Photo credit: riverseal
Millions of chickens in Delaware are pulling their weight for the environment and the health of the state's waterways—by watching what they eat.
Delaware chickens now digest more of the phosphorus in their feed, the result of adding a natural enzyme known as phytase. As a result, the output of their feathered bowels contains 23 percent less phosphorus than before. When poultry litter is used to fertilize a farm field, a lot less phosphorus is available to potentially leach from the soil or be carried off in storm water to a river or bay, where it contributes to massive blooms of algae and fish kills.Imagine this: In 2006, the good farmers of Delaware, one of the top poultry producers in the United States, produced over 269 million broiler chickens, or 1.8 billion pounds of prime poultry, valued at more than $739 million, according to the Delmarva Poultry Industry. That's a lot of waste—280,000 tons to be exact.
With the chicken's modified diets, there are now about 19 pounds of phosphorus in a ton of Delaware poultry litter, compared with 25 to 30 pounds of phosphorus per ton of litter only five years ago. What this translates to is a phosphorus-load reduction of some 2 million to 3 million pounds per year.
"All in all, these phytase diets are doing the job," says William Vanderwende, chairperson of the state's Nutrient Management Commission. "And I know these scientists are working to see if they can get the phosphorus numbers even lower."
"Phytase is definitely a positive piece of the water-quality puzzle," agrees John Schneider, manager of the Watershed Assessment Section in the Division of Water Resources at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "We are seeing less phosphorus in water samples from all over the state. Clearly, we're doing a lot of things right." And no feathers were ruffled in the process, either. ::Newswise