North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Examining the Cheapest Way to Produce the Best Egg
Comparing How Different Supplemental Feeds Affect the Cost and Nutrient Density of Eggs from Heritage and Hybrid Pastured Hens
Singing Prairie Farm, owned by John and Holly Arbuckle, is on 50 acres in northeast Missouri. They raise beef cows, free range pigs, turkeys, fryer chickens, and laying hens. Although the operation is not certified organic, it offers the animals organic and/or non-GMO feed and follows organic standards. The Arbuckles sell their meat on farm and wholesale their eggs to grocery stores and restaurants in the area.
Arbuckle’s experiment compared the cost effectiveness and nutrient density of formulated organic rations to sprouted wheat rations for supplemental feed. Sprouted wheat rations are less expensive than organic rations and are widely available. Also, some believe sprouting wheat increases protein content and releases vital nutrients and beneficial enzymes.
Arbuckle used four sample groups, with 50 chickens per group. The chickens were placed in portable pens on pasture. One group was Red Sex Link hens supplemented with formulated organic rations; a second group was Red Sex Link hens supplemented with sprouted wheat; a third group was Rhode Island Red hens fed organic rations; and the fourth was Rhode Island Red hens fed sprouted wheat rations.
Samples from each group were sent to a lab after four months for testing for protein, fatty acid profile, and a number of vitamins. In addition to quality, a statistician analyzed the cost-effectiveness of each group’s output.
For the first five weeks, the wheat-fed chickens were the most profitable, laying 24 percent fewer eggs but costing 55 percent less in feed. A period of intense heat and drought — not good for chickens — had an impact the rest of the summer, reducing production significantly. During the better weather, group two (the hybrids fed wheat rations) were the most cost effective; that held true, too, during the intense heat and drought, though the difference was negligible since they produced so few eggs.
“When there was a daytime high of 85 degrees or less and precipitation of 1 in. or more each week, all populations were able to lay acceptably well,” said Arbuckle. “During that time, purchasing a balanced ration was not necessary. We found out that our type of rolling cow pasture was capable of producing enough of what the wheat was lacking to allow competitive egg production.”
View John's presentation at the 2012 Farmers Forum through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit www.youtube.com/NCRSAREvideo for this and other videos.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC12-844, The Cheapest Way to Produce the Best Egg: Comparing How Different Supplemental Feeds Affect the Cost and Nutrient Density of Eggs from Heritage and Hybrid Pastured Hens.
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Project products are developed as part of SARE grants. They are made available with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within project products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.