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Waste-Based Chicken Feed Reduces Pollution, Waste, and Feed Costs

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About a third of all food in the world is thrown in the trash or wasted.

The US wastes about a trillion dollars worth of food, or 119 billion tons of food annually.

And about 6 to 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions directly result from this wasted food.

While six to eight per cent may not seem like a lot, it’s the equivalent of 32.6 million cars worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Feeding chickens is also a tremendous use of resources and land.

But thanks to the researchers at Australia’s University of New England, there may be a solution to all these significant issues.

The Solution: Waste-Based Chicken Feed

Recycling otherwise wasted food is the answer.

I understand that tossing kitchen scraps is not a revolutionary idea. It’s what our grandparents, great-grandparents, and nearly every generation that came before them did.

But it was always a simple matter of walking these leftovers out to the backyard.

It was seldom accomplished on such a large, commercial scale as what’s about to happen within the next five years all across the globe.

And this is why this breakthrough is such big news, and truly a welcome solution.

Ending food insecurity for people is still a hot-button issue that I believe we’ll fix in the future—but for now, I’m beyond excited to see this new chicken feed solution be used to reduce waste and greenhouse gases.

food waste to be turned into chicken feed

A Quick Overview to the Waste-Based Chicken Feed

Researchers recycled discarded food scraps from community organizations, breweries, and nursing homes, then processed and ground the food into powder.

This powder was then fed to twenty-four to forty-three-week-old laying hens.

They carefully monitored these hens and their eggs and found that both did not experience any changes, complications, or quality.

The hens stayed in good health and seemed to like their food.

Beyond this, we know that making chicken feed from wasted human food meets the chickens’ nutritional needs. It also meets hygiene and chemical safety standards.

If you want to learn more of the fascinating nitty-gritty details of this research, read on.

The Research 

Food Recycle Ltd. and Poultry Hub collaborated with University of New England, Australia for this program and research.

The study was implemented in Armidale, New South Wales at the UNE Laureldale Cage Layer Facility.

They used 150 Hy-line Brown hens (we call them ISA Browns in the US), age 15 weeks, purchased from a commercial laying hen farm in Tamworth, New South Wales.

These hens were split into three groups and fed three different diets.

At the start of this study, all three groups weighed the same, with a variance of less than 0.05.

Diet Change Acclimations

They gave 50 hens a standard diet that was based on soybean meal, sorghum, and wheat.

50 hens ate a recycled food waste based-feed.

Then the other 50 hens ate a 50:50 blend of the standard diet and recycled food waste based-feed.

But first, the researchers slowly acclimated the waste-based feed group and 50:50 group to their new diets.

Weeks 15 to 23

From 15 to 23 weeks old, they were provided with a pre-lay diet containing 2,800 kcal ME/kg, 16.7% crude protein, 2.6% calcium, and 0.48% available phosphorus.

Following this, from 19 to 22 weeks of age, they were switched to a commercial layer diet with specifications of 2,750 kcal ME/kg, 16.5% crude protein, 3.6% calcium, and 0.4% available phosphorus.

This diet was sourced from Barastoc Premium Top Layer Mash by Ridley Corporation Ltd. in Melbourne, Australia.

All the diets given to the hens had enough nutrients according to what Hy-Line Brown hens need (2,700 kcal ME/kg, 14.0% crude protein, 4.0% calcium, 0.4% available phosphorus) during their egg-laying phase, as suggested by Hy-Line Brown’s recommendations.

Weeks 24 to 37 

The diets were in the form of a mixture and were given at two times—from 24 to 37 weeks and then from 38 to 43 weeks.

Before making the diets, the ingredients were checked for things like size and nutrients like dry matter, energy, protein, amino acids, fat, fiber, and minerals using standard methods.

How the Waste-Based Feed Was Made

To make the standard feed, things like wheat, sorghum, soybean meal, canola meal, and meat and bone meal were used.

Information about their energy and amino acids was measured using near-infra-red reflectance spectroscopy.

For the waste-based feed, its energy and amino acids were estimated to be about 65% of what was needed, based on earlier studies.

After sorting and processing, the food waste was turned into a powder that could be fed to the hens. This powder was then mixed with other things to make the feed.

To ensure the food waste was safe, it was heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius) for 30 minutes to kill harmful microorganisms.

