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Beak-trimming

54. The vast majority of turkeys (90%) produced in this country are not beak-trimmed. They are reared for meat in conventional (enclosed) houses in carefully controlled environments which reduce aggression and obviate the need for this mutilation. However, breeding turkeys and those kept for meat in pole barns and free-range systems, are often routinely beak-trimmed to prevent or control injurious behaviour. Breeding birds require light to stimulate lay and turkeys reared in pole barns and extensive systems are subject to natural light levels. Light can increase the risk of aggression and injurious behaviour.

55. Previous studies on beak-trimming of poultry largely relate to domestic fowls and when we commenced our review we could find no scientific work on turkeys. There is both physiological and behavioural evidence that the beak-trimming of chickens causes long-term pain but we do not believe that these results should be automatically assumed to apply to turkeys. We discussed the lack of information with the British Turkey Federation who agreed to fund work at an independent research institute to determine the relative merits of different methods of beak-trimming turkeys at different ages. The results were presented to FAWC during our study and the conclusions which follow are based on this new work.

56. The study considered the effects of the three common beak-trimming methods (the Bio-beaker, hot-cut and cold-cut) each at 1,6 and 21 days of age on various behavioural and production measures in female breeding turkeys grown to 12 weeks of age.

57. The work indicated that beak-trimming influenced behaviour only to a minor extent and yet had beneficial effects in reducing feather damage and mortality. However, not all post-operative behaviours had been looked for and FAWC believes there is a need for further study. The anatomical analysis indicated that beak-trimming by any of the three methods at the ages described did not result in neuroma formation. All methods resulted in an area at the tip of the beak which lacked sensory afferent nerve fibres and sense organs.

58. Whilst FAWC cannot approve unnecessary mutilations of animals, the evidence briefly outlined above does not lead us to conclude there should be a ban on the routine, non-therapeutic beak-trimming of turkeys. We accept that, in systems which expose the birds to natural levels of light, beak-trimming may be a necessary management tool to control aggression. However, the operation should not be undertaken as a routine practice. It should be carried out only when necessary and then by a trained and competent operator.

59. We have been told that it may be necessary to trim beaks on more than one occasion, particularly the beaks of breeding hens which are kept for longer than most other turkeys. We believe that it would be best to trim accurately and substantially when the bird is young (as there is evidence that neuroma formation does not occur at this stage) and in this way retard regrowth of the upper beak to an extent that a further operation is not required. The study of beak-trimming referred to above indicated that: cold cutting was the most accurate method, but that substantial re-growth of the beak occurred; although the Bio-beaker limited beak re-growth, it was less accurate; and that the hot cut was the most distressing procedure for the turkeys. At this time we believe that a substantial cold cut which avoids the need for re-cutting is the most acceptable method of beak-trimming. However, further research into this subject is required.

60. The link between light levels and beak-trimming has been very carefully considered. We understand that parts of the industry, aware of the latest research results, may investigate the possibility of increasing light levels in the conventional (enclosed) houses and beak-trim their birds routinely. FAWC cannot condone an increase in the number of turkeys which are beak-trimmed and believes that the industry should first of all consider other ways of solving the problem of increasing light levels without causing aggression and creating the need to beak-trim. It should be the long-term aim of the industry to end beak-trimming by, for example, producing less-aggressive strains of turkeys.

Recommendations

61. Turkey producers should be allowed, until a poult is 21 days old, to cold-cut up to half the length of the upper mandible where this operation is necessary.

62. There must be more research into beak-trimming to obviate the need for secondary trimming.

63. Those who carry out beak-trimming must be properly trained and competent.

64. It should be the long-term aim of the industry to end beak-trimming by, for example, producing a less-aggressive strain of turkey.