Most people probably only think of turkeys as the delicious main course served with gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce (among many other items) at Thanksgiving. I too have mainly been concerned with how best to prepare them for dinner and have admittedly not given much thought to their anatomy or physiology. So, with Thanksgiving literally right around the corner, let’s discuss turkeys.
In many species, young birds do not display external sexual characteristics, like differences in feather color. However, knowing the gender of a young bird is very important to poultry breeders to determine which will become female egg-layers and to pair animals. Veterinarians likewise care about gender as it allows them to diagnose diseases that may only affect one gender.
Have you ever wondered how to determine the gender of a turkey chick, otherwise known as a poult? There are actually websites (not suprising) that offer detailed instructions on how to determine the gender of young chickens as well as turkeys. Although entertaining, a more scientifically rigorous and accurate approach was recently developed by Drs. Steiner et al., in Germany which utilizes Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy imaging to quickly look at germinal cells extracted from feather pulp to determine the gender of turkey poults. What they found was that the germinal cells obtained from male turkey poults have higher RNA contents than those extracted from female turkey poults allowing for the accurate determination of gender prior to the development of external sexual characteristics. According to the authors, if this method is applied to fertilized non-bred eggs or unfertilized eggs in ovo, this may allow breeders to select only female eggs and avoid the killing of countless male chicks after hatching.
Steiner et al., Sexing of turkey poults by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Anal Bioanal Chem. 396: 465-470, 2010.
*Photo of turkey poults from Cackle Hatchery.