The impact of graded levels of day length on turkey health and behavior to 18 weeks of age

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The impact of graded levels of day length on turkey health and behavior was determined in hens and toms raised to 18 wk of age. Birds were allocated to one of 4 lighting treatments (trt) providing 14 (14L), 17 (17L), 20 (20L), and 23 (23L) h of day length. Two time-replicated trials were completed with each, providing 2 rooms per lighting trt and each room having 3 hen (n = 720) and 3 tom (n = 480) pens. Data collection included gait score (GS), the incidence of footpad dermatitis (FPD), breast buttons and blisters, ocular size and pressure (males only), and behavioral observations (males only). Data were analyzed using SAS 9.3 based on a completely randomized design nested within 4 lighting trt. Regression analysis established relationships between response criteria and day length. Differences were considered significant at P ≤ 0.05 and trends noted at P ≤ 0.10. Gait score, FPD, and the incidence of breast buttons and blisters were assessed on 5 birds per pen at 11 and 17 wk of age. Average GS increased linearly with day length at 11 and 17 wk for both hens and toms, but the effect was larger in toms. Day length did not affect FPD, but more lesions and severe scores were found for hens than toms. The presence of breast buttons and blisters increased linearly with day length (11 wk) with the effect on blisters predominately seen in toms. Eye weight and size increased with increasing day length at 12 and 18 wk. Ocular pressure was not affected by day length. Infrared cameras recorded tom behavior over a 24 h period, and behaviors were classified over 10-min intervals using a scan sampling technique at 11 and 17 wk. Alterations in behavioral repertoire were observed with a linear increase in inactive resting and a linear decrease in standing, walking, preening, and environmental and feather pecking behaviors with increased day length. To conclude, day length affected bird mobility and incidence of breast blisters in an age- and gender-specific manner, and time spent inactive increased with longer day length.

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