Enhancement innovation contest attracts 33 entries
WESTOVER, Md. — The Carpenter family of Wadesboro, N.C., was awarded first prize in the Perdue Farms chicken enrichment innovation contest during judging on April 19.
The contest began in June 2018 when Perdue announced the competition to almost 2,000 chicken and turkey growers and breeders. Some 88 farmers signed up for the contest and 33 submitted entries. An internal panel narrowed the list to five finalists. Entries were judged by Dr. Temple Grandin, a nationally-known animal behavior expert, who is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior; Dr. Maja Makagon, assistant professor of animal science at the University of California at Davis, who researches the interplay between the behavior, welfare and management of poultry to develop strategies to help minimize behavior-related poultry management issues while optimizing bird welfare and production; and Richard Swartzentruber, a farmer from Greenwood, Del., who grows for Perdue.
Contest winners Steve and Nicole Carpenter and their children have eight chicken houses and operate a commercial Angus herd. Nicole was the first woman elected a district supervisor of the Brown Creek Soil and Water Conservation District; she also serves as an advisory council member for the local high school’s FFA.
Steve said, “Happy chickens make healthy chickens and healthy chickens are good for Perdue, they’re good for the farmer and they’re good for the consumer.”
He described the evolution of the design of their entry, the “Carpenter Bench,” noting, “Every linear foot would add a square foot to the house. We gave them somewhere to climb, perch, roost and play.
“We wanted the chickens in mind as well as the farmer in mind and the consumer in mind when we designed it.”
Each entry, which featured various ramps and perches, provides exercise and stimulation for the chickens. They were displayed in a small chicken house where they were used spontaneously by young chickens that climbed the devices or huddled beneath them. Each of the five competition finalist families met separately with a panel of three judges in the chicken house to discuss their creation, demonstrate the unit’s portability and explain its special features.
They demonstrated their constructions and discussed materials selection, design features and early prototypes.
While examining each structure, the judges focused on construction, materials, design, portability and cost, among other factors.
Jim Perdue, chairmen of Perdue Farms explained the impetus for the contest, “Some of the best meat quality comes from our organic farms where there are windows and enrichments. When we started talking about enrichment, there was skepticism from farmers,” Perdue continued. “But it is clear we have suppressed exercise. We have turned down the lights and don’t encourage exercise, but there are clear benefits from a little exercise. In the natural environment, chickens don’t lay around all day. We are encouraging natural behavior.”
In addition to the Carpenter family, other finalists included:
• Joshua and Dawn Wenger of Lititz, Pa., who took second place in the contest with their “Chicken Tree.” Joshua said the design “represents the natural behavior for the chickens;”
• Jeff and Susie Mitchell of Reinholds, Pa., who have grown organic chickens for 10 years and have seen how chickens used other enhancements in their houses. Susie said they needed “something that was easier to fold up, pick up and put on the wall to make it convenient for the farmers and well as the chickens;”
• The Mast family of Quantico, Md., who “wanted to create a pleasant environment for chickens to socialize and be happy and healthy and to create a visual story for consumers.” They explained they used plastic in their device because it cleans well and doesn’t harbor bacteria; and
• Heather Thompson and her children Anthony and Phillip of Federalsburg, Md., who dubbed their entry the Suspended Roosting Ramp. They entered the contest as a home-school science project.
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