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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Azolla Feeding trial results

     We have been doing a feeding trial for broilers using store bought feed combined with azolla and fermented 24 hrs.  Today we harvested 11 of the 16 broilers and have some initial results.  Azolla is a really amazing plant that multiplies quickly and has up to 25-35% protein (dry weight).  I got the idea of fermenting the feed from another local farmer practicing Korean Natural farming.  It's very simple, and just involves mixing the feed with water and a little bit of IMO and leaving to ferment for 24 hrs.  You know when the moisture is right when you can squeeze it into a ball and it holds its shape but doesn't drip water. 
     We followed the directions for growing azolla  that we found on the internet. We were able to set up an 8 x 10ft pond in an afternoon, built out of 2x8 lumber and a heavy duty tarp.  Because the azolla needs shade we put an 80% shade cloth over a pvc hoop frame.  Originally we tried 30% shade and that wasn't enough.  You know when conditions aren't quite right for the azolla when it starts turning red, which ours was until we got the hang of it.  As soon as we switched to the 80% shade cloth and began religiously adding a little bit of cow dung once a week.  I scored a bucket-full from a friend who has a cow and that has lasted for several moths. 
     From the first day we got the chicks I've been mixing their store bought (antibiotic free) feed with about 1/2 azolla by volume, tossing in a handful of IMO and leaving that to ferment for 24 hrs before feeding.  Sometimes I need to add in extra water.  As time went on, I probably decreased the ratio to between 1/4 to 1/3 azolla by volume.  Each time you feed, you just mix up another batch for the next day right after.  The chicks liked it from the beginning and grew accustomed to eating azolla, seeing it as one of their staples.  We're going to experiment with adding in Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) to increase nutrients and possibly help with fermentation.  Also, when I get a bag of diatomaceous, I plan on tossing in a little bit also to help with internal parasites.
So here are the initial results (11 chickens):
Age at harvest - 7 weeks to the day
Average dressed weight - 4.4 lbs
Average (store bought) feed consumed - 11.5 lbs each

I am extremely pleased with the results and will post an update with results from the remaining 5 chickens that were a little smaller so we decided to let them go another week.  I would guess they the ones left would have weighed right around 4 lbs or a little under, so that may have brought our average dressed weight down to right around 4 lbs.

From talking to other farmers, the normal gain on a regular store bought diet is around 5-5.5 lbs birds feeding them about 15 lbs of feed each.

I like that we are allowing the birds to grow a little more slowly, which avoids health problems related to insanely fast growth.  I was shooting for an average 4 lb bird, because at $5.50/lb, a 5-6 lb bird starts to get pretty pricy.  I like that the birds are getting much more fresh green material than they would normally take in and the fact that we can easily grow it ourselves.  When we did our original business plan I was factoring in that we would be able to raise an average 4 lb bird on 14lbs of feed, so I'm stoked that we can do it with 11.5 lbs by putting in the effort of growing the azolla.