Some extra things like specific amino acids, enzymes, pigments, and vitamins were added to all the diets.

The details of what was in each diet can be found in Tables 3, 4, 5, and 6 of their study.

The tests done on the diets (shown in Tables 4, 5, and 6 in their study) proved that the mixed diets had all the necessary nutrients that Hy-Line Brown hens need, as recommended for this breed.

This met the main goal of the study, even though the food waste-based diets had some differences in nutrients compared to the regular diets.

The food waste had high levels of sodium, phosphorus, and fat, which were reduced as much as possible in the diets.

However, it wasn’t possible to make 100% food waste-based diets with the exact same nutrients as the standard diets.

The study aimed to see how the hens would do on diets made entirely from food waste.

Other studies have also found that food waste-based diets might have more protein and fat than regular diets.

powdered chicken feed

The Takeaways from This Study

The hens on the waste-based feed laid eggs that weighed the same as the control groups. They also laid the same number of eggs, and the eggs were the same size.

And here’s the remarkable part—the hens also ate less while being more efficient with their food than the control group hens.

These hens also produced eggs that had stronger shells, thicker shells, and better egg yolk color. They also had higher fat digestibility. 

Not only did the waste-based feed do as well as the standard feed, it actually performed better in every single aspect.

All experimental procedures in this research study were approved by the University of New England Animal Ethics Committee (AEC20-042).

It was also performed in accordance and full compliance with the approved guidelines and regulations.

It also followed the recommendations in the Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments or ARRIVE guidelines.

What’s In A Waste-Based Feed?

Processed food waste is typically composed of fish offal, meat, bone meal, spent brewers grain, and spent brewers grain blend.

It comes from bakeries, breweries, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, pubs, restaurants, fish processing facilities, slaughterhouses, and fruit and vegetable markets.

Benefits of Using Recycled Chicken Feed

It Saves Immeasurable Amounts of Work, Money, and Reduces the Carbon Footprint

Feeding recycled chicken feed does more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It also stops the efforts that went into creating that feed from being wasted.

Food must be seeded, raised, harvested, hauled, processed, packaged, hauled, stocked on shelves, and then transported to the home or business. Even more steps are involved when meat is wasted.

When food is tossed out, so are all these enormous efforts to get it to the consumer. Being able to find a purpose for it eases this burden.

It Reduces Poultry-Related Greenhouse Gases 

Using food waste to make poultry feed is anticipated to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions during chicken meat production by about 35% and 25%, respectively.

Similarly, for egg production, these methods are expected to result in a reduction of approximately 75% in carbon emissions and 76% in greenhouse gas emissions.

It Means Chicken Feed Can Be Locally Sourced

When chicken feed is made from scraps and food waste, it can easily be created within the same town, if not the same neighborhood, as the chicken farm.

There are restaurants, bars, schools, prisons, breweries, hospitals, and nursing homes all across America and Australia, so there will not be a shortage of waste to convert into chicken feed.

Locally-sourced feed further shrinks the carbon footprint associated with poultry production.

And this is a feat that is nearly impossible with standard chicken feed types.

Reduced Chicken Feed Costs

This article that covered research by Phys.org shows that nearly two-thirds, or 65% of Australian, poultry production costs come directly from feed.

The study showed that waste-based feeds would cut costs in half, if not more.

This is a massive savings that can help struggling farms and consumers at the grocery store.

So What’s Next With This New Waste-Based Chicken Feed?

Producers also have the option to start distributing this feed to pig farms and fisheries.

This study predicts that waste-based feed will soon be available in at least twenty countries worldwide.

Norm Boyle, Chief Executive Officer of Food Recycle Ltd., says, “We anticipate that within five years, recycled food waste feed will be the go-to solution globally for the poultry, pig, and aquaculture industries.”

Are Some Places Already Using Waste-Based Chicken Feed?

While this concept is new to many countries, using food waste based-feed has been an ongoing practice for many years and is supported by local governments in Japan and South Korea.

It is estimated that approximately 40% and 46% of mixed food waste are recycled as livestock and poultry feed respectively in these countries.

Others, including Taiwan and the US, have already used processed food waste as animal feed.

How The US Does Waste-Based Feed

There’s a new startup company in the US called Mill, based in San Bruno, California, which launched in January 2023.

