WSARE Grant 2015

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In 2015, Berggren Demonstration Farm (now Phoenix Farm Enterprises) received a grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) to implement a cost‐comparison study between raising Cornish cross broiler chickens on locally sourced, GMO‐free feed versus conventional feed. Through this study we were hoping to answer the following:

1. Given a standardized ration and environmental conditions, what is the input cost comparison between GMO‐free and conventional feed to raise Cornish cross broilers?
2. Given a standardized hatch to slaughter timeline (seven weeks), how does the dressed weight compare between these treatment groups?
3. Are consumers willing to pay more at a farmer’s market for chickens raised on GMO‐free feed?

This research project started because our customers began requesting GMO‐free poultry products. We hope this research will help our farm‐ and other local poultry producers‐ evaluate the viability of raising poultry with GMO‐free feed. We will share results from this project by the fall of 2015.

For those who have a research topic in mind and are interested in applying for funding from WSARE, here is a link to our application: Berggren WSARE application.

Summary Western Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education (WSARE)

Farmer and Rancher Grant FW15-054  started by Berggren Demonstration Farm,

concluded by Phoenix Farm Enterprises, Inc.

Summary submitted by Angela Andre, Farm Director angela@interact-nature.com

Introduction:

For the 2015 growing season Berggren Demonstration Farm (now Phoenix Farm Enterprises, Inc) received a WSARE Farmer and Rancher Grant to investigate to production and economic differences of pasture raising Cornish Cross fryers using Conventional feed or GMO Free feed. In the grant we said we would run three batches of matching side by side trials of 50 birds, 25 birds on each side. In the end we decided to run four trials of 150 birds with 75 birds in each side. Due to problems with the two of the trials we are reporting of the results of two of the trials, # 1 and #3, with discussion of all of the trials. We also tracked sales of the birds to see if there was consumer preference and if the higher cost of production could be offset by a higher price per pound.

 

Summary:

We proposed to implement a cost-comparison study between pasture raising Cornish Cross broiler chickens on locally sourced, GMO-free feed versus conventional feed. The three related questions we addressed are:

 

  1. Given a standardized ration and environmental conditions, what is the input cost comparison between GMO-free and conventional feed to pasture raise Cornish cross broilers?
  2. Given a standardized hatch to slaughter timeline (seven weeks), how does the dressed weight compare between these treatment groups?
  3. Are consumers willing to pay more at a farmer’s market for chickens raised on GMO-free feed?

 

Methods:

o   To see our methods go to our video posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8mDjaw7psw&feature=youtu.be

o   We ran four sets of side by side trials of 150 Cornish Cross chickens divided into two sides of 75 chickens each.

o   Chicks were purchased from Jenks Hatchery in Tangent http://www.jenkshatchery.com/ and picked up at the hatchery, the day of hatch. Chicks were set up in our brooder house with identical set ups of feeders and waters and heat lamps. Chicks were given electrolytes in the water for first two days.

o   GMO Free chicks were fed feed from Union Point Custom Feeds http://unionpoint.com/ starting with one 50 lb sack of chick starter after that they were fed fryer ration pellets.

o   Conventional fed birds were fed Payback Fryer Ration http://www.paybacknutrition.com/poultry.html    purchased from Pleasant Hill Feed.  Started with one sack of crumbles and then fed pellets.

o   Both feeds were bought at the one ton discounted rate 559.50 for Payback fryer ration 960.00 for Union Point GMO Free fryer ration.

o   Chickens were fed free choice with feeders being filled twice a day. Once chickens reached 3 weeks, feeders were removed at night to prevent overeating.

o   We stored feed in separate metal trash cans with cards taped inside lids to track numbers of sacks and any mortalities, feed cans moved with birds from brooder house to chick shacks to field.  Cards were collected and tallied when birds went to processor.

o   Birds spent two weeks in the brooder house, two weeks in the chick shacks, and three weeks on pasture in electronet fencing paddocks, appox. 5625 sq.ft., with mobile shade structures, the paddocks are moved once a week.  (brooder and chick shacks have access to fenced outdoor areas)

o   On the day of processing, chickens were loaded into crates marked GMO free or conventional to enable separation and tabulation at Mineral Springs Poultry Processing http://www.mineralspringspoultry.com/

o   To tally the weights we divided weights into .5 lb increments e.g.  2.5-3lbs 3-3.5lbs and marked how many of each from each group. Weights did not include livers or hearts.

Final Conclusions

Growth of Birds:

Combining the results of Batch #1 and Batch #3:

Feed consumption: GMO Free average 8.85 lbs per bird / Conventional 10.9 lbs per bird

Dressed Weight: The difference in dressed weight of the birds was 3.4 avg. for GMO Free vs. 3.66 for Conventional (I feel that part of difference in dressed weights can be contributed to the fact that once there were fewer birds in the Conventional group due to mortalities, there was more room at the feeder.  In addition, I feel that GMO free feed was probably more nutritionally dense, causing the birds to feel “full” so that they didn’t eat as much.  This was indicated by the feeding behaviors we noted in the Behavior section.)

Feed to Meat Ratio: GMO Free average 2.58/1    Conventional 2.98/1

Mortality rate: for GMO free 2% and 6.5% for Conventional fed birds (Mortality rate was much higher for Conventional birds in results from batch 4)

Cost Difference: The average increased cost for the GMO free birds was $1.40 per bird or .41 cents per pound.

Pricing of Birds:

  1. Price for the Conventional birds was $3.50 lb wholesale (orders of 10+ birds) retail for $4.00 lb.
  2. Price for GMO free birds was $4.00 lb wholesale (orders of 10+ birds) retail for $4.50 lb.
  3. Average price per bird for Conventional  wholesale $12.25 retail  $14.00 (using batch# 2 figures)
  4. Average price per bird for GMO Free birds wholesale $12.60 retail  $14.17 (using batch# 2 figures)
  5. We increased the cost of the GMO free birds by .50 a pound, and found that most consumer direct customers had no problem paying the extra amount.

Consumer Choice:

  1. Our CSA members received GMO free birds, because that is what they wanted.
  2. We sold slightly more conventional birds through Lane Local Foods, I feel this is because the additional 30% markup made the GMO Free birds considerably more expensive.
  3. At the Springfield Farmers’ Market more customers purchased the GMO Free birds.
  4. Restaurants choose the less expensive conventional birds, they also wanted smaller sized birds.
  5. Direct from the Farm market, overwhelmingly choose GMO Free birds, they also wanted the bigger birds.
  6. Food buyers’ club chose GMO free birds.

Impacts:

After doing this research we have decided that for the next growing season we will only use the Union Point GMO Free feed for our meat chickens.  We are hoping that with increased demand for this feed more local grain and forage farmers will start growing the components necessary to make the feed, lowering the input costs for Union Point and hopefully that savings gets passed onto poultry farmers.  In addition, next season Phoenix Farm Enterprises, Inc. will be doing a trial planting of feed peas, with the goal of providing most of the components for a custom feed for the farm.

Thank you

            Jared Pruch, Project Director/Grant Writer Cascade Pacific RC&D

Katy Giombolini, Outreach Coordinator Berggren Demonstration Farm

Dr. James Hermes, OSU Poultry Specialist, Technical Advisor

Kristi Jensen, WSARE