Poultry is West Virginia’s largest agricultural commodity, but it faces challenges in terms of its environmental impact, particularly as it relates to water quality. The industry is increasingly aggressive in its attempts to minimize its potentially negative environmental effects, and its commitment to the issue led it to West Virginia University.

WVU’s Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences is in the fourth year of a partnership with the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, representing more than 100 turkey farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that produce and market conventional, antibiotic-free, and organic birds.

The objective of the partnership is to jointly determine the priority research needs of the industry that can be addressed based on the facilities and expertise of WVU faculties. To aid in that, the West Virginia State Legislature funded the renovation of a state-of-the-art research facility at WVU’s Wardensville farm at a cost of roughly $125,000. The Cooperative also fully funds a graduate assistantship for a student in the Division.

Joe Moritz, associate professor of poultry science, describes the research funded by the partnership as “entirely applied in nature and directly helping turkey growers in the state and region.”

The Cooperative funds two major studies per year addressing what Moritz describes as “the most pressing problems they’re facing, and doing it in real time.”

Topics that Division scholars, staff and students have investigated include environmental levels of phosphorous, which can negatively impact groundwater in the region and leach into the Chesapeake watershed. They do this in a number of ways, from examining effective feeds with lower levels of phosphorous – less in, less out – that also reduces overhead for growers, as phosphorous-rich feeds carry a considerable expense.

The Division and the Cooperative have also compared turkey breeds for their relative environmental impact. They’ve looked at the effects of increasing nutrients like amino acids in feeds and worked to develop a feed pellet with higher structural integrity, again in an effort to save growers money by lowering feed waste and increasing their returns.

The health of the birds’ gastrointestinal tracts has been another topic under consideration. Projects have examined bacterial and protozoan challenges to bird health, making product safer. And the research has helped the Cooperative.

“The WVU research benefits the Cooperative by allowing us to test nutritional programs on a small scale to determine if they work before putting it into practice across our entire growout program,” said Mickey Baugher, complex manager for the Cooperative. “It reduces our risk of making a cost error on nutrition.

“We have a good working relationship with the University and feel the research farm is valuable to us,” Baugher added.

In addition to the results for industry, the partnership has generated great opportunities for students.

Brittany West, whose assistantship was funded by the Cooperative during her master’s degree studies, was recognized for research excellence by the 2010 Joint Animal Science Meeting in Denver, Colo. West was awarded a certificate of excellence in the Nutrition Poster Competition, as well as the Aviagen Turkey Research Communication Award.

West 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.”

Kelley Wamsley, currently pursuing her Ph.D. in animal and food sciences, presented her research at the 18th European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition in �eşme, Turkey, where Moritz was an invited speaker.

Wamsley shared a paper outlining her research on manufacturing techniques to improve pellet quality of commercial turkey diet formulations and six-week male poult performance. In addition to her Ph.D. work on poultry nutrition and feed manufacture, Wamsley is pursuing the Certificate in University Teaching program offered by WVU’s Office of Graduate Education and Life. She expects to complete her degree in December of 2013 and hopes to follow in Moritz’s footsteps, teaching poultry science at the university level and encouraging young researchers.



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