By refining diets now, turkey producers can help offset the consequences of smaller Christmas gatherings, says Stuart Hinchly of Massey Feeds.
The restrictions on mixing between households and on the size of gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the plans of farm fresh turkey producers, with the expectation that the market will require smaller finished birds.
Mr Hinchly says: “With producers working on a planned production cycle geared to producing mature birds of a specific slaughter weight, it can be difficult to react to market changes.
“Slaughtering earlier to produce a smaller bird is only an option if the producer has the equipment to chill the carcase.
“One of the main points of differentiation for the farm fresh turkey is that it is hung for a short period and sold fresh. Freezing birds is not an option for these producers.”
He says that by changing the diet now, producers can slow down growth rates, but it is important that conformation, finish and eating quality are not compromised.
He adds the normal advice for small strains is to feed a 17 per cent protein diet through to finish.
Heavier strains would usually be dropped to a 15 per cent ration.
The company has reformulated its turkey diets to help producers manage growth rates.
“By moving birds onto a 15 per cent protein ration now it will be possible to hold growth rates back while not affecting conformation,” Mr Hinchly says.
“Birds can then be moved on to a 17 per cent ration for the last few weeks if needed to boost the eventual finish.
“There is no point cutting back on energy as birds will just compensate by increasing intakes, nullifying the benefits of reducing protein content.”
Mr Hinchly says that while modifying the diet can reduce growth rates, it is important to monitor growth and conformation closely as weather, particularly temperature, and disease challenges will also affect growth.