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January 1, 2023 | by Sam Shafer
Poultry scientists work to make sure animal housing is safe—and they research how housing updates might benefit bird health and welfare. For researchers in Switzerland, one important question is whether fattening turkeys (raised for their meat) might benefit from housing with plastic platforms, in place of the traditional wooden planks.
Their new study, published recently in The Journal of Applied Poultry Research, shows that turkeys do prefer spending time on the plastic platforms (a behavior that mimics how they would perch to roost and rest in the wild). The scientists also found that the plastic platforms made transitions easier for older turkeys. Compared to the turkeys using the wooden planks, turkeys using plastic platforms had fewer falls and spent less time correcting their balance.
“We recommend the use of elevated platforms instead of wooden planks for turkeys, as they appear to be more suitable,” write study authors Ariane Stratmann, Ph.D., and Nadine Ringgenberg, Ph.D.
The researchers tested plastic platforms versus wooden planks in three consecutive trials on a commercial turkey farm in Switzerland. Based on previous studies, they predicted the turkeys would prefer the plastic platforms, but it was important to take a closer look under commercial conditions. As the scientists note, any updates to animal housing in Switzerland must be authorized by their national Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO).
In addition to monitoring turkey behavior, the researchers also evaluated birds for plumage condition, pododermatitis (an indicator of foot pad health), and breast blisters.
The scientists found that while females spent more time on the plastic platforms. This difference may be due to the fact that the male birds weighed more, making them less likely to try to get on the platform over time. Regardless, both sexes preferred the plastic platforms to the wooden planks overall.
“The larger surface area as provided by the platforms may be more comfortable for birds with a large contact area between body and structure to sit on, which would explain the male choice for plastic platforms over wooden planks,” write the study authors.
The researchers then led an investigation—the first of its kind—of the transitions from the elevated structures to the litter area. They found that birds had more “failed” transitions, or difficulty getting up or down from the structures, when using the wooden planks. “The fact that more successful transitions were observed with the platforms compared to the planks is probably because it is easier for turkeys to jump onto a flat, large surface rather than a plank which is much smaller in width and thus more similar to a perch,” they write. “Specifically, at an older age when the birds are heavier, moving on a wider surface is probably easier and more comfortable than on a smaller area.”
The researchers uncovered no downside to turkey health when they compared the platforms to the planks, adding evidence to the proposal that plastic platforms are a good option in fattening turkey housing.
What comes next? The researchers found that, even with the plastic platforms, fewer and fewer turkeys spent time elevated as they grew older and gained weight. To counteract this trend, the study authors recommend using platforms with more surface area and adding ramps to aid birds in their transition to the platforms.
What does this study mean for producers?
The full paper, titled “Use of different elevated structures by commercial fattening turkeys in Switzerland,” can be found in The Journal of Applied Poultry Research and online here.
Categories: Interpretive Summary