Effective use of food scraps as poultry feed
In general, small egg operations (less than 5,000 birds) are economically challenging 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. Communities everywhere generate substantial volumes of discarded food and other food processing byproducts that may be cost-effective alternative feed sources, and these materials, when integrated into a composting system, may yield additional benefits.
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 we are interested to clarify any concerns with the transmission of salmonella. This project is assessing the opportunities and risks associated with feeding food scraps to laying hens. Specifically, we are assessing 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). We are operating a split flock with 55 birds in each group. Group One is fed only a food scrap-based compost mix, while Group Two is fed strictly Organic Grain. Both groups have year round access to pasture and Ferrell’s Poultry Mineral Mix. Food scraps are thoroughly sampled with a rigorous sub-sampling process, and tested for nutrient composition and Salmonella Entridis. Eggs have been tested for Salmonella Entridis and we are waiting on nutritional testing. Egg production and production costs (including labor) are tracked by group. Dr. Michael Darre, UCONN Poultry Specialist, is developing feed ration recommendations and Dr. Jarra Jagne, Cornell Poultry Pathologist, is helping us assess the pathogen risk and develop pathogen management protocols that can be used on our farm and others to ensure healthy birds and consumers.
In the second year of the project we pivoted our attention from testing incoming food scraps for nutritional value to evaluating egg quality. During year one it became obvious that our sampling techniques could not replicate the foraging habits of the hens on the compost. In year two we began tracking egg weight and conformation, egg nutrition, and yoke color.
During year one we focused on food scrap nutritional and pathogen sampling and testing, and egg and pathogen testing, and cost tracking. During this time we scaled our collection operations and flock up. With the exception of January and February 2015 we collected good data over the year and completed sampling and analysis in the fall of 2015, the beginning of our second year. In the spring of 2015 we shifted from attempting to develop a food scrap-based ration informed by food scrap sampling, however despite a thorough sampling process we were unable to replicate hen foraging habits in our sampling methodology. Since our ration calculations determined that the hens’ could not lay productively on a diet containing more than 5-7% food scraps while our laying rate for the food scrap group was within 5% of the grain group, we decided to evaluate the outcomes of the food scrap feeding model against grain-fed hens instead. In 2015 we collected data on egg weights, egg deformities, yoke color, and egg nutrition. In October 2015 we hosted a farmer field day at our farm and then brought the group to Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, VT. Sixteen people attended the workshop.
- Implemented, tracked and observed practice for over 12 months. Improved infrastructure and management practices.
- Production and operational cost data collected for 12 months.
- Technical Advisor site visit completed.
- Food Scrap Testing – all but one sampling period complete. Overall nutritional value established. No Salmonella Entridis risk established.
- Egg testing – all but one sampling period complete. No Salmonella Entridis found. Egg nutrition similar in grain and compost fed group but with differences worth exploring.
- Environmental Testing – completed on two farms. Third participating farm stopped practice during project. No Salmonella Entridis found.
- Education and Outreach efforts initiated. Hosted field day with 16 participants.
- Best Management Practice recommendations in draft form.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- Pathogens – at the outset of this project it was established that Salmonella Entridis was the food-born pathogen of greatest concern to animal and human health associated with this practice. This project has taken a thorough look at Salmonella Entridis risk and established that the risk is low. No Salmonella Entridis was found during food scrap, egg or environmental sampling on our farm or the other participating farm.
- Egg Quality – Egg nutrition similar in grain and compost fed group, however there were some distinct differences than surprised us and require further inquiry, including high trans-fats in compost group and lower Omega 3 in the same group. Additionally, the compost group’s eggs were roughly 4% lighter. Yoke color on the DSM color scale (1-15 lightest to darkest) was typically 13 for the compost fed eggs and between 5 and 7 for the grain fed eggs.
- Management Practices – We have collected good observational feedback on the management of this system and will have good recommendations to offer other growers.
- Ultimately this project will conclude that feeding food scraps to laying hens in a composting system is a viable practice with many potential benefits to be further explored, however there are practical challenges to this system that require further evaluation.