The Delaware-based poultry producer and processor announced earlier this week that it has altered its poultry feed formulation to use only 100 percent vegetarian feed with all its birds, said Steve Evans, company CEO.
The switch is part of the ongoing process of seeking to end, or limit, antibiotic use with its birds, he said.
“We have made the decision in our strategy to go all vegetarian in our feed and to market as many birds as possible antibiotic-free,” he told FeedNavigator. “Our Nature’s Sensation will be our ABF [antibiotic-free] brand.”
When the company was established in 2011, the goal was not to be a ‘standard-run’ poultry company, said Evans. The changes being made are part of its strategic plan.
“They wanted to make sure that they were looking at customers and consumer needs,” he said. “We had to find uniqueness in the industry.”
Additionally, the move allows for the company to become a value-added chicken company, he said.
“Our customer base is asking for it, and I think they’re responding to their consumers,” he said. “They want to know what they’re eating, they want it fed a veggie diet and they want us to try to not use antibiotics in what we’re doing.”
The anticipated result from the changes is expected to be an increase in volume with the long-term goal of improving the company’s position in the market place, said Evans. “This is the best strategy for us at this time,” he added.
The move toward vegetarian feed took about a year to implement, said Evans. As part of the process the company also expanded its feed mill so that it can produce all its feed in-house.
“We buy grains locally and from the Midwest,” he said. “But all the formulation is done here in our feed mill in Delaware.”
It also meant a close look at the new diet being offered and how to meet the needs of the birds, he said.
“[We’ve been] working with nutritionists and commodities people to meet the expectations of the diet,” he said. “It is a learning curve, there’s no doubt that there’s a learning curve there and you have adapt to the climate – what works in Georgia may be different than what works on the eastern shore.”
The move is part of the work being done to reduce use of antibiotics in chicken production, Evans said.
“You have to have really, really good sanitation and cleaning methods,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure that you’re engaging your chicken producers and make sure they understand what you’re trying to accomplish with antibiotic-free [production].”
That effort also has included working with company hatcheries to ensure they are able to manage baby chicks without needing antibiotics and building engagement from the company’s chicken producers, he said.
“I would say that we’re trying to get back to the basics,” he said. “We want to give the chickens good feed, provide them excellent housing, great ventilation, plenty of water and in the end we think we’ll get a better product that meets our marketing strategy – it’s a lot of hard work.”
The changes continue what may be becoming an industry trend, with some poultry producers moving toward use vegetarian-only feed. Perdue has announced that it switched to vegetarian feed, and HJ Baker recently started production of a vegan poultry feed supplement.