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Turkey and Guinea fowl : Role in Indian poultry production

Central Avian Research Institute , Izatnagar 243 122 U.P.

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Remarkable growth of poultry sector in the Indian sub-continent has been essentially chicken dominated; dependent on intensive system of production involving high technology with high external inputs. This is not necessarily appropriate and sustainable to the socio-economy of a densely populated country facing routine shortage of conventional poultry feed resources. The prevailing socio-agro-economic scenario of this sub-continent calls for some kind of cafeteria approach for poultry production; scientists should develop and offer a broad spectrum of poultry alternatives to meet the different local requirements. The availability of such diversification possibilities would maximize the returns from a given level of inputs and also minimize the risks and hazards to the environment. In this context, importance of alternate poultry species is being rediscovered. Production of alternate poultry may never rise enough to compete with commercial chicken, but these birds could become a significant source of food for the masses and also a source for substantial supplement income.

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Guinea fowl and turkeys are interesting gallinaceous birds being farmed for centuries to meet poultry production requirements of diversified eco-agriculture mellieu. The traditionally raised guinea fowl and turkey ensure reasonable returns at insignificant cash inputs, while quail production is a distinct diversification offer. Intimate understanding of the basics of domestication; disease control, nutrition and genetics has helped farm production of these avian species. Present paper covers the present and future importance of these alternate poultry germplasm resources available in the country.

Guinea fowl (Numeda meleagris galeata)

Germplasm resources

Guinea fowl were introduced into the Indian sub-continent during the slavery era of mediaeval centuries. Preliminary survey of guinea fowl showed its distinct popularity with marginal farmers and other vulnerable groups as small-scale poultry enterprise. The indigenous germplasm seems well adapted to the diversified agro-climatic conditions prevailing in semi-arid regions. Guinea fowl population rank third after chickens and ducks. It is referred to by different regional names in this sub-continent ‘Titari in northern plains; and ‘Chittra’ in the Majority of guinea fowl are raised in\ semi-arid pockets of Punjab,Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Saurashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. Present production status in this country is best summed up as widely spread and highly fragmented.

The descriptions of guinea fowl breeds/ varieties are essentially based on the plumage colour variations. Pearl, Lavender and White are the three main varieties recognized world over. In India, Pearl guinea fowl are most common among village stocks and usually referred as the 'local' breed. Pearl individuals are characterized by dark-gray feathers with uniformly distributed white spots that present a pearl like appearance. Pearl plumage, colour is also regarded as the ‘wild’ mutant. Levender birds are identified by their light gray distinctly spotted feathers. White variety possesses completely white plumage. Guncari guinea fowl stocks developed at the Central Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar are selected for high early body weight and breed true to their plumage characteristics. Some minor plumage mutant varieties, viz. Violet, Lilac, White breasted pearl and White breasted lavender also available.

Ecogenetic potentials

The ecogenetic characterization is identification of species specific potentials to survive under non-conductive harsh environments. Evolved in tropics, guineafowl is considered to possess relatively higher level of tolerance for rigorous tropical climatic conditions. Although no detailed studies are reported but preliminary observations indicate existence of better potentials.

Body conformation and plumage cover are the two important factors in determination of heat tolerance potentials. Light in body weight, long-legged guinea fowl present greater surface area for heat dissipation per unit body weight. Low feather weight estimates (7.8%) at 12-week to 16-week age are comparatively lower than the average values reported for different domestic fowl classes. Long neck devoid of feathers, poorly feathered thighs, exposed and highly vascular nares, cere, wattles and helmet play important role in thermoregulation. Its more fluffy monotype plumage covering and potential to elevate feathers permit better circulation of air through plumage, more efficient dissipation of internal heat. Normal respiratory actions and stress panting with outstretched wing help dissipation of internal heat through vaporization movement. The normal respiratory frequency for guinea fowl is not different from that of chicken (18-30 breaths/min). Experiments revealed comparatively little polypnea during moderately high ambient temperature (85ºC – 110ºF) among guinea fowl vis-à-vis chicken. Mycotoxin contamination of feed grains is more common in tropical and sub-tropical countries, particularly when coupled with poor handling operations. The higher aflatoxin tolerance of guinea fowl indicates it potential to utilize lower quality feed ingredients.