The startup operates as a combination of a hardware startup and a subscription service. It turns household food waste into chicken feed.

Customers receive a bin designed for their kitchen scraps. This bin, requiring an electrical outlet connection, dehydrates and processes food scraps into a substance similar to ground coffee.

Once the bin is full, subscribers can transfer the contents into a prepaid mailing box to return to Mill.

Mill is actively collaborating with regulators to transform the resulting material into an ingredient suitable for chicken feed.

This approach ensures that the material remains within the food cycle rather than ending up in landfills.

Notably, Mill’s bin syncs with a smartphone app, displaying data such as the amount of food diverted from landfills.

Yes, many individuals already compost their kitchen scraps, often using free programs from towns or cities.

But Mill’s process differs from traditional composting since the bin’s contents don’t decompose, which eliminates any compost-like odor.

According to founder and CEO Matt Rogers, “You might wonder, ‘Does it really make sense to mail and process this material, considering emissions?'”

Rogers, who co-founded smart home company Nest, explains, “Actually, it does, even considering factors like manufacturing the bin, processing, and mailing.” 

He highlights that their upcycling efforts save approximately half a ton of emissions per household each year.

Mill’s message to consumers, as highlighted by Rogers, encompasses both a sense of altruism—subscribers feel they are contributing to the fight against climate change—and financial benefits.

I believe it’s fair to assume that most The Happy Chicken Coop readers already have a few backyard hens.

While Mill is a novel idea, it’s probably not something that will apply to you.

Instead, use it as a reminder and inspiration to feed your kitchen scraps to your flock rather than scraping them off into the trash.

It’s good for your hens, the planet, and your wallet.

How Does Food Waste Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions And Global Warming?

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how six to eight percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions directly result from this wasted food.

But how does that happen?

Food waste plays a significant role in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming through several interconnected processes.

Methane Production

When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes in an environment with limited oxygen, leading to the production of methane gas.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a much higher heat-trapping capacity than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a shorter time frame.

This methane release significantly contributes to the greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

Energy and Resources Used

The production, distribution, and disposal of food require significant energy, water, and other resources.

When food is wasted, all the energy and resources invested in its production, transportation, and storage also go to waste.

This wasted energy and resource use indirectly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions associated with the overall food system.

Deforestation and Land Use

The demand for agricultural land to produce food increases due to inefficiencies in the food supply chain.

This can lead to deforestation and the conversion of natural ecosystems into farmland.

Deforestation releases stored carbon from trees and vegetation into the atmosphere as CO2.

Additionally, clearing land for agriculture can disturb the soil and release stored carbon, further contributing to emissions.

Transportation Emissions

Food that is produced but not consumed contributes to unnecessary transportation emissions.

This includes emissions from shipping, trucking, and other forms of transportation used to move food from farms to markets and processing facilities.

When this food is ultimately wasted, these transportation emissions become avoidable contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Excess food production leads to overuse of fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs.

The manufacturing and application of these inputs result in emissions, particularly of nitrous oxide (N2O), another potent greenhouse gas.

Overusing these chemicals also leads to soil degradation and nutrient runoff, further impacting the environment.

To address these issues and mitigate the impact of food waste on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, efforts are needed across the entire food system.

This includes reducing food waste at the consumer level, improving supply chain efficiencies, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, and implementing better waste management strategies to reduce methane emissions from landfills.

Final Thoughts on Waste-Based Chicken Feed

The innovative approach of utilizing food waste as feed for chickens presents both a promising solution and a testament to our evolving understanding of sustainable practices.

This novel concept not only addresses the ecological challenges of food waste disposal but also demonstrates the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gas contributions within the meat and egg production sectors.

It’s a way for households, businesses, companies, and organizations to engage in environmental stewardship while assisting the agricultural industry actively.

By intercepting food waste from entering landfills and repurposing it as a valuable resource within the food cycle, this method aligns with the urgent need to combat climate change and enhance resource efficiency.

As this innovative concept gains traction and support, its success will likely influence a broader shift toward more sustainable practices in poultry and other livestock industries.

The endeavor of transforming waste into nourishment serves as a reminder that seemingly disparate challenges can often be met with ingenious solutions that benefit both the planet and its inhabitants.

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