My wife has her alarm set to play NPR (National Public Radio) in the mornings. A couple days ago, I caught the tail end of an interview with a poultry farmer. I only heard a little but I was curious to hear what I had missed. I pulled up the NPR website and found that they had done poultry articles two days in a row. I try to refrain from political and policy comments in this forum and instead let you all reach your own conclusions. Here are the links to the two articles:
I have had a little trouble with links lately. If they don’t work, please let me know.
I think that the comment section below each article is worth reading also. Both the articles and the comments show that there are still a lot of people that do not understand where their food comes from. There are comments that are more in the ‘you shouldn’t be eating meat anyhow’ line. It gets back to perception is reality. It is up to all of us involved in production agriculture to be agvocates, to spread the word about the good things we do and efforts to make our business greener and more sustainable every day. I was once told that feeding the world is a noble pursuit. I believe it. I hope you do. If you do, convince someone else.
The blog has passed a milestone. Today marked the 2500th view of the blog. These views have come from 54 different countries. Through the blog, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people, growers, producers and farmers from across the United States and Europe. I am very thankful to each of you who have reached out to contact me. Thank you all very much.
Please feel free to email me or leave a comment. Thanks again,
I had a grower call me yesterday with some questions about ammonia levels in his houses. This was only his second flock on this bedding but he was having troubles keeping his ammonia levels where he thought they should be. This reminded me of a study I had finished at the end of the summer. To go to the beginning, I listened to a speaker talk about litter management a few years ago. He was discussing litter manipulation and he was very opposed to tilling. His discussion included the facts and figures his company had collected regarding ammonia and bacteria release due to tilling of litter. I don’t remember what he said that I disagreed so strongly with but something didn’t set right with me. Consequently, I wanted to test what difference tilling made. I brought the Boss in on the discussion. She is a tilling believer (as long as it is managed correctly) so she readily agreed. Our integrator is not thrilled with tilling but they are very open minded about improvements to the industry and agreed to work with us on the project.
We have four broiler houses. We chose to till two of the houses after each flock for one year. We did this August of 2012 to August of 2013. We started with fresh bedding. Each house was placed with a 50/50 mix of rice hulls and kiln dried pine shavings. After each flock, all four houses were decaked. Houses 1 and 4 were then tilled four consecutive days. We did this for five flocks (it was a slow year with a lot of down time between flocks, there should have been six). After the fifth flock, we cleaned out again.
Once the fifth flock was completed, the performance of each house over the five flocks was analyzed. I used JMP to analyze the data. The houses were compared using these variables:
Total Weight Shipped
The statistical analysis results are located here Till stats if you would like to see them.
What I found was not a whole lot. There was no statistical difference between the houses in any of these four areas. It is possible that, if I could collect paw scores or plant condemn information per house, I might be able to find some difference.
I think it is important to keep in mind when looking at stuff like this, that the results were based on the methods. Change the methods and you might change the results. For example, many growers who till only do so once per flock. I did it four times to make sure the litter dried. Control the moisture and you control the ammonia. Some growers till instead of decaking. I chose not to do this because of the moisture in the cake. By removing the cake instead of tilling it, I think I get more moisture out of the house. A grower who did not decake
and only tilled once may have very different results than ours.
Tilling is a little bit of a controversial issue and many folks have an opinion. You just read mine. We don’t till any more just because it apparently make a difference. At least not in the scenario I outlined. It may have some uses in moisture and ammonia management in certain situations.
As always, leave me a note or send me any email with thoughts or questions. Merry Christmas to you all.
I have mentioned the turbo feeders in past posts. We have used them for 7 flocks. Bart, a grower in Holland, asked me about them. I pulled my data together for him and decided to share it here. We use the turbo feeders in place of the chick trays under the feed lines. We also replaced the large, cardboard feeders in the aisles with them. There is a link in front of each section that will take you to a pdf file of the statistical analysis. The statistics were analyzed using JMP. Take a look, see what you think and draw your own conclusions. I would appreciate any feed back.
This picture shows the turbo feeders in use under the feed lines.
