Researchers are testing the effects of feeding turkeys distilled corn, an ethanol byproduct.
For a group of researchers stationed in the outskirts of Rosemount, Minn., Thanksgiving has nothing to do with football or stuffing, and it comes five times a week.
The turkey field-research site in UMore Park – a property intended to house more of the University’s research facilities – has five barns that serve as testing grounds for about 7,600 gobblers.
Extension poultry specialist Sally Noll said that among other things, researchers are looking at feeding distilled corn to turkeys.
Distilled corn comes from ethanol production, which extracts starch and sugar from corn, and the remaining byproduct can be fed to turkeys.
Noll said while distilled corn is less nutritious, turkeys can still have a diet of up to 30 percent of the ethanol byproduct.
The research is important to the state because Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the country, supplying 46 million birds each year, Noll said.
“Turkey production is really important to the state economically,” Noll said. “We need to be involved in terms of helping the industry solve some of its problems.”
Noll also said the research results could help producers be more cost-efficient now that corn prices are increasing.
A tom (male) turkey, which weighs more than 40 pounds on average, eats 120 pounds of feed in his lifetime, and a hen eats about 35 pounds of feed, Noll said.
This translates to billions of pounds of feed dedicated to turkey production in Minnesota.
“The industry is really struggling with how to keep feed costs down,” Noll said.
Animal science professor Mohamed El Halawani is doing research that studies how light affects birds’ reproduction habits.
Halawani said red light increases reproduction while blue and green light inhibit reproduction.
The results can be related to migratory birds and how they travel south when daylight hours decrease, Halawani said.
Halawani said his research group has located the biological clock in a turkey’s brain that relates light with mating.
The research contributes to larger ongoing research that is being done throughout the state, Halawani said.
“Most of the turkey research done in the world comes from (Minnesota),” he said.
The turkeys at UMore are all younger than 12 weeks old, and after researchers study them the birds are sent to be processed as food.
The research site doesn’t run any research trials affecting the edibility of the birds, Noll said.
Farm animal attendant Fred Hrbek is in charge of making sure the birds are cared for properly and that the research trial protocol is followed.
Hrbek said although cleaning the bird cages can get old quickly, he enjoys his job.
“I’ve worked with birds my whole life,” Hrbek said. “When I was a kid I had eight parrots.”