Poultry unit provides Call Hall with eggs, students with hands-on experience

Chickens eat feed at the K-State Poultry Unit on March 13, 2017. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

The opportunity to find and develop a passion within a specific field of the agriculture industry is one thing that students at the Tom Avery Poultry Research Farm have in common, through their various research and hands-on experiences during their educational career.

The facility is 100 percent research-driven and houses approximately 3-4,000 head of chickens. Poultry only take about 40 days to fully develop and be ready for market after they are brought to the farm.

The chicks are bought from commercial companies, such as Cobb in Arkansas, where the facility receives most of its broiler chicks. The term “broiler” is used to identify that those chickens are grown strictly for meat production and do not lay eggs.

When the broiler chickens are ready for harvest and the different research projects have ended, all of them are sold to small, private farms all over the country. Students will learn about the marketing of these chickens mostly by word of mouth, but because they are used for research purposes, there is usually a small number that are sold.

The eggs from the layers, which are chickens used to lay eggs, are collected each day by hand, and then processed and sold at the Call Hall Dairy Bar.

Research and experience

At the unit, there are several different research projects that students conduct and gain experience and expertise in the topic they are researching. There are about six research projects, or “research trials,” currently at the facility.

“One very interesting project that we have about to start has to do with testing dog food ingredients in the poultry,” Scott Beyer, extension state specialist and associate professor in poultry, said. “We can use the birds to actually test for dog food ingredients. It’s expensive, but quick, and they respond a lot to what is done in processing.”

Other projects involve a variety of different subjects such as poultry processing methods, feed manufacturing and milling, and studying “feed type versus light color.” In this project, one of the students is testing what colors of LED lights used in the barns affect production and efficiency the most.

These lights are used to regulate egg production and overall production of poultry. Within this research, the student has found that some colors are more calming than others and that this method can also save up to about nine percent of the cost of energy.

Student leaders

Another current research project one of the graduate students at the unit is working on, who also happens to be the facility’s manager, is centered around the game bird industry.

“When we got started with this project, we basically just took one of the existing buildings at the farm that wasn’t being used, tore it down to the bare metal, and then built it from the ground up and reconstructed the inside,” C.J. Delfelder, graduate student studying avian management and poultry unit manager, said. “This facility now has about 18 pens with outside ‘flight pens’ to hold game birds such as pheasants, which is what we currently have out there, quail and turkeys.”

He described that the flight pens are openings for the birds so that they can have outside access. With this flight-pen method, the facility has tried to recreate “the best way possible for the industry standards” in animal husbandry and management.

Delfelder explained his experience and background in the avian industry, which emphasized his interest in game birds. He said he received his bachelor’s degree in wildlife outdoor and enterprise management, and did not begin his current research until he came back from working in the industry to start his graduate program.

“With this new opportunity for the farm, I am very excited to get started on research for this industry and help the game bird industry across the country, as well as widening my knowledge of it,” said Delfelder.

While maintaining his research, Delfelder also supervises six undergraduate students who work at the unit part-time and have found their passion either directly in poultry production, or even in other areas of livestock production and management.

One of the students is new to K-State, but not new to the poultry industry.

“From poultry judging and showing my birds, I had a background in poultry before I started working at the farm,” said Lindsey Leiser, freshman in animal sciences and industry. “I am also gaining actual industry experience with my job at the KSU poultry research barn.”

Leiser said she has a variety of jobs when she goes to work such as cleaning eggs, cleaning the cages and equipment, moving birds around and mixing the feed.

“Working at the poultry farm has had a positive impact in my decision to have a future career in the poultry industry,” Leiser said.

The poultry unit also supports other animal science projects that are related to other species’ nutrition, such as beef and swine, and also many studies that are conducted to support other departments.

“We are really excited about this new game bird facility opening and having the opportunity to look at some research that nobody else has done, except for us, and then also being able to help out local Kansas poultry producers,” Beyer said.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series showcasing K-State livestock units. The next story will feature the purebred beef unit.