Poultry sludge is sometimes turned into fertilizer, but recent trends in industrialized chicken farming have led to an increase in waste mismanagement and negative environmental impacts, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Droppings can contain nutrients, hormones, antibiotics and heavy metals and can wash into the soil and surface water. To deal with this problem, scientists have been working on ways to convert the waste into fuel. But alone, poultry droppings don’t transform well into biogas, so it’s mixed with plant materials such as switch grass.
Samuel O. Dahunsi, Solomon U. Oranusi and colleagues wanted to see if they could combine the chicken waste with Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower), which was introduced to Africa as an ornamental plant decades ago and has become a major weed threatening agricultural production on the continent.
The researchers developed a process to pre-treat chicken droppings, and then have anaerobic microbes digest the waste and Mexican sunflowers together. Eight kilograms of poultry waste and sunflowers produced more than 3 kg of biogas — more than enough fuel to drive the reaction and have some leftover for other uses such as powering a generator. Also, the researchers say that the residual solids from the process could be applied as fertilizer or soil conditioner.
The authors acknowledge funding from Landmark University (Nigeria).
It has long been known that the yeasty broth left over after bioethanol production is nutritious, but it has taken a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and AB Agri, the agricultural division of Associated British Foods, to prove that Yeast Protein Concentrate (YPC) can be separated from the fibrous cereal matter.
The researchers have also shown that YPC may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soya-based and similar high-value protein feeds currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production.
The project was born out of the vision of biofuels pioneer Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, who was convinced valuable material was being overlooked when cereals were fermented to make bioethanol.
With Dr. Emily Burton of Nottingham Trent University, he was able to secure funding from the EPSRC for a CASE (Cooperation Awards in Science and Engineering) studentship that allowed them to develop and analyse the process.
To establish the nutritional value of the concentrate, EPSRC CASE student Dawn Scholey examined the composition of the newly isolated, patented YPC in a series of experiments, which showed that it can be readily digested by chickens. A paper outlining this research is published in this month's issue of the journal 'Food and Energy Security' (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fes3.30/abstract.)
Project supervisor, Burton says the work is only just beginning: "Bioethanol is already a 60-billion-litre per year global market but this project shows the fuel itself is only half the story – immense value lies within other co-product streams too. As well as the proteins, the yeast content provides important vitamins and other micronutrients."
Produced by distilling and fermenting wheat and other agricultural feedstocks, bioethanol has particular potential for use as a petrol substitute. Currently, the dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) generated as a co-product are sold to the cattle-feed market but this is not big enough to absorb all material that would be generated if bioethanol production ramps up significantly in future.
Burton believes the project helps address an issue often raised in connection with cereal-based biofuels: "One concern with bioethanol is the perception it will compete with food crops for limited farmland. Our new work shows how the two can live side by side."
The new, patented process separates DDGS into three fractions – fibre, a watery syrup and YPC, allowing global production of almost 3 million tonnes of supplementary high-quality protein per annum alongside current levels of bioethanol produced. A project at a US bioethanol facility is now up and running, demonstrating the performance of the process at factory scale.
Every year, 800 million chickens are reared for meat production in the UK and 48 billion worldwide. As well as helping to feed these birds, YPC could partially replace the fish meal used on commercial fish farms.
Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, the industrial sponsor of the work, says: "We couldn't have got this development started without the EPSRC CASE studentship that allowed us to establish the proof of concept, and to confirm the value-creation potential of our innovative separation process. By helping us to move to the next key stage of development, it has brought closer the prospect of full-scale industrial use that could deliver major benefits to the emerging 'green' fuel sector."
Oct. 12, 2012. Dunboyne, Ireland - Speaking in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Alltech vice president Aidan Connolly presented the results of the 2011 Alltech Feed Tonnage Survey along with results from previous surveys, showing a steady increase in feed production year on year.
The 2011 survey, covering 128 countries, put the total feed at 873 million tonnes. The 2012 survey, due to be published soon and covering more than 130 countries, is expected to show a further increase. For 2013, however, Connolly, presenting at the IFIF-FAO joint meeting, predicted a contraction in the region of 3 – 5%, driven by the following three factors:
- Continued global recession affecting protein consumption.
- The conversion of large amounts of feed stocks and materials into biofuels.
- Reduced feed supply due to a global drought, specifically in the US.
In addition, a mycotoxin survey, also carried out by Alltech, indicates that the surviving US harvest will be highly contaminated with up to 37 different mycotoxins, due to crop vulnerability from adverse weather conditions. The resulting percentage contraction in feed production will then be determined by the ability of integrated food producers, farmers and food companies to pass on the increased feed material cost to consumers without any loss in overall consumption levels.
“We are facing a completely new era for the agriculture industry where, for the first time in history, feed production for 2013 will be lower than for 2012, and it is clear that efficiency in converting feed into food will be more critical to food companies than ever,” said Connolly.