I ran a two flock trial testing the two different kinds of feeders. Each flock had two houses of turbo feeders and two houses of chick trays. Between the two flocks, we traded feeders so that each house had one flock with chick trays and one flock with turbo feeders. Here are the results:
7 day gain – Look at the chart on the top of the page. The horizontal green line is the average gain at 7 days. The turbo feeders had an average gain of .285 lbs. The chick trays had an average of .261. In the Summary of Fit section, the first line is Rsquare. This tells you the percentage of the difference between the two variables that is explained by this model. In this case, about 60% is explained and 40% of the difference is caused by something else, for example chick placement weights. On this type of experiment, we would not want to be much lower but that number is acceptable. Down a little farther is analysis of variance. The Prob>F number of 0.0261 means that there is 2.61% chance that this difference would have happened regardless of which type of feeder we used or a 97.39% chance that the difference is due to the difference in feeders.
14 day gain – It starts to get ugly now. The average gains are close, .85 and .827, but turbos are still ahead. The Rsquare is only 25%, so 75% of the difference in the results from the two types of feeders is unexplained. The probability that the difference occurred due to the difference in feeders is down to 20.43%. In most experiments, you need to be under 5% to say that the difference is statistically different. In some, 10 % is fine. Medical tests are 1% or less. It appears that the difference in feeders did not play a big part in gain to 14 days.
14 day fcr – The averages are 1.035 and 1.082, with the turbo feeders having a lower fcr. The rsquare is 39.44 % meaning about 60% of the variation is unexplained. The probability indicates that there is about a 10% chance that the difference is due to something other than the feeders.
We start picking up the supplemental feeders the day before we turn out to full house (we half house brood). We pick up 1/3 per day so that we are picking up the last supplemental feeders the day after we turn out. We turned these flocks out at 8 days. I chose not to evaluate 7 day fcr because the two types of feeders hold differing amounts of feed. Since the feeders were still in use on day 7, I felt that the fcr numbers would not be accurate.
We also used the turbo feeders as extra feeders in the aisles. These were filled by hand each day.
42 day weights and fcr – both show rsquares of about 10% and insignificant probabilities. I think this is far enough from chick placement that there are too many variables to say that chick feeders influence final weight and feed conversion.
There are two ways to look at this. From the scientific perspective, there is not enough significant difference. From a farmer perspective, I know that an increase in 7 days weights and a decrease in 14 day fcr is to my advantage. We will have to run a couple more flocks and reevaluate.
Let me know if you have any comments , recommendations or questions.
I admit it. I have a problem. “Hi, my name is Dave and I am a data junkie”. The numbers from the flocks fascinate me and I look at a lot of numbers. I thought I would share a flock with you. This spreadsheet, flock 127, is for the flock we just finished.
We start each day (unless something bad happens) by checking our numbers. Each day we record the following for each house:
Water Used; drinking and cooling are separate
electricity used; lighting, ventilation, and total
temperature and ventilation set points
temperature and humidity highs and lows as well as the actual at the time the numbers were taken
bird weights from in house scales
All this information can be found on the DATA tab of the spreadsheet.
The Flock Summary tab contains all the descriptive information about the farm and the flock. Here you will find the equipment in each house, various sizes and distances, the lighting schedule and maintenance preformed prior to or during a flock. All the weights, crop checks, water treatments, and vaccines are listed here. There is also a section for any problems encountered during a flock.
I wrote the Daily Comparison sheet when we were evaluating the sprinkler systems as a method of activity promotion. We started the sprinklers in one house at day 21. They ran every hour, morning to evening, for 10 seconds. This was enough to make the birds stand up and move around. The idea was that as long as they were up, they might as well eat and drink too. I used this sheet to track the differences starting at day 21.
Charts and curves are nice for a quick glance at a current situation. The Growth Curve tab contains a graph which shows how our current weights compare to the Cobb targets. The house weights are the daily readings from the in house scales. We hand weigh 100 birds per house each week, at placement, 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, etc. These weights are recorded in the check weights column.
Total Water is drinking water plus cooling water per house, per day.
