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End of an era at Rosemount Turkey Research Facility

Rosemount turkey research unit – key accomplishments 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 marks the final day of operation for the turkey research facility at the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center (RROC). After careful consideration and consultation with College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences leadership, The University of Minnesota has made the difficult but necessary decision to cease turkey research at our RROC. The facility is more than 50 years old and is antiquated by today’s modern turkey production standards. It is cost prohibitive to maintain and upgrade the barn to the present expectations of the industry, especially since the sale of nearby land limits the viability of that location to no more than five years. It has become increasingly difficult to garner research grants given the condition of the facility. You can read more from Dr. Mike Schutz, Head of the Department of Animal Science and the continued plans UMN has to support and engage in research, teaching and outreach.

The following is a summary of key research areas at the Rosemount Turkey Research Unit, summarized by Dr. Sally Noll, Professor of Animal Science.  She comments the research was  “responsive to current and anticipated industry needs” of the current day. This list is not complete but provides a snapshot of 50 years of activity that took place at the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center.

Many thanks to the dedicated full and part time employees of the Rosemount Poultry facility for their many years of continuous and professional service—Fred Hrbek 35 years, Gary Backes 32 years, Scott Welch 25 years, Igor Radovic 15 years, and John Fox 12 years.

1950 to 1970

Research into the genetics of feather color and meat characteristics enhanced the development of the modern broad-breasted turkey which helped turkey growers meet consumer demands for more white meat (Dr. Robert Shoffner). 

1970 to 1985 

Relationship of dietary density of protein with environmental temperature during a period of record high feed costs in the late 1970’s. The resulting data allowed turkey producers to feed a diet of lower cost by reducing protein content while raising the turkeys at a cooler temperature resulting in turkeys with the desired market weight. (Dr. Paul Waibel). 

1985 to 2005 

Turkey production shifted from being primarily seasonal (summer), non-confinement production to year- around production. This shift resulted in confinement rearing of market turkeys under winter conditions, and also needing to have turkey breeder hens in production under summer, fall and early winter conditions (off season). 

Winter rearing of turkeys resulted in poor respiratory conditions. Research at the unit (with collaborators in College of Veterinary Medicine and Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering) established that, under conditions of no disease, interactions existed between barn temperature and humidity and resulting high levels of dust and ammonia that induced a condition of “air sacculitis” causing condemnations of the whole turkey carcasses at processing. Guidelines were developed regarding air quality and ventilation needs of winter confinement reared turkeys. (Drs. Mohamed El Halawani, Sally Noll, Kevin Janni, Patrick Redig, and David Halvorson). 

Poor egg production and development of broodiness (incubation behavior) occurred when in production during off season (not spring). Research that spanned many years identified the hormones involved in development of broodiness (prolactin and prolactin releasing factor) and control through management and other methods to reduce the onset of broodiness. Lighting is a key control of initiation, maintenance and termination of egg production in turkey breeder hens. Key findings determined at what age hens became hormonally responsive to lighting patterns, new programs for lighting to initiate egg production, use of LED lights targeted to certain red wave-lengths to improve egg production, and the role of green/red/blue wavelength in determining when the hens terminate egg production (Drs. William Burke, Mohamed El Halawani, and Sally Noll). Initial research on weight control of young breeder hens given that genetic selection for heavier body weights can decrease egg production (Dr. Sally Noll). 


In early 2000, MN turkey industry was challenged with a new respiratory disease called “avian pneumovirus” (APV). A vaccine was available but seemed ineffective. Methods of vaccination were studied and it was demonstrated that use of a spray cabinet to administer the vaccine to baby turkeys was most effective, while vaccination with aerosol spray into the barn space was ineffective (Dr. Sally Noll, with collaborators from CVM, BOAH). 

Nutrition and management became the major emphasis area. Dietary amino acid requirements for market toms were updated. Probiotics in market turkeys and microbiome were studied to establish baseline data. Improving Metabolizable Energy (ME) digestibility through use of exogenous enzymes was established. Vegetable based diets for market turkeys were developed. A partial slotted floor system for turkeys was developed and health impacts examined. The impact of delayed placement on later turkey performance was determined. Alternative feed ingredients such as dried distillers grains and canola meal were considered for use in market turkey diets. The role of bedding type in development of footpad dermatitis in market turkeys was established (Drs. Sally Noll, Tim Johnson, Kevin Janni, Erin Cortus, David Halvorson, and Carol Cardona). 


Funding – MN Turkey Growers Association, USDA-NIFA, Midwest Poultry Research Consortium, MN Board of Animal Health and allied industry partners; 

Past and present Rosemount Turkey Research Unit staff, undergraduate students, technicians and graduate students.

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