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Turkey Brooding 101

Ever wonder what it takes to raise a turkey? G.A.P.’s standards cover all aspects of farm and flock management, including making sure that young stock are well looked after. Our partners at JD Farms in British Columbia, Canada know all about what it takes to make sure their turkey “poults” (another word for young turkeys) get the right start to life.

It all starts at the hatchery

Did you know that it takes 28 days of incubation for fertile turkey eggs to hatch? Specialized operations called hatcheries use large appliances (incubators and hatchers) to provide the ideal environment for developing turkey embryos – the temperature and humidity must be closely monitored and controlled for optimum hatching success. After four weeks, the group of poults begin the hatching process – pecking their way out of the eggs. After they’ve all finished hatching, the hatchery staff will begin transferring them to the containers that will take them to their new home – the farms.

Now it’s time to prep the barns…

In anticipation of the poults’ arrival, the farmers must make sure the barns are ready for their new charges. At JD Farms, the barns are cleaned and the floors covered with fresh litter (we learned about litter in a previous turkey blog – check it out here) before the poults arrive. Of course, feed and water must be available and ready for the poults to discover once they arrive at the farm. Also, as a way to keep the poults closer to each other and to their feed and water, the poults are usually kept in smaller areas within the barn. At JD Farms, the poults are given access to only one side of the barn. The divider will be removed as the birds grow and need more space. (Remember: G.A.P. defines these space requirements in our detailed animal welfare standards.) Finally, like most young animals, poults need extra warmth to keep them comfortable for the first few weeks of life. The barns are heated to 89-91°F (31.7-32.8°C) to start, and from there, the temperature is gradually reduced each day to match the needs of the turkeys as they grow.

The new poults have arrived at JD Farms

Welcome new poults!

At JD Farms, the freshly hatched poults have a short ride on the truck to the farm – a quick 15 minutes from door to door. When they arrive at the farm, each container of poults is swiftly, but quietly, removed from the truck and unloaded by the farm workers into the barns.

Special care is a must

“Brooding” is just farm-speak for caring for young poultry. Similar to the care given after the arrival of a new family puppy, the poults are monitored extra closely for signs of comfort or discomfort. Are they huddled in one corner? This might indicate they are too cold or there is a draught somewhere. Are they as spread out as possible and breathing with their beaks open? This might indicate they are too warm. Are they active and expressing normal behavior? This means they’re healthy and have been accessing feed and water successfully. Making sure the poults are adapting well to their new home is very important for raising a healthy flock of turkeys.

This certainly counts as “special care”…

G.A.P.’s standards in action

If you weren’t aware that G.A.P.’s comprehensive animal welfare standards cover the entire lifecycle of the animal, now you do. Our farm team members are specialists in farm animal welfare, so they analyze every stage of the animal’s lifecycle and develop G.A.P.’s standards accordingly. That’s what sets our program apart from others – our standards are always developed, first and foremost, with the animal in mind.

And that’s how our program works: G.A.P. sets the standards, our valued partners implement them, and our third-party certifiers audit every farm to ensure the standards are being met. It’s an important process that, with the help of our farmers, ranchers, and third-party certifiers, helps us impact the lives of more than 416 million animals annually. Interested in getting G.A.P. certified? Click here to learn more about our standards or click here to fill out a pre-application and be contacted by someone from our farm team. We look forward to speaking with you.

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Krysta Morrissey

Author Krysta Morrissey

SENIOR FARM ANIMAL WELFARE SPECIALIST, GLOBAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIP. Krysta's childhood dreams of becoming a large animal vet influenced her decision to study animal biology at the University of Guelph in Canada. While there, she found her love for farm animal welfare science and shifted gears to continue her education in poultry, mainly chicken, behavior and welfare. Her Master’s and PhD degrees focused on hunger mechanisms of broiler breeders and hens, and how those can be influenced in order to reduce feather pecking and cannibalism behaviors.

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