Externally funded project

Investigating the suitability of alternative meat turkey lines for organic husbandry (Ökoputen)

Project Details
Project duration: 03/201505/2018


The proportion of organic turkeys in Germany is with less than 2 % of
the total number of turkeys comparatively low. However, the sector is
attracting particular attention due to the use of fast growing
conventional birds and sometimes high prevalences of various
performance- and husbandry-related diseases. Little information is
available on the extent of these problems when using alternative,
slower-growing turkeys.

The present study therefore examined the
results of slower growing turkey genetics under commercial organic
conditions in terms of behaviour, health, meat quality and performance.
Hockenhull Black (robust with reduced performance potential) and
Hockenhull Large Bronze (suitable for free-range husbandry with a
similar performance as Kelly BBB) were compared with the reference line
Kelly BBB, which is already used more frequently as a slower growing
turkey. Rearing and fattening of about 2 x 50 male turkeys per hybrid
line in three batches (a total of 844 animals) were scientifically
monitored on a biodynamic farm in a mobile stable from 2015 to 2018 by
the following investigations: Continuous documentation of mortality and
causes of losses; recording of the use of certain functional housing
areas by direct and video observation with Instantaneous Scan Sampling,
scoring of plumage and skin condition as an indicator for feather
pecking, cannibalism and social interactions, and assessment of walking
ability, leg position and footpad condition in the 7th, 16th and 25th
week of life. After parts of each group were slaughtered in the 17th,
20th and 25th week of life, footpad dermatitis, breast blister and
breast buttons as well as injuries or scratches were assessed on the
carcasses. In addition, live and carcass weights, weights of valuable
cuts, pH values, drip losses and blood points were recorded at these
times. Daily weight gain and feed conversion were also calculated. The
data were analyzed for effects of "genetics" and "week of life" and
their interaction with linear or generalized linear mixed models and
effect sizes were calculated. Some of the data were evaluated with
nonparametric methods due to a small sample size or lacking normal

Only few significant differences with mainly small
effect sizes between the different genetics were found. Exceptions were a
significantly poorer leg health of Hockenhull Bronze, increased
occurrence of breast blisters in Kelly BBB turkeys and a high amount of
footpad dermatitis in Hockenhull Black birds. However, the latter were
characterized by low mortality, fewer malpositions of the legs and a
reduced injury rate. Overall, the prevalence of animal welfare problems
was predominantly lower than in comparative studies. It can therefore be
concluded that both alternative genetics as well as the reference
genetic can be reared and fattened under organic conditions with 100 %
organic feeding and good management in such a way that an acceptable to
good status in terms of behaviour, health and meat quality is achievable
at comparatively high performances.

The project is supported by funds of the Landwirtschaftliche Rentenbank.

Last updated on 2020-22-04 at 12:45