Improving the efficiency and environmental impact of UK turkey meat production sytems

Lead Participant: Bernard Matthews Limited


The turkey industry is aware in general terms of the huge advantage that turkey meats have over virtually all other meat sources other than ostrich, being able to produce a very digestible meat with good muscle structure, and flavour whilst being tender. Turkey has the lowest overall fat content, and very low saturated fat levels, together with a high protein content. It also has the highest level of carnosine related compounds , making it the protein of choice for Olympic athletes involved in cycling, swimming, rowing and athletics, as these compounds help the muscle to repair after training ready for the next session. Turkey has beneficial attributes also to the growth and development of muscle of children, especially to those encouraged to play outdoors, playing ball games, cycling etc. Such benefits assist growth and development, and deliver better conditions than mscle development supplements seen as attractive to youths interested in physical strength and appearance.

It is important though that we understand the Life Cycle Analysis of turkey meat production, and can evaluate all of the factors involved in rearing turkeys all through the year in the British climate. We need to understand in detail the aspects of housing, heating, nutrition and animal husbandry practises that delivers the most sustainable rearing cycles as well as the the lowest environmental impacts , in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, manures and any waste streams. Under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations (IPPC) it is necessary that farms control and limit emissions of ammonia and other compounds that can have environmental impacts.

Many turkey farmers have planted tree belts around farms that shield the view of such building in the countryside, but these trees also create plant belts that ammonia can be absorbed by allowing reduced ammonia release, control of smells and the nitrogen can be used by the trees to grow and release oxygen, as well as absorbing Carbon Dioxide too.

We are aware that turkey has in preliminary studies by DEFRA been the protein with the lowest environmental impact and the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, with turkeys benefiting from a simple digestive system that does not create methane in the considerable levels seen from ruminants like cattle and sheep. We believe that poultry will become the protein of choice that will have the lowest levels of inputs, the best food conversion rates, and the rearing conditions with the lowest environmental impacts.

It was felt though that we needed to get a tight handle upon the detailed aspects of gas fired heating systems, natural and powered ventilation, and also consider the differences between housed rearing systems, lower stocking densities and the impact of free range and organic rearing methods.

The group also feels we need to understand in more detail the alternative British protein sources for the diets fed to turkeys and options for replacing imported soya based proteins. This work can consider the use of “00” rapeseed variants that are free from taints to poultry diets, the use of field beans and peas as a milled high protein meal, and can also consider the use of lupin and sunflower meal for improved fibre and protein.

The industry understands that the use of pigmeat protein meal into poultry diets is not as yet available, nor poultry meat meal into pig diets, but both farming groups are aware of the enhanced digestibility, the improvements to nutrition, leg strength and overall animal welfare that would result from the re-introduction of PAP or pig and poultry protein meals. Mortality levels would reduce, skeletal strength increase, and there would be considerable reductions in the importation of soya from Brazil, with reduced transportation impacts.

The use of bovine meat and bone meals is not requested and is unlikely to be allowed by the EU Commission in the next five to ten years.

Animal wastes can be treated by other means, but huge volumes of feathers go to landfill currently and this could be reduced or avoided if used in poultry protein meal. The group cannot research this area of poultry and pig meat meals yet but hopes to be able to before the research is completed.

We also wish to review the impact of protein reductions in the diet of turkeys on reduced nitrogen emissions, improved leg strength and bird livability, and drier bedding with improved rearing conditions. We also plan to assess the improvements from incineration of turkey farm manures for production of green electricity, and bio-digestion of waste materials to reduce nitrous oxide release and replacing it with methane gas production for burning to create further green electricity.

The group involves all of the major turkey rearing and processing companies, Animal feed manufacturers and nutritionists, the main British breeding company Aviagen, and the considerable technical and environmental expertise from both Newcastle and Cranfield Universities.

The lead research team member also has a very modern farm with small turkey houses suitable for researching different rearing conditions, different diets, and changes to husbandry methods, all of which can be assessed in detail to gather management knowledge upon the best welfare conditions and most sustainable rearing methods. These ideally suited farms can allow research into both housed rearing methods and also free range farming methods. Each house can monitor heating input, electricity for lighting, ventilation, feed supply and all other such inputs accurately and in detail.

We wish to develop the most sustainable and low impact rearing system for turkeys and to also assess such impacts during the collection transport and processing of the turkeys. The group wish to develop turkey farming for the third millennium


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