Effective use of food scraps as poultry feed

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Tom Gilbert
Winchester Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation, feed rations, free-range, preventive practices, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition, disease vectors
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal summary:

    In general, small egg operations (less than 5,000 birds) are economically challenging to operate given the high cost of feed within current production models. Feed costs can represent as much as 70% of total production costs and 30% of the retail value of the egg.   Our communities generate substantial volumes of discarded food. Our farm and a small group of other farms in our region have raised laying hens on a diet of discarded food for over ten years, however no quantitative assessment on food scraps as a feed has been conducted, and there are concerns with the transmission of salmonella. This project will assess the opportunities and risks associated with feeding food scraps to laying hens. Specifically, we will assess nutritional value and pathogenic risks associated with food scraps as a feed, and the economic viability of this practice for small-scale commercial production (50-2500 hens). With a thorough assessment of food scraps, we will develop feed ration recommendations and pathogen management protocols that can be used on our farm and others to ensure healthy birds and consumers. We will collaborate with the University of Connecticut to conduct the study. We will collaborate with the Highfields Center for Composting and the Agricultural Service Providers in Applied Poultry Science network (funded through NESARE Professional Development Grant) to disseminate information.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Note: ‘Sampling Periods’ refer to a one-month period of sampling that will occur for all tests on a quarterly basis. All samples will be duplicated and the extra samples will be labeled, frozen and stored on-site through the project. All samples sent to the lab will be frozen prior to sending and sent with an ice pack, unless labs instruct otherwise for specific tests. During Year One, flock will be broken into two groups, one control fed grain, the other fed food scraps.       Objective 1: Evaluate nutrient content of food scraps.       Objective 1 Methods: Sample during year one.Quarterly month-long sampling during year one. Collect six subsamples (one pint each) per 32 gallons of food scraps (32-gallons is the standard container size we collect in), roughly 80 subsamples per sampling period. Subsamples will only include food materials that hens are known to eat through operator observation (ie doesn’t include whole, raw broccoli stems) and will be blended, aggregated and re-blended to ensure representative sample. Two half gallon samples per quarter will be obtained and each will be split in half for two redundant samples of each sample. All samples will be frozen. One quart of each will be retained on-site in a deep freezer and the other quart of each will be submitted for nutrient analysis.       Objective 2: Assess food scraps for Salmonella enteritidis.       Objective 2 Methods: See Goal 1 Methods. Two samples for pathogen testing will be removed from the aggregated samples in the same fashion as for nutrient testing and submitted for lab analysis. Sampling and analysis will occur in year one. Assessment of risk and management strategy will happen in year two.       Objective 3: Assess eggs for Salmonella enteritidis and nutrient composition.       Objective 3 Methods: During the month-long, quarterly sampling periods in year one, one egg will be collected three days a week at random (for a total of 12 eggs per month). This sampling rate far exceeds standard industry practice. The eggs will then be blended and two half-gallon samples will be removed. Each sample will then be split into thirds and frozen. Half of each sample will be submitted to labs for Salmonella testing, the other half retained on-site in a deep freezer. A single sample of blended egg will be submitted for nutrient analysis. We are not looking to establish any definitive data regarding egg quality, but are interested to capture a sample as a reference point for future consideration. In year two, data will be reviewed and incorporated into the pathogen assessment. A comparison of nutritional values against indexed USDA values for caged hens will be produced in year two as well.       Objective 4: Assess poultry housing for Salmonella enteritidis.       Objective 4 Methods: During the sampling period, the chicken coop will be drag-swabbed using the recommended FDA environmental sampling technique twice. Additionally, two other operations feeding food scraps will be sampled four times as a reference point. Specifically, we will purchase pre-sterilized swabs and moisten the swabs with canned evaporated milk, canned skim (fat-free) evaporated milk, or canned low-fat evaporated milk prior to sampling. FDA recommends wearing sterile gloves when handling and moistening the swabs.  The top of the can of milk as well as the can opener will be sterilized with 70% ethanol before opening the can, and caution will be taken to deter flies from contaminating the milk.  After sampling, each swab will be placed in its own individual sample bag and approximately 15 ml of the same media used for moistening the swab will be added to the bag to keep the swab moist during transport. One swab equals one sample; samples will not be pooled. Two swabs will be drug through the coop on drag swab poles, one for each half of the coop. (Methods annotated from FDA recommendations).       Two samples will be submitted from our farm per sampling period (8 samples total/ year) for Salmonella testing during year one. A total of eight swab samples from other poultry farms feeding food scraps will be submitted in year one.       Objective 5: Assess economics of food scraps as poultry feed and monitor egg production.       Objective 5 Methods: Collect all labor, supplies, materials, travel expenses, and income for operating food scrap collection program and managing food scraps on the farm as feed, including composting, during year one. Additionally, collect egg production data for year one and two. Gather relevant local cost/ input data for grain-fed operations. Conduct cost analysis in year two.       Objective 6: Produce ration recommendations and Best Management Practices for optimizing use of food scraps as poultry feed, and mitigating pathogen risks, and disseminate information. Twenty growers will attend the field day.       Objective 6 Methods: Use pathogen and nutrient testing results to develop feeding and pathogen management recommendations in year two. Have partners and growers review recommendations. Highfields will produce ‘Producer Profile’, systems overview and BMP manual, and host farmer field day and tour of multiple food scrap feeding operations.

    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.