FACT SHEET: Turkeys

Summary

  • In 2014, 15.3 million turkeys were slaughtered in the UK.
  • Blackhead is one of the most common health problems in turkeys. Incidents totalled approximately 25% of all diagnosable submissions to the AHPA in relation to turkeys in 2014.
  • Permitted mutilations and procedures include de-beaking, de-toeing, de-snooding, removal of the comb and wattles, and laparoscopy.

How many turkeys are slaughtered annually in the UK?

In 2014 15.3 Million were slaughtered in the UK.

total-number-slaughtered

Source: DEFRA, Number of poultry slaughtered per year in the UK


What is the typical life-cycle of a turkey reared for meat?

  • Poults (young turkeys) that will be raised for meat typically spend the first week of life under a brooder (heated house) in the main rearing shed.
  • This takes the form of a ring, usually constructed from board or wire fencing, above which there is suspended a gas brooder for heat. Stocking densities (amount of space a Turkey is given) range from 300 – 500 poults per brooder.
  • Afterwards, the poults are given access to the whole shed, where they will remain until slaughter.
  • Males and females are typically raised separately.
  • Male turkeys (stags) reared for meat are typically slaughtered at 21-24 weeks of age.
  • Female turkeys (hens) reared for meat are typically slaughtered at between 9-16 weeks of age. Speciality birds may be slaughtered at 20 weeks of age.

Source: Stephen Lister, Management and Welfare of Farm Animals: The UFAW Farm Handbook, p.505-506.


What is the typical life-cycle of a breeding turkey?

  • The early lifecycle of a breeding poult is much the same as that of one being reared for meat. However, just prior to the start of breeding, breeding males and females are moved to laying accommodation.
  • Males and females are typically housed separately.
  • Hens are typically bred from from 30-32 weeks of age for approximately 25 weeks.
  • During this period, the average hen will produce about 120 eggs, which typically yield approximately 95 poults.
  • Semen is typically collected from stags twice a week.

Source: Stephen Lister, Management and Welfare of Farm Animals: The UFAW Farm Handbook, pp.502-7.


What are some of the diseases and health problems that most commonly affect turkeys?

Disease Symptoms Prevalence Source/s
Blackhead (Histomonosis) Affects the liver and manifests itself as yellow diarrhoea. Can be fatal within a couple of days. Blackhead incidents totalled approx. 25% of diagnosable submissions to the AHPA in relation to turkeys in 2014. Victoria Roberts BVSc MRCVS,External and Internal Parasites of Chickens;AHPA,GB Emerging Threats Report: Avian Diseases October – December 2014, p.5
Coccidiosis Diarrhoea (which may contain blood). Mortality is often high. Figure unknown, but very common. Infection rates can be very high, but clinical signs may generally be present in 5-10% of animals. Victoria Roberts BVSc MRCVS,Control of Coddidiosis;Peter D. Constable, BVSc (Hons), MS, PhD, DACVIM, Overview of Coccidiosis
Mycoplasma Chronic respiratory problems, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis. Figure unknown but high. Particularly common in large commercial flocks. David H. Ley, DVM, PhD ,Mycoplasma gallisepticum Infection in Poultry
Campylobacter Infected poultry often display no symptoms. Often causes enteritis in humans, however, if infected meat is under-cooked and consumed. Exact figures unknown, but prevalence is high in poultry. A French study of 75 broiler farms published in 2001 foundcampylobacter spp.present in 42.7% of flocks. Studies of prevalence in turkeys are less common and extensive. However, a report by ADAS published in 2007 refers to surveys submitted to the 7 biggest UK turkey producers, who are responsible for 90% of all turkey meat production. One company which tested live birds reported prevalence rates of between 0-52%. Margie D. Lee, DVM, PhD,Overview of Avian Campylobacter Infection;Refrégier-Petton, et al., Risk factors for Campylobacter spp. contamination in French broiler-chicken flocks at the end of the rearing period;ADAS,Review of current information on Campylobacter in poultry otherthan chicken and how this may contribute to human cases, p.13.

How much space does each turkey usually get to live in?

