Pen-raised pitfall


It is highly important to note that
recommendations in the 1940s to artificially
propagate turkeys for restoration
were not biologically sound.
Game-farm or pen-raised turkeys are
"any wild turkey eggs or wild turkeys
which have been hatched and/or
raised under human control," according
to a NWTF Technical Committee
resolution adopted in 1994.

Game-farm turkeys are deprived of
normal parental influence, so they
never develop normal social behaviors
or survival skills, regardless of
their genetic wildness.

Although the technique was not
new, many agencies and individuals
embraced an idea that seemed logical:
to mass produce these birds for
release. This approach was taken as a
shortcut around the difficult problem
of capturing wild birds, which are
"native genetic stock living under the
control of the laws of nature," according
to the '94 resolution.

Using the pen-raised method
slowed the wild turkey comeback in
North America for almost two decades.
Furthermore, this technique used
untold millions of dollars that might
have been spent in more wild turkey
trap-and-transplant programs, which
have proved immensely successful.

A 1979 turkey restoration survey
of 36 states compared the success of
both pen-raised (or game-farm)
turkeys and wild-trapped birds.
About 30,000 wild-trapped birds
released on 968 sites resulted in 808
established populations occupying
more than 200,000 square miles of

More than 330,000 pen-raised birds
released on almost 800 sites resulted
in 760 failures. Michigan was the only
state that reported significant positive
results with pen-raised stock. Of 882
game-farm birds released at 13 sites,
however, only three releases were successful
in Michigan. The survey also
reported fall hunting was terminated
because of overharvest of turkeys
with game-farm origin.

The survey reported six states had
problems with diseases in game-farm
birds. Twenty-three of the 36 states
had enacted laws banning or restricting
the release of game-farm birds. By
1990 the number of states was 45. In
spite of this evidence, today turkey
eggs, poults, and adults are advertised
and sold under the pretense that
they are "truly wild" and therefore
suitable for stocking in the wild.

These birds probably fail to survive
because of a combination of factors.
One cause could be poor genetic
quality resulting from the breeding
out of wild characteristics through
several generations in captivity. Most
offspring from first-generation wild
birds cannot survive confinement.
They die from stress, trying to escape.

The few that survive have become
relatively docile and are able to tolerate
the confined conditions. So they
reproduce and sustain their population.
But birds carrying the dominant
characteristics needed for life in the
wild are lost under penned conditions.

A second major factor in the poor
success of game-farm birds is the
absence of a wild turkey hen to teach
skills to developing poults. Wild hens
teach their poults the proper response
to predators and other dangers, plus a
great deal about food sources, the
geography of their home ranges, and
social behavior, such as vocalizations
and flocking. The pen-raised turkey
has no opportunity to learn these
important survival mechanisms.

The third big problem involving
pen-raised birds is the increase of
deadly diseases and parasites under
confined conditions. The survivors
may become carriers of infectious diseases.

An evaluation of the health of
119 pen-raised wild turkeys found at
least 33 species of parasites and 3
potentially harmful diseases. Based
on an evaluation of disease risks,
investigators concluded that the
release of pen-raised turkeys should
be discouraged or even prohibited.

The bird-----The species-----Post-Colonial-----Demise-----Restoration-----Pitfall-----Success