I recently had an interesting conversation with Charles, our information technology guru in the office, who is the youngest and most successful urban dairy farmer I have ever met.
“How much do you sell a kilo of chicken manure?” he asked.
I thought this was a weird question. You see, I generate about 10 sacks of manure every two weeks and sometimes I don’t even know what to do with them. When the rains come, the farm gets messy.
At some point, I had stacked sacks of manure in one corner of my farm and I was having problems with houseflies swarming all over the place. Having flies around can pose serious health risks particularly if there are open sewers around the compound. Diseases like cholera are spread this way.
Now, you can guess the enterprising genie in me lit up all of a sudden when Charles asked the question. I decided to kill two birds with this loaded question, “How many kilos are you looking for and what is your best offer?”
“I can offer Sh100 per kilo,” he said. The deal was as good as done. That weekend, he arrived on my farm in Njiru in his double cabin vehicle. I had already calculated the profit I was going to make from this deal.
Remember, I buy a sack of wood shavings at Sh100 each and I use about seven sacks every two weeks. I haven’t even considered the cost of transporting the wood shavings to the farm.
SAFE SOURCE OF PROTEINS, MINERALS AND ENERGY
Now, there was a small problem. They say the devil is always in the details. I use wood shavings, meaning, the chicken litter needed to be sieved before giving his cows. I guess Charles was a little disappointed with me because he carried the unsieved waste.
After this encounter, I conducted my own research and learnt that when processed by an acceptable method, poultry litter is an economical and safe source of protein, minerals, and energy for cattle.
For a fact, studies indicate that poultry litter is a safe source of proteins, minerals and energy for cattle raised for beef. In addition, processed litter makes a good protein supplement for both cows and growing calves.
Using broiler litter rather than a commercial protein supplement for brood cows will save you some cash.
Apart from using poultry waste as fertiliser or stock material for compost production, the litter is most valuable as a cattle feed. In fact, transporting litter over long distances for use as fertiliser makes it uneconomical, but not for use as animal feed.
As human population grows and the cost of beef and nyama choma rises, farmers will look for ways to reduce feed costs.
Of all the alternative feeds available, litter has the greatest feeding value for its cost. Dairy farmers should seriously consider using litter in feeding programmes, and poultry producers should consider stockpiling litter for sale.
SUBSTITUTE FOR HAY
Poultry litter also makes an economical substitute for hay (or silage and a protein supplement), especially during drought when hay supplies are low.
I posed the question of safety to Dr Silas Obukosia, the agricultural biotechnologist.
“This practice is accepted globally although feeding animal waste to beef cattle had at some point been wrongly associated with causing mad cow disease. In fact, the only known poultry disease that is zoonotic is salmonella.”
He explained that chicken litter desirable for feeding to cattle should contain 20 to 30 per cent moisture and crude protein.
“The litter should also be low in ash (soil) and should be free of hardware, glass, and other foreign material. Processed turkey, broiler breeder, and hen litter have also been successfully used as a feed,” he said.
I am now conducting some experiments on using a method called deep-stacking to process my chicken litter.
Deep-stacking refers to the process of stockpiling litter for later use. The heating process that occurs in the stack to a temperature of between 60 and 70 degrees centigrade is sufficient to kill pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella that may be present in raw litter.
Unlike composted litter that is turned regularly, litter for animal feeds should be allowed to stabilise to avoid reducing energy and protein content.
Overheating above 70 degrees centigrade damages the proteins and the carbs. A probe thermometer is used to monitor stockpile temperature on several locations.
The litter is ready for use as feed after three weeks and retains its value for up to five years.
The final product has a fine texture and smells like “caramelised chocolate” (without ammonia smell) that serves to increase its palatability. A black, burnt smell or grey coloured strong manure odour indicate over-heating and under-heating respectively.
I spoke to an agronomist who explained that, “During deep-stacking, the stack of litter heats up eliminating potential pathogens and improving palatability of the litter.
For proper heating, litter should contain 20 to 30 per cent moisture and should be stacked 6 to 8 feet deep for at least three weeks”.
There are other interesting uses for chicken litter, which include making biogas.