  • There are no minimum spacing requirements or maximum stocking densities laid down in law for turkeys.
  • Farm animal welfare regulations for all countries in the UK stipulate very generally that a farm animals’ freedom and movement should not be restricted in such a way that it is caused injury or unnecessary suffering. Spacing requirements should also be “appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs.”

Sources: Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, schedule 1, paragraphs 9 & 10;Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, schedule 1, paragraphs 9 & 10; Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010, schedule 1, paragraphs 9 & 10; Welfare of Farmed Animals (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2012, schedule 1, paragraphs 9 & 10.

  • Stocking densities are stipulated by the main assurance scheme providers, however:
Assurance Scheme Average weight of Turkey Average Space Source
Quality British Turkey/ Red Tractor 0.5 kg 34.5 birds per m2 Quality British Turkey,Agricultural Standards April 2013 Version 1.0 (Revised June 2013), pp. 7 & 51.
Freedom Food (RSPCA)  5kg (at depopulation) 25kg/m2 Freedom Food, RSPCA Welfare Standards for Turkeys, p.13
Soil Association (Organic) 21kg/m2 Soil Association,Soil Association Organic Standards November 2014, p.229

Which mutilations and surgical procedures are permitted on turkeys?

  • Beak trimming: partial removal of the beak. Most commonly beak is shortened permanently, but regrowth can occur.
  • De-Snooding: surgical removal of the snood to prevent cannibalism.
  • De toeing: Turkeys toes are clipped to prevent scratching.
  • Dubbing: removal of earlobes.
  • Micro chipping: implant of a micro chip under the skin.
  • Castration: removal of ovaries and testicles.
  • Implantation of sub-cutaneous contraceptive: small tube inserted to prevent contraception.
  • Removal of the dependent portion of its wattles: removal of fleshly lobe hanging from the throat of a Turkey.
Country Permitted Mutilations / Procedures Permitting Regulation
England
  • Beak Trimming
  • De-snooding
  • De-toeing
  • Dubbing (removal of comb / wattles)
  • Laparoscopy (used for sexing)

 

Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007, schedule 1
Wales
  • Beak Trimming
  • De-snooding
  • De-toeing
  • Dubbing
  • Laparoscopy
Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (Wales) Regulations 2007, schedule 1.
Scotland
  • Micro chipping
  • Beak Trimming
  • De-snooding
  • De-toeing
  • Dubbing
  • Laparoscopy
  • Wing tagging
  • Web tagging
The Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010, schedule 3.
Northern Ireland
  • Microchipping
  • Neck tagging
  • Web notching
  • Web tagging
  • Wing tagging
  • Castration
  • Implantation of sub-cutaneous contraceptive
  • Beak trimming
  • De-snooding
  • De-toeing
  • Dubbing
  • Removal of the dependent portion of its wattles
The Welfare of Animals (Permitted Procedures by Lay Persons) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012, schedule 7.

What behavioural and welfare problems most commonly affect turkeys?

Problem Description Causes Source
Feather pecking & cannibalism Birds peck at one another or at themselves, leading to plumage damage and/or injury Stressors such as over-crowding, bright lights, dietary deficiencies, food or water shortages, and boredom. The smell of blood increases pecking. Calvert Larson et al., Common Diseases and Ailments of Turkeys and Their Management, p.36.
Stampeding Stampeding happens when turkeys become startled and suddenly fly against walls and around one another. This can lead to wing and/or bone damage, as well as smothering caused by turkeys huddling together. Sudden noises, lights, and anything else that can cause fright. Calvert Larson et al., CommonDiseases and Ailments of Turkeysand Their Management, p.37.
Inactivity Birds are typically discouraged from exploring their environment to maximise productivity, and minimise aggression and costs. Commercial farms typically use low light intensities (i.e. 1-4 lux) to actively encourage inactivity. DM Broom & AF Fraser, Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, pp.297-8.
Stress caused by breeding practices Stress can be caused by excessive human handling during the collection of semen from breeding males, and during the artificial insemination of breeding females. Due to body formation, it is often physically impossible for males to mate with breeding females. DM Broom & AF Fraser, Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, pp.298.

Note: this fact sheet does not yet comply with our editorial standards. It suffers from the following weaknesses:

1) It’s not been double checked by a researcher.
2) Facts are not double-sourced.


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Credits

Researched by Alice Kennedy & Natalie Harney

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