessively hard, decreasing their life expectancy, without any additional benefit to the turkeys. If ventilation and temperature regulation are inadequate, especially at night, humidity builds up in the turkey house causing house condensation (sweating), damp litter and increased ammonia levels. Frame and Anderson (2002) offer the following ventilation tips:

  • Air must be controlled as it enters the building. This is best achieved by mounting rectangular vent boxes along the upper part of sidewalls that automatically adjust to variations in negative pressure. Proper installation of vent boxes will direct incoming air slightly upwards where it will mix with warmer air and gently fall to bird level.

  • Consider using a five minute time cycle rather than ten. Temperature and moisture levels will tend to fluctuate less severely.

  • Keep inlets, fans, and shutters clean. Brushing off dust accumulated on fan blades, guards, and shutters can increase fan efficiency 12% to 15%.

  • Adjust building inlet area to number of cfm being moved by fans. Static pressure should optimally be maintained between 0.05" and 0.08". In loose houses this may require sealing cracks and crevices to reduce amount of unneeded air entering the building. As a rule of thumb, one 2.41 to 2.44 ft2 vent box opening will accommodate 1500 cfm of fan capacity.

  • Minimum air exchange rate in a brooder house with newly placed poults should be 0.2 cfm/poult.

  • If brooder house temperature is stable and comfortable, especially from 1 to 7 days of age, wire brooder guards offer better ventilation than cardboard shields. Carbon dioxide levels rapidly build up within cardboard shields. Young turkeys are very sensitive to high levels of carbon dioxide gas. Poults may become lethargic or sleepy when exposed to high carbon dioxide levels resulting in inadequate feed and water intake.

  • One complete air exchange should occur in turkey growouts at least every 3 to 5 minutes. This air exchange rate will need to be even greater (i.e., every 1 to 2 minutes) during summer months. Plan fan capacity to meet this need.

  • Use power ventilation in growout houses to first control moisture, then ammonia, and last, temperature. Many growers have a tendency to reverse the order of these priorities. It is important to keep in mind that using additional heat can stabilize temperature during power ventilation. However, moisture and ammonia can only be controlled by sufficient air exchange (i.e., ventilation). Leg problems and airsacculitis caused by wet litter and ammonia are much more economically devastating than a slightly higher gas bill.

Summary

Proper set up for a flock, correct brooding, rigorous disease control and appropriate ventilation are four areas vital to producing profitable turkey flocks. Birds that are started well have a much greater chance of finishing well. Since young birds are generally more susceptible to diseases than older birds and diseases can carry over from one flock to the next, the success of the flock may depend on how completely the house has been cleaned and disinfected prior to the arrival of the new flock. It is of vital importance to light brooders 24-48 hours before poult arrival to warm the litter (not just the air temperature) and prevent poult chilling. If the poult becomes chilled because the floor is cold, its movement level decreases and it will not actively seek out feed or water. Modern turkeys are geared for growth, not biological warfare. While the bird is capable of reallocating body resources to combat disease challenge, this reallocation usually results in a reduction in growth, activity level, and defenses. Ventilate properly by:

  • Controlling the air as it enters the building,

  • Using a five minute time cycle rather than ten,

  • Keep inlets, fans, and shutters clean,

  • Adjust building inlet area to number of cfm being moved by fans,

  • Maintaining a minimum air exchange rate of 0.2 cfm/ poultry in the brooder house,

  • Using wire brooder guards offer better ventilation than cardboard shields,

  • Maintaining a complete air exchange in the turkey growout house every 3 to 5 minutes, and

  • Power ventilating in growout houses to first control moisture, then ammonia, and last, temperature.

References

Bennett, C. 2001. Managing ammonia production in your turkey litter. Manitoba Agriculture and Food. May 2001. 2 pages

Frame, D. D., and G. L. Anderson. 2002. Ventilation basics for Utah turkey facilities. Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service Publication Ag/Poultry/01. March 2002. Utah State University, Logan, UT.

Gross, W. B., and P. B. Siegel. 1997. Why some get sick. J. Appl. Poultry Res. 6:453-460.

Lacy, M. P. and J. D. French. 1989. Effective broiler house clean out and disinfection techniques. University of Geogia Cooperative Extension Service Circular 815. 6 pages Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms. 2000. Brooding. Nicholas Turkey News. 42(6):1-4.

Sandstrom, J. 1990. Ammonia myths...A real gas. Perspectives (The information newsletter of Hybrid Turkeys). Winter 1990/91.

Tabler, G. T. 2004. Arkansas turkey growers face variety of challenges. Avian Advice 6(1):9-11.


Source: Avian Advice - Winter 2004 - Volume 6, Number 2