Small-scale organic poultry farming has been happening in Canada for some years now, but on a large scale, organic has been slow to get going.
Some of the reasons are obvious. It takes a large investment to go organic, and most poultry farmers don’t have an interest in that. It costs a lot of money to build new barns or retrofit existing barns to provide things like more room per bird (21 kg per m3) and access to the outside. (Because of this, organic poultry barns can’t be located on a migratory bird pathway where wild bird population numbers are higher at times of migration than elsewhere.) The barns must also feature the use of natural light and ventilation, which Yorkshire Valley Farms of Peterborough, Ont., accomplishes with screen panelling along the sides of the building. “When the inside barn temperature builds up, our natural ventilation systems kick in,” says Nick Ahrens, a Yorkshire producer. Production started only last November, so Nick and Yorkshire co-owner Tony Ambler are only now finding out how the extra room and natural ventilation will affect how their flocks fare during their first summer.
Large-scale organic poultry production has also been slow in coming because trying something new is a gamble that involves a lot of leg-work and learning. “We took enormous risk,” notes Ambler. “We had to find out about slaughtering, feed, transport, certification and more. We visited U.S. facilities on our own.” The eventual outcome was to have Yorkshire Valley Farms interconnected. The operation is one big cycle – one that’s economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, says Ambler. Yorkshire Valley co-owner Tom Ahrens, along with son Nick, grows components of the feed (soybean, wheat, corn and spelt), to which Jones Feed Mill (see sidebar) adds other organic ingredients at its Heidelberg facility to make feed. Ambler says it takes 2,000 acres of organic feed for their 60,000 quota units. Spelt straw from Tom’s fields is used as litter in the barns, and afterwards is composted and returned to the fields.
Yorkshire Valley lists another reason they think no one has come before them in the commercial organic poultry market. “Generally speaking, Ontario has not been as quick to embrace organic production as other jurisdictions,” says co-owner Ian Anderson. “OMAFRA programs have tended to focus on smaller organic operations. Going forward, we are hoping to see OMAFRA set out a vision for organic agriculture for Ontario and back it with targets and programs that engage large and small producers alike.”
OMAFRA Organic Crop Production Program lead Hugh Martin says OMAFRA has provided informational support for organic farmers large and small for 25 years, and organic companies of any size can access OMAFRA grants of up to $100,000 per approved project (up to 50 per cent of the project’s eligible cost) through the Ontario Marketing Investment Fund (part of the Foodland Ontario program). “Several larger companies such as Harmony Dairy, Organic Meadow, Sunshine Pickles and Mapleton Ice Cream have accessed this fund,” he says. “Organic companies can now also apply to use the Foodland Ontario Organic logo.”
With regard to other financial assistance for organic start-up companies of any size, Martin says there is a myriad of OMAFRA funding opportunities. However, very few of them are organic-specific, so organic farming businesses have to compete with those who use conventional agriculture. Yorkshire Valley did recently receive $105,000 from the Ontario government under Rural Economic Development, which will be used for added packaging equipment in order to double production.
Yorkshire Valley also believes Chicken Farmers of Ontario should look at organic poultry more strategically. “CFO always met with us, but only observed what we were doing to try to get the business moving,” says Ambler. “Up until Yorkshire Valley got rolling, people could go into their grocery store and buy organic eggs, milk, meat and other products, but couldn’t buy organic chicken. That is not good for the poultry industry in our view.”
When CFO was asked a number of questions related to degree of support for organic poultry production, CFO’s director of policy and industry relations, Chris Horbasz, responded, “As a regulator, it is CFO’s role to ensure that its policies and regulations facilitate the production and marketing of any and all types of chicken but it is not CFO’s role to promote or favour any type of chicken product or market over another. CFO is supportive of all types of regulated chicken farming as we are committed to serving the market and to meeting processor and consumer demand and we work with the industry – farmers, processors and others – to ensure that we can meet that demand. . . . We will continue to assess consumer and industry trends and work with our processors and government regulators to assess the information that is available and support farmers by responding to these market needs as they arise.” Horbasz wouldn’t clarify what he meant by support of farmers.
In addition to its current retail lineup, Yorkshire Valley will be adding ground chicken and, potentially, marinated products in the near future. They are also adding organic turkey to the lineup for Thanksgiving, produced by Tim deWit in southern Ontario. “I’ve been growing antibiotic-free turkeys and I’m very comfortable growing turkeys without the use of antibiotics, but was waiting for an opportunity to sell birds on a larger scale,” he says. “There is a strong demand for it but the Ontario market is currently not being supplied.” DeWit says the organic regulations provided by the Turkey Farmers of Ontario specify a flock size limit of 30,000 kilograms (presumably to better contain a disease outbreak). Avian influenza testing on organic turkey flocks is also required one week before they are shipped, which is not required with organic chicken. DeWit gives a coccidiosis vaccine on Day 1.
