Turkeys need phosphorous in their diet, but it makes feed expensive and creates disposal problems. So what would happen, West Virginia University graduate student Brittany West wondered, if there were a little less phosphorous in the feed?

Quite a bit, it turns out, and in ways that can save turkey farmers thousands of dollars a week while still producing turkeys at a viable commercial weight.

For her research, West, an animal and nutritional sciences graduate student in Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, was recently recognized for research excellence at the 2010 Joint Animal Science Meeting in Denver, Colo.

She was awarded a certificate of excellence in the Nutrition Poster Competition, as well as the Aviagen Turkey Research Communication Award.

“I was shocked that I won,” West said. “I’m a very nervous, shy individual and I guess I doubt myself a lot – no matter how often I’m told otherwise. To be recognized at the national level was surprising.”

The Morgantown native presented research focused on strategies to improve animal performance while simultaneously decreasing feed costs and environmental impacts associated with rearing turkeys to market weight.

“There are several challenges associated with maintaining a competitive edge in commercial poultry production,” West said. “Correctly choosing a genetic line of turkey can significantly impact feed conversion and breast yield, thus profitability in the market. In addition, environmental impacts of production agriculture – especially manure disposal – are becoming increasingly more scrutinized and regulated.”

During two separate studies, West examined growth performance in two different genetic lines of turkeys – Nicholas and Hybrid – when phosphorous levels in their feed were decreased.

Phosphorous is an essential part of a turkey’s diet, however, feed containing it is expensive for producers and its concentration in manure is linked to eutrophication.

“Eutrophication occurs when a body of water acquires high levels of nutrients like phosphates,” she explained. “High concentrations of these nutrients lead to excessive plant growth which depletes the water of oxygen.”

Producers feed turkeys six types of diets – two starters, two growers and two finishers. Although each stage of feed contains phosphorous as a nutrient, turkeys need more in the starter phases to promote skeletal growth.

During her initial study, West decreased the phosphorous levels in the final finisher stage and received surprising results.

“The Nicholas and Hybrid birds ended with the same weight which met weight standards for their specific breeds,” she said. “However, the Hybrid birds had a nine point lower feed conversion. A one point decrease in feed conversion can mean a cost savings of more than $6,000 per week for a poultry company. Lowering the amount of feed needed to produce gain can increase money paid to farmers, so nine points is huge.”

At the same time, feeding the birds lower levels of phosphorous did not produce lower levels in their litter.

The results were slightly different in the second study that utilized the latest and greatest strain of Nicholas turkey, the Nicholas TP5.

“When we lowered the phosphorous levels in the last two diets, we did see a significant decrease in litter phosphorus,” West said. “The Hybrids had a three-point lower feed conversion but were one-and-a half pounds lighter than the Nicholas birds.”

She went onto explain the decrease in litter phosphorus was likely associated with a greater volume of feed having a lower phosphorus level. Also, the ending weight and feed conversion differences were likely associated with the use of the new Nicholas strain being better able to compete with the growth of the Hybrid strain.

West’s research is part of a larger research collaboration between WVU and the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative that utilizes a state-of-the-art turkey research facility in Wardensville, W.Va. Established in June 2009, the objective of the partnership is to jointly determine the priority research needs of the industry.



CONTACT: David Welsh; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304-293-2394; David.Welsh@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.