Feeding your Christmas turkey

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The UK produces more than 22 million turkeys for meat each year, with almost half a million birds slaughtered each week between October and December last year.

Exploring the role that feed has in ensuring turkeys meet ‘the spec’ for 25 December; ABN’s poultry nutritionist, Dr Ade Adebiyi, explains how forward planning is key.

“Compared to rearing a typical broiler bird, turkey production is a slightly longer process. Typical life expectancy is up to 16 weeks, and within this time you can expect to feed four to five different diets to ensure birds receive the correct nutrition at the right time.

“Like broilers, turkey diets can be categorised into three main phases, the starter, grower and finisher, although it’s quite common to have a few sub-groups within these phases.

“Starter diets are usually fed up to six weeks of age, and for Christmas turkeys this would have been back in August.

“At this time, ensuring birds get off to the best possible start is crucial. Therefore raising and maintaining a healthy bird is the main focus. The inclusion of available vitamins and adequate levels of major minerals and trace elements in the diet is key. These help to develop a strong immune system and skeletal structure.

“In the starter period, providing highly digestible raw materials is also vital to support gut health, enabling birds to convert feed more efficiently during this important growth phase,” he adds.

Between six and twelve weeks of age the Christmas turkeys are offered a grower diet.

This will be between the middle of September to the end of October. It’s this time when we want birds to start putting down lean meat at a steady rate.

A diet that contains the right level of digestible amino acids, energy, vitamins and minerals is a key requirement. Feed management at this stage is also important to ensure birds are not being under or over fed, leading to inconsistent performances against customer weight targets.

2015 Christmas turkeys will now be in the final finishing phase, and Dr Adebiyi explains that at this stage, there is greater focus on providing the birds with adequate levels of protein and energy and the inclusion of wholegrains in the diets also helps to improve digestion and gut health. This leads to a Christmas turkey with a moist, interstitial fat finish.

“By planning ahead and using a combination of highly nutritious diets, we can help ensure Christmas turkeys live up to expectation on the big day,” says Dr Adebiyi.