Research By Lilian Schaer Lilian Schaer is a freelance writer and editor and communications specialist with Agri-Food Project Services Ltd. in Guelph, Ont. T Better feed efficiency lowers greenhouse gas emissions in turkeys he environmental impacts of livestock and poultry produc-tion are a challenge for agriculture. Am-monia, along with greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane, are key areas of concern. A heightened focus on green-house gases and their impact on climate change have led Ontario’s turkey producers to take a closer look at emissions from their flocks. They’re interested in seeing whether they could be impacted by feed effi-ciency or production traits. “We wanted to see if we could identify any variation in green-house gas emissions at the bird level,” explains University of Guelph adjunct professor Ben Wood, who led the project. “In ru-minant livestock production, for example, this is being used as a genetic selection tool.” Wood and his research team found that a high efficiency genetic line of turkeys emitted less green-house gas per kg of turkey produced than a low efficiency genetic line. This was evident at the flock level, but was much harder to detect within individual birds. Turkeys are genetically selected for high feed efficiency, which means they consume less feed and make better use of available nutri-ents while at the same time produ-cing more meat, ultimately resulting in lower emissions. “A lot of the greenhouse gases are created in the manure the birds produce, but if you can produce less manure, you’ll have fewer nutrients going into the litter,” Wood says. “Litter is where a lot of the green-house gases are produced where CANADIAN POULTRY For the study, high and low efficiency birds were monitored in enclosed environmental chambers with consistent conditions to compare their emissions. 12 January 2018 P H O T O CRED IT : B . W OO D , UNIVERS ITY O F G UELP H “For produ-cers, the key point here is that traditional selection for feed efficiency is working to reduce greenhouse gas emis-sions from turkey production” bacteria will break down the nitro-gen protein in the litter, which is what forms the greenhouse gases.” The research team, which includ-ed graduate student Clayton Gionet, tested birds from two different genetic populations (10 high effi-ciency and nine low efficiency birds). Birds were provided feed and water and monitored in enclosed environmental chambers with con-sistent environmental conditions between the two groups of birds. Over a 28-day sampling period, emissions data for ammonia, meth-ane and carbon dioxide were col-lected. Fecal analysis was also con-ducted, and bird weight and feed intake were monitored to establish each bird’s feed conversion ratio. Emission estimates were calculat-ed for ammonia, methane and car-bon dioxide and showed that low ef-ficiency birds produced these gases at 51.2 per cent, 40.1 per cent and 33.2 per cent higher levels re-spectively than high efficiency birds. Ammonia and methane produc-tion, in particular, are linked to manure production. Since all birds in the study consumed the same type of feed and lived in similar conditions, the difference in volume of manure produced can be attribut-ed to production trait differences. “For producers, the key point here is that traditional selection for feed efficiency is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from turkey production,” Wood explains. “It’s small to begin with, but it’s a great first step in helping us to understand how feed conversion ratios can both directly and indirect-ly impact emissions.” With this knowledge, the industry can take other steps to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions as well, such as different ways to treat litter, for example. “A lot of work can be done on the barn level, but we will continue to select for feed conver-sion so we will continue to make progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from turkey production,” Wood adds. This project was funded by the Canadian Poultry Research Council, Turkey Farmers of Canada and Tur-key Farmers of Ontario.