Health issues

Last updated 27 September 2020

Selective breeding of turkeys to have an accelerated growth rate has been the cause of several health problems including leg locomotory problems causing lameness. Birds often become too weak to lift the weight of their bodies before they reach slaughter age. This ultimately leads to some turkeys starving to death as they are unable to reach food or water.

Due to the accelerated growth rate of turkeys, it has been found that their internal organs (such as heart and lungs) lack the ability to meet the demands of their metabolism. Due to selective breeding, turkeys’ bodies are not well equipped to deal with heat stress. This is even more concerning when in the context of Australian summers (often numerous 40+ degree days) with up to 21,000 birds in one shed.

Sudden death (SDPH)

Selective breeding and genetic manipulation of turkeys has resulted in turkeys that grow at unnatural speeds to have a high percentage of muscle tissue, whilst their skeletal system and internal organs struggle to keep up. These factors promote dysfunctions in the cardiovascular system. Farmed turkeys often die before reaching slaughter weight due to sudden death relating to perirenal haemorrhage.

Leg disorders

As turkeys have been selectively bred to grow at such an accelerated, unnatural rate, they commonly suffer from leg and joint issues and lameness. This rapid growth places stress on joints, bones, ligaments and tendons and can cause lesions in the hip joints, abnormal cartilage mass on the end of a growing bone, and angular bone deformity. Reports have suggested that as much as 5% mortality in flocks may be caused by lameness in turkeys’ legs.

Foot pad dermatitis (FPD)

FPD is a condition that is common in intensively farmed turkeys and is caused by the litter turkeys are forced to live on. This is a painful condition where the birds’ foot pads become cracked, red and swollen. It is suggested that it is impossible for intensively farmed flocks to have a low prevalence of FPD.