Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
Mark Ellingwood: (603) 271-2461
July 20, 2005

No Salmonella in N.H. Wild Turkey Droppings

CONCORD, N.H. -- A total of 417 wild turkey droppings (fecal samples) collected on New Hampshire dairy farms during the winter of 2005 have all tested negative for salmonella. That's good news for wildlife managers and farmers in New Hampshire, who are concerned about possible transmission of salmonella from wild turkeys to dairy livestock. The screening was part of a collaborative effort between USDA Wildlife Services, the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, to better understand the impacts of winter turkey congregations on dairy farms in New Hampshire.

During the summer of 2004, 22 New Hampshire dairy farms known to experience annual winter turkey congregations were surveyed and certain farm features were mapped, in order to assess farmer observations and opinions about turkeys and identify physical features of farms that might facilitate large flocks of turkeys during winter months.

Survey Results: Survey results indicated that 82% of farmers had a positive or neutral attitude toward turkeys. Regionally, 25% of northern farmers and 10% of southern farmers had a negative attitude toward turkeys, with the two main concerns being disease transmission and fecal contamination of silage intended for livestock feed. Farmers identified increased hunting opportunities and bag limits as the most effective method to control winter congregations. Only 14% of farmers responding to the survey identified turkeys as posing a threat to their property. Blackbirds and starlings (55%), pigeons (41%) and black bears (41%) were the wildlife species most often identified as being a threat to farm property.

Mapping Results: Results relating physical features of farms to winter congregations of turkeys were inconclusive. Turkeys did appear to prefer to feed closer to roosts and cover, and farther from roads, barns, homes and other buildings. Roost quality, quantity and proximity to silage or other food, seems to play a role in determining a farm's likelihood of hosting winter turkey congregations. At the same time, local complexities relating to turkey habitat, alternative feeding opportunities and general human activity and presence are likely final determinants in turkey behavior.

Turkey Droppings As Disease Risk: To assess disease threats, turkey droppings were collected from a total of 12 dairy farms from January through March 2005 -- 6 in the northern Connecticut River Valley, 5 in the southern Connecticut River Valley and one in southeast New Hampshire. Most farms were sampled monthly, with each "sample" consisting of 3 droppings (from 3 different birds). An effort was made to collect 5 samples (droppings from 15 different birds) per farm per month. Biologists are confident that at least 130 different birds per month were sampled, and that more than 300 different birds were sampled across the winter. All of the samples tested negative for salmonella.

"Dairy farms play a critical role in the ecology of wild turkeys in Northern New England. We're very pleased with the positive attitudes of dairy farmers reflected in the survey and with the results of our first year of disease screening," said Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife supervisor with the Fish and Game Department. "The willingness of dairy farmers to accommodate turkeys is important to the well-being of turkeys and to the interests of turkey enthusiasts throughout the Connecticut River Valley. In that regard, we all owe dairy farmers a debt of gratitude." He noted that over the past 30 years since wild turkeys were reintroduced to New Hampshire, the population has increased to about 25,000 birds.

Ellingwood is hopeful that a second year of disease screening will take place in 2006 in order to increase overall sample sizes and to strengthen the study results.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats.

For a profile of wild turkeys in New Hampshire, click here.

For information on turkey hunting in New Hampshire, click here.

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