We brood birds in front half of the house and turn out to full house on day 7 or 8. We pull out the migration fences, lift the brood curtain and allow the birds to move at their own pace. The Water Variance tab is useful in deciding when to put the migration fences in. Once the water intake in the back of the house equals the water intake in the front of the house, the birds are equally distributed and the fences go in. We may have to move some to even the intake, so the spread sheet tells us how many have to be moved.
I haven’t been using the Feed Inventory page the last few flocks, but it is designed to compare the amount of feed our scales say we have used to what the feed mill says they delivered. The Feed Summary tab contains all the feed delivered for the flock as well as the FCR calculations.
The Weekly Summary tab contains a comparison per house of feed, water, propane, and electricity usage. A standardized number is assigned to each to estimate their costs and make comparisons between houses. The Production Summary tab is the final evaluation of the flock. It includes the profit and loss per house and a comparison between the houses.
I am still tinkering with the Final Weights tab and it is a bit of a mess. When we go in to raise the water lines just before the birds are shipped, I weigh ten birds in the center of each house, fives roosters and five hens. This gives me a really rough idea of our final weight. I also use it to compare to the plant weight and estimate shrink.
For further analysis, I will pull this data into JMP and run the statistics. Here is a pdf of an analysis I ran comparing the houses. house comparisons2
We thought that one house was producing at a higher level than the other three. The statistical analysis demonstrates that there is no statistically significant difference between the houses. Since we are a research farm, this is really important to know. It means that a product, an LED bulb for example, does not have an advantage or disadvantage based on the house in which it is placed.
I hope you found this useful, enlightening, or at least entertaining. Leave me a comment or email me if you have any questions or to admit that you too are a data junkie.
The Poultry Science Graduate Association hosted their annual Pig Roast on Saturday, October 26th. It was held at the home of Dr. Susan Watkins and her husband Phil. The Watkins live about an hour from school and the trip includes a very scenic 9 mile drive on dirt roads. There was about 100 students, grad students, faculty and staff present which made for a lot of fun. There was horseback riding, fishing, volleyball, horse shoes and some really great food, including bbq’d pork and chicken. I am posting pictures, most of which were supplied by Justina Caldas Cueva. Justina is from Peru and is working on her PhD in Poultry Nutrition. It is fortunate that she took such great pictures. I took a few and then was distracted by food and good times. Thanks to PSGA and the Watkins’ for a great time. Hope you enjoy the pictures.
One of my favorite saying for our students is, “This isn’t rocket science, but it’s pretty cool science”. When you start looking around, there is a lot of cool chicken (who knew those two works went together?) stuff our there. I posted some a few weeks ago (A few things I have run across lately) but I’ve got some more.
Bart Janssen, a broiler grower in Holland told me about Satarehu, a company in Finland specializing in broiler feeds and getting some impressive results. Bart told me they are getting a 67 gram (.15 lb.) average daily gain finishing at 2.6 kg (5.73 lb.) in 39 days. Awesome. That is on a Ross 708 bird. Pretty cool site that converts to English, just click on the flag: http://satarehu.fi/index.html
I don’t know much about the Ross birds. The integrator we work with uses the Cobb 500 bird and my career has always exposed me to this bird. I looked at the Aviagen website to check out the Ross 308 and 708. I’m a bit of a data nerd so I thought this http://en.aviagen.com/Ross308FCRLeader/ was pretty interesting. It is three independent trials comparing the Ross to another line. Makes me want to run that trial.
Have you looked at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Associations web site? I looked today to find our when research grant proposals are due. I found this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzkP_qUY6DE which describes the poultry industry. Their Training Materials section includes a Carbon Footprint Estimation Kit and a link to order the ‘Poultry and the Hormone Myth’ DVD. That’s really important. I get asked about hormones in chickens on a regular basis.
Here is a video from a few years ago; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpm3rvkyuJM . This is when we first started the sprinkler cooling research. That was 2009. The sprinklers have been used every summer since. At that time, only one house had sprinklers. The house in the video is the system designed and built at U of A. Today, that system is updated but still in operation. Also, the other 3 houses have the Weeden System from Weeden Environments, http://www.weedenenvironments.com.