Production systems

Guinea fowl may be raised in the modern intensive system characterized by high input, good husbandry and hygiene and supply of balanced feed, however this system is confined largely to Government / public sector farms. The traditional extensive system of rearing is most popular in rural areas. A limited survey showed that birds are maintained in complete harmony to the village environment; housing and management is completely traditional and birds are raised on free range. Average flock size varies widely (15-200) in guinea fowl producing pockets. Droving is the most popular form of husbandry. Birds offer no management problems, primarily due to their flocking instincts. In semi-extensive system, birds are maintained in pens communicating with spacious well-fenced enclosures. Management is entirely through incorporation of family labour; two persons can easily manage even large flocks. In the traditional rearing system, the nutritional requirements of voraciously omnivorous guinea fowl are met through its catholic feeding habits; birds accept fallen grains, leaves, weeds, root-bulbs, fruits, diversified insect fauna and flora and even carrion. Supplementary feeding, if any, usually consist of waste grains, household waste and crop residues.

Strategies of combining guinea fowl raising with arable crops, fruit plantations and pastures for ruminant production contribute towards the production economy as well as stability of the system. Its advantages include: (i) more complete utilization of land, (ii) control of waste herbage, weed growth and the insect pests, (iii) increased land fertility and (iv) the plantation environment reduces heat stress to birds during foraging activities. Several reports indicate that guinea fowl may be beneficially integrated with crops of rice, ragi, grapes, apple and ruminant farming etc. because of its potentials to minimize the harmful insect pests and weeds. Our observations strongly suggest complete economic viability of guinea fowl production. A study of inputs and returns showed reasonable net gains for guinea fowl production when 2-3 crops of at least 500 heats are raised every year on foraging: particularly when mortality was kept under control. In view of the increasing demands for more and more diversity in poultry meat, and elite class consumer preferences for the native free range fed poultry products, there seems and ample scope for the guinea fowl produce.

Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo)

Germplasm resources

Although, turkeys were introduced in this subcontinent continent several decades back by the Christian missionaries, but till date turkey farming has achieved very little progress as well popularity. Possibly high cost of production, long generation interval and less market demand are the main reasons for its low popularity. A study conducted at HAU, Hisar showed that production price of 1 kg live weight of turkey was more than 1.5 times higher that that of broilers. Generally speaking, turkey production has failed to generate popular interest in most of the tropical countries outside Latin America. Recently, it has atso started gaining popularity in several African countries.

Bronze, White Holland Bourbon Red, Narangansett, Black, Slate and Beltsville Small White (BSW) are the standard breeds. Among a dozen or more non-standard varieties, Broad Breasted Large White (BBLW) and Broad Breasted Bronze (BBB) are more popular. The white-feathered turkeys are mutants of the original Bronze birds. White birds are preferred over coloured ones because coloured birds contain a black pigment in their quill feathers. In India, Beltsville Small White type turkeys are being maintained at most of the Government/university experimental farms. At few centers, Broad Breasted Bonze and Broad Breasted Large White units are also being kept. Organized turkey farms under private sector are practically non-existent, limited to few small units at Government/public sector farms. Domestic turkey maintained at private small-scale units scattered throughout the country are mainly the decendents of semi-improved Broad Breasted Bronze turkey imported from Europe and North America during the early ears and it is referred to as local breed. Few flocks of Norfolks and Cambridge turkeys, may be also there. The total turkey population is small, may be one lakh birds are raised annually. These unimproved turkeys are produced as a cash crop for meeting the market needs for Christmas dinner, birth days, wedding or holidays treats.

Ecogenetic potentials

Evolved from a truly tropical bird, whose natural habitat was open forests and wooded areas, the present domesticated farms have largely retained its self-reliance, ruggedness and adaptability. They can be reared virtually anywhere. The hardy ‘local’ turkey stocks are able to thrive under hot climate to the arid conditions, from sea level to mountains with near temperate climates and from rain forests to deserts. Turkeys walk rather than fly and find almost all their food on ground when kept on range. They possess excellent foraging and scavenging abilities.

Production system

The turkey may be reared under intensive as well as extensive system of rearing. The intensive rearing system is largely restricted to the Government / public sector. The intensive management is almost similar to that of chicken and is basically of deep litter type. One sq ft of floor space per poult is required during the first 3-4 weeks and thereafter the floor space requirement per bird is 1.5 sq ft upto 8 th week, 2 sq ft upto 12 th weeks of age, 2.5 sq ft upto 16 th weeks of age and 305 sq ft after 16 th weeks of age. Free range system of rearing is most popular for rearing the local stocks of turkey. They are natural foragers and scavengers and always range farther. Indeed, they thrive best where they can rove about freely feeding on seeds, fresh grass, other herbage and insects which include locusts, cicadas, crickets; grasshoppers, worms, slugs and snails etc. The self reliant ‘local’ stocks cat do well with little management and can still fly short distances to avoid predators.

Source : IPSACON-2005