Formulating a Beneficial Organic Chicken Feed to Produce Soy-Free and Corn-Free Eggs

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $7,057.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Jeri Villarreal
Villarreal Family Farm, LLC.

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, value added

    Proposal summary:

    DESCRIPTION Our burgeoning urban farm is located on one-third of one acre that was previously a city-owned vacant lot. This new farm location in Saint Louis city of Missouri is an expansion of our one-third of one acre backyard farm in suburban Saint Louis County. The crops grown at the farms are heirloom and exotic vegetables grown with organic practices and Certified Naturally Grown. The city farm will grow produce year round with the aid of a high tunnel and a vertical hydroponic garden. I manage the business office responsibilities of Villarreal Family Farm which include: updating and managing the company website, updating the online store, order processing, consumer and media communications, marketing, volunteer recruitment and coordination, workshop instruction and shipping logistics. Additionally, I perform the daily farm duties, along with my husband Carlos Villarreal, as well as the overall crop and poultry management including: crop planning, planting and harvesting, animal care, nutrition and husbandry. I bring to the enterprise a Bachelor’s of Arts in Business with a Minor in Computer Science from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri and two years managing the backyard farming operation and business. Both my husband I have attended agricultural workshops, webinars and work closely with our local extension office. PROBLEM/SOLUTION Eliot Herman, Ph.D., a pioneering U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher in soybean allergenicity at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, estimates that 5 to 8 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults are allergic to soy. Many people avoid soy in their diets due to either a diagnosed or undiagnosed intolerance. There is a subset of this group of people that find they are so sensitive to the soy protein allergen that they are unable to consume animal products from animals that are fed soy. While many people are allergic to egg whites, others find that they are actually reacting to the soy protein contained in the egg. Additionally, corn is a popular allergen that Americans are increasingly struggling with as it is routinely incorporated in animal feeds. While corn allergies are less prevalent, those that are sensitive to the trace proteins in eggs are likely to be allergic to the corn protein as well. Dr. Todd Applegate has a split appointment in research and extension as a Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Purdue University while serving as the only Poultry Extension Specialist for the state of Indiana. One of his areas of specialization is a nutritional evaluation of alternative ingredients and their use in poultry. For my project, I will work with Dr. Applegate to design a Certified Organic chicken feed that is free of soy and corn while avoiding animal bi-products and genetically modified ingredients. While on the various diets, the hen's eggs will need to either meet or surpass the nutritional values of eggs that contain the conventional feed ingredients. The new diets should offer equal or increased benefits to the hen’s nutrition while maintaining or surpassing the average rate of lay. This problem is important to me personally because I have a soy allergy. I have been contacted by customers from as far away as New York and California that are searching for soy-free and corn-free eggs and have been for several years but have been unable to locate any. While I have tried to design a feed that would accommodate the needs of these potential customers, I’ve found that the hen’s rate of lay was severely impacted and I was concerned about their overall health. Therefore, I would like to work with Dr. Applegate to design a feed formulation that will allow us to offer a value-added product to a specific niche of consumer while maintaining or improving the hens lay rate and benefiting the health of the hen. Research shows that Organic soy-free eggs can sell for between $5 and $7 per dozen (e.g. Grass Fed Traditions, Chino Valley Rangers, Fire Fox Farms); however, it seems that eggs that are both soy-free and corn-free could potentially sell for a little more. Dr. Todd Applegate and I will work to design 3 different feed formulations that replace the nutrients that are traditionally derived from the soybeans and corn. Potential feed rations would contain ingredients that would ensure that the proper amino acids and other micro-nutrients are available. Alternative ingredients such as: field peas, flax, sunflower, alfalfa, amaranth, lentils, kelp meal, cultured yeast or other feed ingredients will likely be used or considered. We will come up with 3 different feed formulations, each with different benefits. Additionally, I will note added benefits such as: cost, availability, added nutritional benefit and sustainability of the alternative ingredients. RESEARCH After searching the SARE database across all regions, I was unable to find a previous project that was similar to the one in which I am proposing. However, there was a project titled “Feeding Hens for Optimum Egg Quality” which was conducted in 2002 by Ben Varley of the North Central Region. The project number is FNC02-436. In this study different types of feeds were studied to measure which would produce optimum egg quality. OUTREACH Dr. Todd Applegate will have full access to the research findings and will have the opportunity to share the information with his students, clients and colleagues. I will write an article for submission to Urban Farm magazine regarding the research outcome. Additionally, I will host four on-farm Open Houses with a main audience of urban and backyard farmers in St. Louis and surrounding counties in Missouri to discuss the findings of the project. The open houses can be scheduled for two dates in May 2013 and two dates in June 2013. As a member of St. Louis Backyard Chickens Meetup group, I am aware that the group currently has just over 330 members in St. Louis and surrounding counties in Missouri. I will advertise the open house through the Meetup website which does not have a newsletter, however, on the Meetup, I will put a link to the published report. Past Meetups are available on their website which would make that information available to future members as well. Additional advertising will be sent through our local Lincoln University Cooperative Extension agent. EVALUATION I will purchase 25 +, 1 day-old chicks from the heritage stock at Sandhill Preservation of Calamus, Iowa. The chicks will be divided into 5 groups of four chicks and kept in separate enclosures. One group of four chickens will be given a commercially available standard starter feed (such as the Purina). The second group of four will be given a Certified Organic feed containing both soy and corn. The third group of four chickens will be given a formulated ration of made up the Certified Organic ingredients that are free of corn and soy designed with the assistance of the poultry nutrition specialist. The Certified Organic feed ingredients will be obtained through a feed co-op in Springfield, Missouri which buys ingredients in one bulk shipment from a Certified Organic feed mill in Nebraska every two months. The feed co-op also has a vitamin and mineral pre-mix available that can be purchased to add to the feed. I will grind the feed ingredients, mix the ingredients in the proportions specified by Dr. Applegate and add the vitamin mix, then pelletize the separate feed mixtures all on the farm. The chickens will always be housed separately to ensure that there is no cross-contamination of the samples. Additionally, all five groups will consist of the same breeds of chickens and will be kept in the same conditions (access to outdoors, light, water and feed) and in the same general location. The feeds will be presented in the same pelleted form for each group. The groups will be as follows: Group A – Control Group (Organic Commercial Feed, Nature’s Best Organic) Group B – Control Check Group (Conventional Feed, Purina Layena) Group C – Experimental Group (soy and corn-free diet #1) Group D – Experimental Group (soy and corn-free diet #2) Group E – Experimental Group (soy and corn-free diet #3) Weeks 1 – 18, the chickens’ weight will be recorded. Groups #3, #4 and #5 will each be on the three different soy and corn-free rations made up of the Certified Organic ingredients. They hens will be monitored closely for adverse effects. If any health effects are observed, the offending diet will be discontinued and the group will be provided one of the other rations and monitored for improvements. The following statistics will be recorded: - Weight - Rate of Weight Gain - Observed Health - Age of Lay - Number of Eggs Laid per week - Size of eggs - Egg Quality (strength test, shape, anomalies) Additionally, egg samples from each group will be sent to Eurofins GeneScan Inc. of Metairie, LA to be studied to determine their nutritional makeup and the amount of soy and corn detected in the two control samples. The best performing soy and corn-free feed will be measured for benefits against the Certified Organic commercial feed that contains soy and corn.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.