"Basically semen is collected by manually manipulating the male," he said, adding that analysis of the semen and dilution, in order to standardize the amount for females, follow. A semen straw containing 100–200 million sperm cells is then manually inserted into each hen's vagina, where the cells are stored in a gland before being released later to correspond with ovulation.
Turkey hens only lay about four eggs per week, with each egg at PERC going into a high-tech incubator with systems for automatic measurement of carbon dioxide, weight loss from eggs and exact regulation of temperature, according to a Penn State release. If anything goes wrong, an alarm sounds.
"The alarm systems can detect if the machine stops, if the temperature is too high or too low, if the humidity is too high or too low, or if the machine does not turn the eggs on an hourly basis," Hulet said.
Once the young turkeys hatch, they are placed in turkey houses with lights set at higher intensity, so that the birds can map out their surroundings. The light is later dimmed, Hulet said, to calm the turkeys and reduce injury.
"Other management procedures that ensure that turkeys are raised humanely are to make sure that turkeys have enough feed and fresh, clean water, protecting them from disease by making sure that proper precautions are taken to prevent disease from getting into the barn, and promptly taking care of or removing sick turkeys," Erasmus said.
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She added, "Technologies that regulate the temperature, humidity and air quality are important in caring for turkeys, but the people who work on the farms and care for the turkeys are just as important in ensuring that turkeys are humanely raised."
Hulet agreed, saying that most producers will walk through the turkey houses at least twice a day to observe the birds, their health and welfare. He mentioned that some production systems "utilize items that entertain birds, such as items hanging from the ceiling they can peck," and add hay or straw bales into the enclosures.
The natural life span of a turkey is about 10 years, but they are generally rounded up and trucked to a slaughter plant when they are only 5 months old. A video released a few years ago by the National Turkey Federation shows what often happens next.
Studies on farm animals, such as pigs, reveal that there are differences in the ways that individual animals respond to humans, react to changes in their environment, and handle transport and the initial slaughter process.
"Animals differ in their activity levels and how fearful they are," explained Erasmus. "As a result, meat quality, and perhaps meat flavor, might differ between animals. If we have a better understanding of how individual animals react to environmental changes and to slaughter, it might be possible to breed turkeys that are less affected by changes in their environment. This will lead to improved turkey well-being and possibly changes in meat quality."
Consumers should realize that turkeys, chickens and other birds for consumption are not covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Modes of killing, as well as raising, can vary. Some of this information is conveyed on special labels such as Free Range, American Humane Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership and USDA organic, Erasmus said.