I read a blog post recently where the author expressed his disdain for processing his own chickens.
Having processed thousands of chickens, I can empathise with how he feels about plucking and gutting them. While I’m happy to process half a dozen birds by hand, I quickly resort to the scalding tank and plucking machine when confronted with larger numbers.
I certainly agree with the author’s observation that fish are much easier to process than chickens.
And then he began to talk about efficiency.
Citing the feed conversion ratio of jade perch, he set out to demonstrate how fish production was more efficient than broiler chickens.
While there are areas where tank-based aquaculture has the march on broiler production – like feed conversion efficiency and annual meat output per unit floor area – broiler production is still more efficient.
And we’re not talking about just a bit more efficient.
Let’s start with production costs. In 2006, it cost just 65 cents for a US farmer to produce each kilogram of whole chicken (pre-processed). At the same time, it cost $2.20 to produce each kilogram of live tilapia.
Now, let’s talk about labour productivity. In 1951, the productivity of each full time broiler production employee was at 95,000kg per year. In 2006, it had reached 1,300,000kg per FTE. Current tank-based tilapia productivity is around where the broiler production industry was back in 1951.
So, the fact is that broiler production is much more efficient.
OK….that’s probably useful information if we happened to be agriculture economists but what does it mean in a Microponics context?
Feed conversion efficiency still favours fish production but when you consider that a free range chicken requires diet with far less protein than does a fish – and that it will forage for much of its own food – the cost of feed per kilogram of meat favours the chicken.
Similarly, energy costs are less for chickens than for fish. Growing chickens requires much less water and, in the same amount of time that it takes to rear freshwater fish like tilapia and jade perch, you can grow five or six batches of chicken.
While it takes about the same amount of time to manage fish and chickens on a daily basis, fish production infrastructure costs much more to build and operate than that required for chickens.
For practical purposes, however, any comparison between fish and chickens is a bit of a waste of time – because the fact is that you need both.
In a Microponics context, keeping both fish and chickens is not just about having a more varied diet. It’s also about the quality of the food – and its cost of production.
OK….so how does that work?
Our backyard aquaculture systems yield nutrient-rich water that we use to grow plants.
While we eat most of the plants, the fish and the chickens eat some, too. We also grow duckweed and, once again, the fish and chickens both eat some – and the rest goes to our Black Soldier fly larvae.
The fish eat some of the larvae and the chickens (and our quail) eat the rest.
Eventually, we harvest the chickens and the fish. We eat most of the fish and the chicken meat but there are bits that we don’t eat – including the heads, guts, scales, feathers and blood. We feed some of this directly to other chickens and fish but most of it goes to the Black Soldier fly larvae – to become more fish and chicken food.
While Microponics won’t make processing chickens any easier, integrating them into a backyard food production system that includes fish (and other organisms) is a smart thing to do.
Not only do we end up with a more varied diet, the leveraging effect of integration means that we get more food for less money.