Using sensory stimuli to attract turkey poults to feed

Stacey A Enneking, Purdue University


Early poult mortality is a high priority area of research for the turkey industry as indicated by US Poultry. Starve-out, defined as “a failure to eat,” accounts for 1-5% of this mortality. Starve-out is not only economically costly to producers but is also a serious animal welfare concern. Because starve-out is a failure to eat, our goal for this project was to identify stimuli that would attract poults to feed and reduce mortality. We hypothesized that starve-out is partly due to a lack of feed-directed stimuli in production environments, and therefore predicted that a feed-directed stimulus would attract poults to feed, thereby increasing feed intake. These artificial stimuli could be further developed into cost-effective, low-maintenance mechanisms for attracting poults to feed in production environments. This would increase poults’ early feeding, thus increasing early poult performance and decreasing starve-out. In the following experiments, we investigated food-directed maternal displays in commercial turkey hens. However, from our observations it appeared that turkey hens do not perform feeding displays to attract poults to feed. Thus, we also investigated the effect of environmental stimuli on poults’ feeding in the second and third experiments. In the second experiment poults were housed a shaking feeder stimulus. The onset of the feeder stimulus was unpredictable to prevent poults from habituating to it. The behavior and physiological results suggested that the shaking feeder stimulus was a source of stress for the poults. By designing the feeder to be unpredictable, which has been shown to be a common environmental stressor, we may have introduced a source of stress into the environment. It may be that unpredictability near feed decreases poults’ feeding and, thus, contributes to starve-out. In the final experiment, we used a 4-choice radial arm maze to compare the attractiveness of four stimuli: (1) two familiar poults with a feeder, (2) a shaking feeder similar to the previous experiment (3) a conveyer feeder, and (4) a feeder with no additional stimulus that served as a control. We predicted that poults would be most attracted to the companions, followed by the conveyer and shaking feeders. We also predicted that poults would feed more at feeders with additional stimuli compared to the control. We performed two replicates as a two by two factorial to assess age and feed deprivation. The results suggested that poults were attracted to companions more than the other stimuli but did not feed more in the presence of companions. Poults performed more stimulus interaction at the companions, which indicated that the motivation to perform social behaviors may have competed with that of feeding. It may be that poults move through their environment using social taxis to stay near conspecifics and feed only when their movements bring them to food items. Thus, a solution to starve-out may be as simple as positioning the feeders in arrangements that maximize the likelihood poults will encounter feed while using social taxis to move about. A simple and cost-effective solution to starve-out would not only benefit producers economically but also the welfare of the poults.




Garner, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Animal sciences|Behavioral Sciences

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