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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Veterinary school develops chicken coops on pastured poultry farm


Students research organic chicken feed substitute

UC Davis students are in the process of building four chicken coops at the UC Davis Teaching and Research Animal Care Services facility in order to further a research project that studies the effects of an organic chicken feed for the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The program aims to evaluate the effects of a new blend of organic chicken feed that contains the amino acid methionine has on black soldier larvae flies, according to Jacqueline Nguyen, a second-year civil engineering major and one of the engineers building the chicken coops. The fly larvae will then be fed to the chickens, and results will be noted.

“[The project is to] see the effects of feeding methionine to black [soldier] larvae flies, and then feeding them to the chickens,” Nguyen said. “This is part of an ongoing process to substitute regular feed for organic feed, without loss of nutrients.”

The coops are in the process of being constructed within the dimensions of the pastured poultry farm, which is a “living laboratory” for projects like this. The tentative completion date is set for June 2017, with the intention to finish before any of the student engineers on the project leave for summer vacation. The research project will continue for the rest of the year.

“The estimated completion date for the project concerning the chicken coops is the end of the quarter,” Nguyen said via email. “We are hoping to finish building and constructing all four coops before finals week, since the chickens need to be living in them by their 16th week of life. We are also trying to finish before summer vacation, as not all of our engineers will be in Davis. The overall project, concerning the research on black soldier larva flies and harvesting the chicken eggs, is year round.”

The 183 chickens that will be housed in the new coops are currently living in an indoor facility for protection. The coops themselves are being built with an emphasis on portability and protection.

“For this research project, there will be four coops,” Nguyen said via email. “Each coop will be built out of a lightweight, aluminum frame, making it easily portable around the pasture. Hardware cloth will be surrounding the frame, protecting the birds from any outside predators.”

Additionally, the design of the coops will allow for easy access to eggs that are laid during the duration of the project. The eggs themselves, according to the farm’s website, will be donated to the Yolo County Food Bank.

“In each nest box, there is a sloped bottom,” Nguyen said via email. “This design will help the husbandry team to retrieve the eggs that the hens lay, as the eggs will roll down to one side of the nest box, and the chickens will not be able to peck at them. The nest boxes are located on the two sides of the coops, and there will be a human access hand door behind the nest boxes […] This makes for quick egg harvesting, but it also does not disturb the hen’s process of egg laying.”

Students are intrigued by the idea of this project, as its goals seem to be leaning towards sustainability.

“While I don’t know very much about raising poultry, I am intrigued by this project,” said Ashley Lord, a first-year undeclared physical sciences major. “It seems to me that having a better food for the chickens will allow them to grow to be healthier, which would result in better eggs for us humans to consume.”

Other students, like Jazmin de Jesus, a first-year chemical engineering major, also like the idea of having more livestock on campus.

“I love the cows that are near Tercero, and the fact that we have chickens on campus is pretty cool,” De Jesus said. “It also seems like a great opportunity for engineering students to get hands-on experience, which is lucky for them.”



Written by: Emily Shintani — campus@theaggie.org


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