I grew up in California and remember the Foster Farms tv ads from when I was a kid. They were really funny. One was about 2 chickens that came to California from Arkansas to try to be Fresh Foster Farms Chickens. Now that I live in Arkansas, they are even funnier. This will get you to several: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWdkmvIecMs&list=PLB007CB5CC2F5E0B9
Here are a couple pictures from some of our research. Sheri Herron is looking at the dust emissions from the broiler houses and where is goes. This culvert channels the rain water runoff from between two houses. You can see the tube going into the water in the culvert. It collects water which is analyzed inside the big box for content. There is another sensor about 100 feet ‘down stream’. She is able to compare the two and see what is absorbed by the grass. The analytical equipment sends her a text message every time there is enough water to analyze. The whole thing is powered by the solar panel on the side of the box. Very nice.
I have received the preliminary settlement information for Flock 127, which was sold last Thursday, October 17th. The flock was 42 days old (barely, it was really early in the morning). They weighed 5.61 lbs. (2.55 kg) and had a feed conversion of 1.73 (pounds of feed per pound of weight gained). I actually thought that they would weigh a little more (and therefore have a better feed conversion) but, especially considering some of the troubles we had, I am pretty well satisfied with those numbers. I usually check bird weights right before the house starts loading. I weigh 5 roosters and 5 hens in the center of each house. Based on that weight, I guessed us at about .10 pounds larger, but I did say ‘guessed’. Using 10 birds to predict the weight of 20,000 is probably not an exact science.
I want to wait a bit before I make public the exact settlement numbers. Next week, the Production class will meet with the Broiler Manager and Live Production Accountant from Simmons Foods (with whom we are a contract grower). They will explain how the settlement works and how our pay is calculated. After that, the class will meet with a representative from Farm Credit. He will be explaining where all the money goes and how loan payments work. I think both will be very enlightening.
I mentioned that we are a contract grower. This is how much of US poultry market works. A farmer contracts will an integrator (Tyson Foods, Cargill Turkey, for example). The integrator provides chicks, feed, technical expertise, and assumes the market risk. The contact grower provides the facilities, utilities and labor.
We are paid based on the Tournament system. All the growers who shipped to the same plant in the same week are grouped together. Their cost per pound of live weight is averaged using standard costs for chicks and feed. The growers are ranked based on cost. Growers with lower costs are typically rewarded by being paid more. Higher cost farms will receive less. Payment schedules are part of the contract, so a grower will know in advance what his minimum and maximum payment could be.
This is the math I like to do for the students: We shipped 81.436 birds at an average weight of 5.61. That is 456,856 lbs. of live birds. Once processed, they will yield about 70% of that as edible product. That is 319,799 lbs. If we fed each person 1/3 a pound of chicken, we would feed 959,359 people. We typically raise 6 flocks per year. At that rate, we would feed over 5,750.000 people per year from this farm alone. This amazes me every time I figure it.
Now, we are working on de-caking the houses, removing the hard layer of litter that forms on top of the bedding, mostly under the water lines. Once this is done, we will start checking the houses for air leaks and prepping for winter. We will be out of birds for 21 days. We will place flock 128 on November 7th and then we’ll do it all over again.
Well, flock 127 is gone. We shipped them starting at 2:00 this morning. Last weeks Production class lab was on day 35. We did the usual things: Reset the water flow rates and flush the water lines, adjust feeder height, and weigh 100 birds per house. In addition, we taught the students how to take blood and fat samples, gait score and paw score.
Blood and fat samples are taken for food safety reasons. We take six fat samples and they are tested for pesticide residues. We also take 13 blood samples which are tested for Avian Influenza. Gait scoring is an animal well being issue. it is part of the on farm animal welfare audits. The simple process is designed to evaluate the birds ability to walk. A group of birds are penned and then released one at a time. The birds are judged on their ability to walk. A bird that can walk five feet with no difficulties is scored a zero. A bird that can walk five feet but has a limp or struggles is scored a one and a bird that can not walk the five feet is scored a two. Lower scores are indicative of proper care and culling practices. Paw scores are an evaluation of the bottom of the feet (hard to think of chicken feet as ‘paws’) Improper care of the bedding can lead to high ammonia levels and ammonia burns on the bottom of the feet. Failures on either test must be followed by corrective action.