Even with the challenges of taking the risks alone, and figuring out at each step how to proceed, the co-owners and suppliers of Yorkshire Valley are glad they’ve taken this journey. “We’ve learned – and continue to learn – how to best keep our birds healthy and happy under organic guidelines and that knowledge belongs to us,” says Nick. “Our feed conversion and barn mortality rates are similar to conventional operations, but our ‘condemns’ at the processing plant are lower.”
Although Yorkshire Valley will not comment on profit differences between conventional and organic production, volume is obviously important and the store price has to cover costs. Yorkshire Valley boneless breasts cost about 20 per cent at retail more than conventional counterparts. “The price is competitive for the product quality,” Nick notes. “There is less fat on our birds, the flesh is firmer, and of course, we think the taste is superior.”
|Making Organic Feed
Seven years ago, Linwood, Ont.-based Jones Feed Mills Ltd. had its Heidelberg, Ont., facility certified to produce organic poultry and hog feed. The company’s entry into manufacturing organic feed was driven by customer demand, says Mike Edwards, head of Jones’ Nutritional Services. “We buy as much organic product as we can locally, but there are times we have to look further in order to physically obtain ingredients,” he notes. “It changes from year to year.” He notes that a few years ago, the organic dairy industry in the United States was going so strong that it made corn almost impossible to find.
Edwards says there are lots of small producers buying Jones’ organic poultry feed directly, and that Jones also sells wholesale bagged organic feeds to many feed dealers in Ontario.
“The growth of the organic meat trade . . . provides another option for organic grain producers to market their crop and provides opportunity for young producers to succeed,” he observes. “Like other sectors of the feed industry, organic is a competitive market with several players and several others looking at getting into it, but that is the business we are in and we are committed to it.”
March 15, 2010, Champaign, IL – “We use everything but the cackle” is an old adage that nicely captures the poultry industry’s approach to the efficient use of byproducts. That same attitude, according to the Poultry Science Association (PSA), is helping to drive recent work in converting recovered fat from poultry wastewater streams into an economically viable alternative fuel source for processors.
Participating in the effort is Dr. Brian Kiepper, Ph.D., an assistant professor and extension poultry scientist in the University of Georgia’s departments of poultry science and biological and agricultural engineering.
“Our focus has been on isolating fat from wastewater broiler processing facilities and then seeking the means to provide the integrator with the option of using the recovered fat, on-site, in whatever way yields the highest value,” said Dr. Kiepper.
One of those options is to use the recovered fat as a biofuel.
Waste fat, oil and grease (FOG) are major components of many food-processing wastewater streams, including poultry production. According to Dr. Kiepper, recaptured fat can be purified and then burned to heat water in a processing plant’s boilers. It can also be used to make biodiesel – an attractive option to have available, particularly when petroleum-based fuel prices are high.
Such uses can be very attractive economically for the processor, particularly when compared to the traditional means of disposing of offal by selling it to rendering facilities at approximately $0.03/lb, a rate which values the fat at $0.22/gal. By comparison, once purified, fat recaptured from food processing wastewater can be used instead of fuel oil, which is currently priced at around $2.00/gal, to fire a plant’s boilers. Dr. Kiepper estimates that recovering only 10% (a conservative number) of the 44.6 million gallons of fat produced in the state of Georgia each year by this method would result in an estimated annual savings of nearly $9 million on fuel-oil purchases.
Best Sources for FOG Extraction in a Processing Facility
In a recent study led by Dr. Kiepper, he and fellow researchers evaluated five poultry waste streams as potential sources of alternative fuel: float fat after primary screens, secondary screen offal, tertiary screen offal, chemical and non-chemical DAF (dissolved air flotation) skimmings. Of the five, float fat and secondary screen offal were shown to have the greatest potential for further refinement and use as biofuel, given their relative ease of extraction and recovery efficiency.
Because secondary screen offal is already collected and (often inefficiently) belt- or screw-conveyed to offal trucks, modifying the collection system to divert the offal to a FOG extraction-and-purification system should, according to the researchers, be readily feasible. On the other hand, because float fat is harder to collect because of its tendency to gather in equalization pits and transfer troughs, accommodating float-fat collection for alternative fuels processing would likely require new systems to be installed in most facilities.
“Our ultimate goal,” said Dr. Kiepper, “is to develop a self-contained, low-temperature fat extraction and purification system that can be installed on-site at food processing plants to produce, in an economically feasible way, a usable quantity of fuel-quality fat for processors. This will generate greater benefits for processors by recovering more of the valuable byproducts generated during processing that are now lost in the wastewater stream. It also has the potential to create a very green loop in the processing environment, with fat gathered from birds processed in the morning possibly being used to heat the plant’s boilers during processing that same afternoon.”
Said PSA President Dr. Sally Noll: “Dr. Kiepper’s work may help an already efficient industry do an even better job of lowering processing costs by creating new value-added products from the existing byproducts stream.”
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