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In Canada, turkeys are typically raised indoors on barn floors on litter. Hallmarks of turkey housing include automated: food and water, temperature, and lighting systems. Lighting may be solely artificial or use both artificial and natural lighting. Litter is cleaned on an 'all-in all-out" basis between flocks. Major welfare concerns include feather pecking, breast blisters, toe trimming, mating difficulties, and lameness.
Canada does not have laws requiring minimum standards for broilers, however, there is a Recommended Codes of Practice for Chickens, Turkeys, and Breeders (2003) that was developed by a committee of scientists, veterinarians, and industry representatives.
Turkeys feather pecking
A injured turkey. The purple dye is a wound spray.
Common practices and terms of modern turkey production and their relation to welfare are listed below. Scientific abstracts are listed on the right.
Air quality: is a welfare issue in indoor systems that refers to the level of dust, gases (such as ammonia) and bioaerosols (airborne microorganisms) in the rearing facility. Air quality can affect human and animal welfare directly through respiratory health and indirectly through stress and weakened resistance to other pathogens. Air quality can be managed through ventiliation, animal management, and litter management. See Ammonia and Dust
Ammonia: is a gas with a sharp odour that is produced by the breakdown of animal waste. The degree of animal waste present is influenced by the number of animals housed in the facility and management of litter (whether fresh litter is added on top or not). When ammonia build-up in the litter comes in contact with turkeys' skin it burns causing breast blisters and hock burns. This contact happens when turkeys lie down or rest. Other effects of ammonia vary from tearing, nasal discharge and shallow breathing to corneal (eye) damage and permanent lung damage. It is important to note that animals in confinement, unlike employees, cannot leave the facility and are subject to continuous exposure. Most animal welfare certifications have standards regarding maximum premitted ammonia levels.
Artificial insemination (AI): is commonly used in turkey production since modern selection for large breast muscle makes it difficult for male turkeys to align themselves properly for mating.
Beak trimming: is the removal of the tip of a bird's beak, normally performed at the hatchery with a hot blade. It is a routine procedure for turkeys performed to reduce the damage caused by feather pecking.
Breast blisters: are lesions that develop on the keel bone of poultry. Turkeys with large breast muscles and weak legs tend to rest often. Lesions result from prolonged contact of the breast tissue on poorly managed litter (wet, high ammonia content). Breast blisters provide an entry point for bacteria and downgrade carcass value.
Breast meat: is white meat from the breast of poultry. White breast meat has become increasingly popular with consumers. This has encouraged industry to select for birds with higher and disproportionate breast muscle.
Breast scratches: refer to the marks caused when turkeys scratch each other with their toes. Scratches on the breast muscle may downgrade the carcass value. As a result, turkeys may have the tip of their toes cut off.
Desnooding: is the cutting off of a turkey's snood to minimize damage during fighting and/or frost bite.
Dust: come from the breakdown of feathers, feed, fecal matter, and litter. Dust can carry bacteria into the body making it particularly dangerous when paired with high ammonia levels (lung damage). Dust is classified by its size: inhalable and respirable - the smaller the dust, the deeper it can penetrate the lungs.
Dust Bathing: a natural behaviour of poultry performed for hygenic purposes. Birds will flap dust onto their feathers to absorb and remove oils in order to keep feathers clean.
Gait score: is an evaluation assessment of a bird's walking ability. Gait scoring is used to measure the degree of lameness in a flock. Scores range from zero (smooth, even well-balanced steps) to five (crippled birds unable to take one step).
Hock burn: are lesions found on turkey's joints caused by contact with ammonia in the litter burning their skin. Hock burns and breast blisters can be avoided by good litter management. Evidence of hock burns ais removed by processors before carcasses are packaged for supermarket shelves.
Feather Pecking: is an abnormal behaviour seen in confined poultry. It involves birds pecking at the feathers and body of other birds resulting in serious injury and can lead to death. Birds with bare spots and open wounds are also more susceptible to infection. Once feather pecking in a flock begins it is difficult to curb. See Beak trimming.
Lameness: refers to the inability of livestock to walk properly and can be caused by a variety of leg problems. Lameness in turkeys can be caused by bone deformity, disease, breakage or fracture and may originate simply from a heavy body (large breast muscle) on young developing legs. Lameness is painful and can impede animals from reaching food and water.
Mating: see Artificial Insemination.
Market age: Turkeys reach market weight between 10 and 22 weeks depending on end use (table turkey or further processing into lunch meats, soup, etc).
Toe trimming: is a procedure that is it performed to reduce the damage caused by breast scratches.
Tom: a male turkey.