The 35 day weight target is 4.557 pounds and we averaged 4.686 with a feed conversion of 1.487 which is several points under the target of 1.556. As I said last week, this flock has done really well considering how it started off.
Chance and I usually split the work when we ship. He does all the set up work and then goes home to bed. I come in before the catch crew starts and stay up all night. This flock, five of the undergrads that work on the farm and are in the production class came out and helped Chance with the setup. Jeff, Antonio, JT, Doug and Callie all came in and helped pull the migration fences, raise the feed lines and set up for the catch crew. Rumor has it that they had a pretty good time while working. When I came in, all that was left was to raise the water lines and perform the last weight check. The water lines get raised just before the catch crew starts on a house. At this time, we check 10 birds (5 roosters, 5 hens) per house. We averaged 5.976 lbs. on these birds This gives us an idea of the final weight at we can compare the weight to the final plant weight to get an idea of our shrink.
In the meantime, our students are starting to work on their internships for next summer. Today was a career fair and many of students were meeting with different companies. Interviewing for summer internships started today and many will be concluded at the Poultry Exposition in Atlanta in January. Landon, who worked on the farm all last year and is graduating at the end of this semester, had a great experience with Cargill Turkey (who he will be going to work for upon graduation). Because of this, at least two of the farm students are hoping to intern with Cargill this summer. It is a lot of fun seeing where the students end up going on internships and career paths.
I think that about catches us up for the past week. As always, leave me a comment or send me an email with questions or comments. Have a great weekend.
I just realized that I am two weeks behind instead of the week behind that I thought I was. My only excuse is that we’ve been a tad busy. So, let’s get updated.
We have hosted two tours in the past week and a half. The first was on Saturday, September 29. This was for a group of Congressional Aides that were visiting the Division of Agriculture. They came to hear about the U of A Division of Agriculture’s work on Environmental Management within Agriculture in the state of Arkansas. On our farm, they learned about our research, especially Dr. Andrew Sharpley and Sheri Herron’s research in quantifying and trapping dust emissions from the poultry houses. Their research also includes measuring and managing the phosphorus content of that dust and the effect of rainfall and water run off on the phosphorus. Dr. Mike Daniels discussed the Arkansas Discovery Farm Program. The is a partnership between the Division of Ag, the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, the Walton Family Foundation, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Bureau of Arkansas, Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, Arkansas Corn & Grain Sorghum Board, Arkansas Rice Check-off, Monsanto, Cotton Incorporated, and the United Soybean Board. The Discovery Farm Program works with nine Arkansas farms with goals of achieving environmental and agricultural sustainability. This is the group we had and the congressmen they represent:
Kyle Weaver Rep. Womack
Holli Heiles Rep. Griffin
Annamarie Atwood Rep. Griffin
Jay Sherrod Rep. Crawford
Jack Pandol Rep. Crawford
John Martin Rep. Cotton
Vanessa Moody Rep. Cotton
Ron Chastain Sen. Boozman
Zach Hartman Sen. Boozman
Michael Paulk Sen. Boozman
Kelvin Stroud Sen. Pryor
Russell Hall Sen. Pryor
Julie Zelnick Sen. Pryor
And these are there pictures:
Yesterday, we hosted a tour for the Directors of the State Soil and Water Conservation Districts. These folks were from all over the nation and were treated to a very similar presentation as the Congressional Aides. I took their pictures too!
The Poultry Production Class has been out the last two Thursdays. Lastweek, one of our focuses was on performing necropsies. This is actually a very important skill. As you might guess, dead chickens are not very good at telling you why they died. Some skill at conducting a necropsy can help a grower understand when something is going wrong. We were fortunate to have Deepthi Gadde with us. She just finished her PhD with Dr. Chapman(who is a brilliant professor and a great guy) and is very skilled at necropsies. She gave a lesson to our students and then they performed necropsies on the dead birds from that day.
The Continually Bouncing Water Meters
The water meters continue to bounce. Last week, I went out and picked up data from several of the farms I had been monitoring as part of my water quantity research. This graph is an example of what I am working on. This is two six house farms. The graphs show the daily water intake of each house for the entire flock. The graph fro farm 1 shows a steady increase in daily water intake up until day 23. Then it begins to drop off (hence the bouncing water meter comments). The graph for farm 2 indicates that water intake continued to increase throughout the flock. Click on this link
Farm Graphs to see the graphs. Does your water do that?
