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More efficient turkey feed makes producing Thanksgiving dinner cost less


Roger Meissen
Senior Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 573-884-8696

Photos available for this release:

Turkeys eat nearly $2 billion in feed each year. A new feed formula from the University of Missouri could save almost $100 million annually for the industry.

Credit: Jessica Salmond/MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: Turkey poults

The Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet was developed by looking at the exact nutrient requirements, specifically amino acids, needed for optimal turkey growth. Compared to standard industry feed it costs about 8 percent less

Credit: Jessica Salmond/MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: Feed in hands

Jeff Firman, a University of Missouri Extension poultry scientist, researches turkey nutrition. His new feed formula, dubbed the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet, uses a computer program to adjust ideal nutrient requirements relative to the cost of ingredients.

Credit: Roger Meissen/MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: Jeff Firman

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011

Story source:

Jeffre D. Firman, 573-882-9427

Related radio news story by Debbie Johnson. For downloadable broadcast-quality audio, contact Johnson at 573-882-9183.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Americans eat 5.6 billion pounds of turkey each year, and all those Thanksgiving meals and other turkey dinners add up to a mountain of feed for fattening out those birds.

Research from the University of Missouri will help producers feed those turkeys for less, saving the industry millions of dollars.

“The turkey industry feeds about $2 billion of turkey feed each year. There’s potential for almost $100 million in savings annually,” said Jeff Firman, an MU Extension poultry scientist.

Those savings come from the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet, a formula based on the exact nutrient requirements of turkeys.

“Feed right now costs about $350 per ton, and you’d save about $30 per ton,” Firman said. “That’s pretty significant when most guys would be happy to save a couple dollars per ton.”

This diet shaves about 8 percent off feed costs compared to a standard industry diet thanks to nearly 20 years of research. Firman – an animal science professor with the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources – is one of the few researchers nationwide who continues to tweak feed ingredients to the hundredth of a percent to eke out additional profits.

“Turkey feed is about 70 percent the cost of production and consists primarily of soybean meal, corn and distillers grain,” he said. “It hasn’t really changed that much over the years. What we’ve done is gotten a better idea of what those amino acid requirements are to reduce overfeeding and bring the costs down by not wasting nutrients.”

Turkey feed balances amino acids like lysine for muscle growth, minerals like magnesium and complex vitamins like choline. Those are just some of more than 40 different ingredients mixed together to make the little brown pellets fed to the birds.

“We use a computer formulation program to adjust the amino acids, which lets us input detailed nutrient requirements and adjust that formula based on the cost of the ingredients relative to those nutrients,” Firman said.

In 2010, the U.S. turkey industry raised 244 million birds, producing more than $4 billion in economic output, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nearly 88 percent of people polled by the National Turkey Federation reported eating turkey at Thanksgiving.

Over the course of 14-21 weeks, those turkeys develop from down-covered poults to birds weighing between 18 and 45 pounds. As they mature, their appetites grow with them.

Large turkey producers can raise millions of turkeys in a year, so just a few cents of savings on feed per bird can add up.

“A typical tom turkey will be marketed at 40-45 pounds,” Firman said. “It would take 110 pounds of feed to get that bird to market weight, so one ton of feed will only feed 15 turkeys. The profit margins are very small for turkeys, so anything you do to cut a little off the feed cost will really help.”

Large producers like Cargill and Butterball adjust their feed rations on a regular basis based on prices of ingredients. They can obtain nutrient guidelines for the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet from Firman to guide how their feed mills formulate new rations.

Firman said it might take some time for the industry to adopt these formula changes, but they will pay off in the end.

“They have to prove that it works in their situation, but hopefully this will be adopted over time and some of those savings will be passed on to consumer,” he said.

Details about the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet are at

Learn more about turkey nutrition from the MU Extension publication “Nutrient Requirements of Chickens and Turkeys” (G8352), available online at