- Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animals: poultry
- Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives, feed formulation, feed rations, grazing management, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, agricultural finance, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, community services, employment opportunities, sustainability measures
The problem with organic chicken production is the cost of the organic grain. For us, organic grain costs between .30 and .35 cents per pound. With the birds eating between 13-17 lbs of grain to grow to a dressed weight of 3.5 - 4.5 lbs, it is typical for the cost of grain to be 25-35% of the cost of production. Along with labor, it is our highest cost to raising chickens. An improvement in feed efficiency and an increase in the value of the meat of the chicken would have a dramatic and significant effect on the profitability of raising organic chickens.
There are many factors that contribute to grain consumption. The quality and composition of the grain, additional feed (pasture), weather, accessibility to grit and gravel to digest the grain are ones that we have informally studied. The addition of minerals and humates are important factors to consider as well. They are ones that we can have control over and can easily incorporate into the diet of our poultry.
Another important issue is the lack of nutrition in the modern diet of American eaters. There are countless expensive and degrading medical problems we face as a society that are undoubtedly traced to the quality of the food we eat. Even in organic food production, which drastically minimizes the chemical, antibiotic and hormone consumption, the food can still be deficient in critical minerals and nutrients we need for optimal health. Incorporating the minerals into the diet of the animals we eat and the soil could be beneficial to our health.
Our project will address the question,“Does feeding choices such as: colloidal clay, powdered rock minerals, a mineral supplement blend, granular humates, or combinations of these minerals and humates, contribute to better grain utilization, healthier meat and less polluting manure in an organic pasture poultry farming operation?”
We plan to introduce *Flora stim, *Azomite, *Fertrell Minerals with or without *Meneffee Humates, at suggested rates of approximately 1-1.5% of the total daily feed volume to the diet, alongside a controlled batch of chickens that receives their normal organic grain and grit ration. Our goal is to analyze whether there is a significant difference to justify the additional expense and effort of incorporating these additives into the diet of our pastured poultry. We are looking for an improvement in feed efficiency, (better weight gain with the same amount of grain), an improvement in the manure both in the brooder where manure is handled by hand and in the field where it is applied directly to the grass, and a more enriched, valuable meat containing more nutrients, less harmful bacteria and a better flavor.
Project objectives from proposal:
By raising 12-15 batches of chickens for a period of 7 to 8 weeks from April - November with 400-700 chickens in each batch, and utilizing 14-18 chicken tractors we have the opportunity to develop test groups to research the effects of different minerals and supplements along with a control and repeat the data collection to validate our results.
We plan to weigh and record the grain and additional minerals and supplements for each test group, weigh and record the chickens when they go out in the field, once more before they are harvested and then the meat after they are processed. We plan to take grain samples, manure samples, forage samples and meat samples to compare the difference between the control and the chickens that are given additional minerals and supplements. We will also track mortality.
Each batch of chickens will contain 400-425 birds divided between 5 chicken tractors once they go into the field at approximately 18-21 days of age. Within the 5 tractors (1) will be the control, (2) will have Baccatuna Clay added at 1-1.5% of the total feed volume, (3) will have Azomite added at 1-1.5% of the total feed volume, (4) will have Azomite with Meneffee Humates added at 1-1.5% of the total feed volume, and (5) will have Fertrell minerals with Meneffee Humates added at 1-1.5% of the total feed volume.
The control tractor will be fed our normal 20% broiler ration and grit and the other tractor fed the same broiler ration and grit with additional minerals and supplements mixed in.
In each tractor there will be 80 birds of the same breed and the same age in the same field with the same feeders, and waterers and the same measured amount of grit and gravel. All the tractors will be numbered and the data for each tractor will be recorded separately along with the weight they are when they go out to the field, a live weight measure at 6 weeks of age and a live weight and packaged weight at slaughter. They will be labeled with separated codes and tested by the lab at the University of Maine as well as consumers who will participate in the comparison cooking and eating survey.
For the brooder stage, we will try both adding Azomite and Meneffe Humates at a 1-1.5% of the total feed volume and not adding anything to see if there is a difference in mortality and if it contributes to better field performances.
We will repeat for two or three times (depending on our budget limitations) throughout the season to validate results.