What is the optimal stocking density for turkey toms?
By: Kailyn Beaulac and Karen Schwean-Lardner, Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Saskatchewan
Stocking density has the ability to directly influence economic return for producers however, it is important to consider other factors that may be affected by stocking density. While the majority of stocking density studies were conducted in the 1990’s or earlier, past studies have well documented the effects of stocking density on performance. There are few studies that evaluate how stocking density impacts the health, behaviour and overall well-being of the bird.
Another issue with stocking density research is that there are many other factors linked to stocking density that contribute to negative bird performance and welfare, such as feeder and drinker space, poor air quality, and poor litter quality. This study attempted to account for these factors by equalizing feeder and drinker space on a per bird basis, monitoring air quality for CO2 and ammonia and adjusting ventilation based on stocking density, and by evaluating litter moisture.
The aim of this research was to study the effects of stocking density with a comprehensive approach, ensuring that confounding factors were accounted for.
This research took place in two trials at the University of Saskatchewan Poultry Centre, where turkeys were housed at densities of 30, 40, 50, or 60 kg/m2 in individual environmentally controlled rooms.
The tom performance in this study was similar to other research studies, where toms housed at high stocking density showed lower body weights and poorer feed efficiency at 16 weeks of age.
The toms housed at the higher densities were also in poorer health at 16 weeks, showing an increase in footpad lesions and had more difficulty walking. In addition, the higher densities resulted in birds that were dirtier and had poorer feather condition than those housed at lower densities.
Finally, density impacted behaviour. The toms housed at low density were more active – walking and running more and resting less than birds at higher densities. It is important to note that although we thought low density would always be best, this was not the case. Toms housed at low densities were overall more aggressive. The toms housed at mid densities (40 and 50 kg/m2) rested more and spent more time preening – a comfort behaviour. The toms at mid densities were also the least aggressive.
Overall, the results from our research suggest that while high density may negatively impact tom performance, health, and well-being, very low densities may not be the answer as they may increase aggression.
This research was funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Poultry Research Council, Aviagen Turkeys, and Charison’s Hatchery.