The Importance of Genetics: Biological fitness and productivity in range-based systems comparing standard turkey varieties and industrial stocks

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $182,386.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Marjorie Bender
American Livestock Breeds Conservacy

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine, poultry


  • Animal Production: housing, grazing - continuous, free-range, grazing - multispecies, range improvement, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: genetic resistance
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures


    Several standard varieties of turkeys and a commercial strain were compared in range-based production systems, in DNA analysis, and for immune system response. Although the commercial variety reached market weight in fewer days and grew to a larger size, the standard varieties had lower mortality and better immune response. DNA micro-satellite analysis showed some standard varieties are only distantly related to the commercial strains, providing valuable genetic diversity essential for the long- term sustainability of turkeys. Increasing market demand over the past 5 years has supported increasing populations, rescuing standard turkey varieties from extinction, and providing new sustainable enterprises for farmers across the nation.

    Tables, figures and photographs referred to in the following text are available from SARE.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Define range-based turkey production systems as the term will be applied in this project.

    Objective 2: Identify similarities and differences of specific standard varieties and industrial turkey stocks in range-based, on-farm settings by measuring health status, weight gain, morbidity/ mortality, and feed conversion.

    Objective 3: Identify similarities and differences of standard varieties and industrial turkey stocks by measuring response to immunologic tests and biochemical assays, including lymphocyte isolation, lymphocyte proliferation, and flow cytometric analysis

    Objective 4: DNA fingerprint standard turkey varieties. This information documents the genetic differences and similarities of the turkey genomes.

    Objective 5: Correlate immune response, DNA fingerprint and production characteristics to support the promotion of standard varieties for range-based production.

    Objective 6: Inform farmers interested in range-based turkey production, the poultry science community, and consumers about project results.

    Objective 7: Evaluate project effectiveness at meeting each objective and define next steps.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.