There is a correlation between how much birds drink and how much they eat. If they are not drinking as much as they want, they are not eating as much as they otherwise might. This would lead to a smaller bird at the end of the production cycle and a producer that is not maximizing their income. Using the data that I just collected, I think I can demonstrate a pretty good statistical model of why this occurs. Next spring and summer, I will be replicating this process with quite a few more farms and some changes to our data collection. By this time next year, we should know why this occurs and be well on the way to a plan to fix it.
I may have mentioned before that this farm was built in 1992 as an energy evaluation research farm. We continue to conduct research into LED lighting and fan efficiencies. Dr. Bautista, one of the professors who worked on the tunnel fan efficiency trials brought his class, Global Renewable Energy out to the farm to conduct an energy audit as a class project. These were students majoring in Biological Engineering. I think being on the farm was a little different experience for them but it was fun. I am waiting to see their results. We have asked them to present their results to our Poultry Production class. It makes a great project even better.
And Last But Not Least, The Birds That Finally Came Around
I definitely had my doubts but this flock is finally starting to look like something. As you may have read, house one broke with E. coli two days after placement. That house struggled with higher than normal mortality and a low growth rate. We saw higher than normal mortality across the farm. At 21 days, house one was 1.73 lbs., .23 lbs. under target. I was concerned. And worried. And really disappointed. It’s one thing to have a bad flock but an entirely different thing when the bad flock is the one that the class is raising.
At day 28, house 1 had caught up somewhat, weighing 3.10 lbs. with a target of 3.166. All four houses together average 3.19, slightly over target. Feed conversion as also on target when it had been about .05 over. I got the shipping schedule today. We ship out next Thursday morning at 42 days of age. We are projected to weigh 5.58 lbs. Our target is 5.50. We will be the only farm shipping at 42 days that week. Everyone else is shipping at 43-45 days to achieve the same target. That may indicate that this flock is better than I gave it credit for. This week in lab, we will be checking paw and gait scores and I will demonstrate how to take blood and fat samples.
Why do we want blood and fat samples? It is part of the food safety program. The fat is analyzed for pesticide residues and the blood is tested for Avian Influenza. This is done before birds are shipped to keep the food supply safe.
Sorry that was such a long post. I hope you got something out of it. There are more pictures on the Picture page. Questions, comments or anything else, please leave me a comment or send me an email. Thanks and have a good week.
Well, there’s good, there’s bad and we will see about the ugly later on.
The Good: Chick weights at seven days were above target. We started this flock with two houses on small side at .085 lbs/chick (38.6g). The other two houses started at .098 and .100 (44.5 and 45.4g). We usually average between 42 – 45 grams. Our target weight for seven day old chicks it four times the placement weight. We needed to average at least .368 pounds to make our target. Seven day weights averaged .40 lbs. Weight-wise we have had a really good start.
The Bad: We had a spike in mortality in one house on day 2 and has finally got back to normal today. The chicks showed signs of an E. coli infection. We used iopirin (iodine and aspirin) through the water to try and beat. Iodine acts as a natural expectorant and an alternative to antibiotics. We also used an electrolyte and vitamin B12 mix. It appears to have run its course and things should get back to normal now. The overall result is that we are at 1.66% mortality which is over our target of 1%.
The Fun: The Poultry Production class was out for their lab yesterday. There assignment included:
Weigh 100 chicks to determine the average weight
Adjust water flow rate to 21 ml/min
Adjust water line height
Pick up 1/3 of the supplemental feeders and fill (by hand) the other 2/3
Turn out chicks from half house to full house
They will each write a lab report which is due next Thursday for the next lab. I posted pictures on the picture page.
Next up for the class is Principles of Ventilation. Can be a little tricky to get the hand of.
That’s about it for the farm this week. The Razorbacks have Mississippi State at home tomorrow. Woo Pig.
Feel free to write with thoughts or questions. Have a good weekend.