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Feed accounts for up to 90% of carbon emissions on egg farms

Hens perching on a wooden slat

POULTRY FEED is by far the most significant contributor to the carbon emissions of a free-range egg farm, new analysis has revealed.

A new report from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (Bfrepa) suggested that bought-in feed can take to up more than 85% of an egg’s carbon footprint.

See also: Morrisons aims for net-zero carbon eggs by 2022

“Feed imports to farms attracts a high embedded carbon footprint as it is grown, processed and transported to the farm with all stages resulting in emissions to the atmosphere,” the report says.

Soya meal imported from South American countries can have a carbon footprint of 9 kg to 15 kg of CO2e / kg due to significant emissions from land-use change, the report explains.

US Soya with a higher protein content is considered a better alternative.

Alternative proteins

And in the longer term, switching to alternative protein sources is considered an important step in reducing overall carbon emissions.

The organisation’s chairman, James Baxter, said he hoped the findings would “help start positive conversations involving the whole supply chain about what can be done to help farmers continue to play their part in producing food sustainably”.


After feed, manure management and pullet rearing are the largest contributors to emissions, followed by fuel and electricity usage.

On-farm measures

But despite feed taking such a large portion of an egg’s carbon footprint, there were several things farmers could do to improve matters.

Measures were split into either activity that reduced a farm’s carbon footprint or offset it.

Changes on farms that could reduce carbon emissions include:

Option/StrategyPotential Emmission ReductionComments
Covering litter and manure storage2.5%-3%Prevents direct emissions of nitrous oxide and methane
during storage
Reducing layer casualties to
less than 8%
0.5%-2%Increases number of productive birds during flock cycle.
The same total emissions are allocated to greater production volumes lowering emission intensity
Increase laying rates by 5%5%The same total emissions are allocated to greater production
volumes lowering emission intensity
Prolong flock laying cycles2%-5%The same total emissions are allocated to greater production
volumes lowering emission intensity
Closely review and monitor
protein content in rations and
aim to reduce if possible
1%-5%Unused protein lost in hen manure increases risk of nitrous
oxide emissions from manure storage and application
Installing renewable energy capture and storage on farm (batteries)2%-4%Removes emissions from fossil fuels associated with
purchased energy use from the grid
Exporting manure to a
anaerobic digester
5%-7%Removes both direct and indirect emissions of nitrous oxide
associated with storing and spreading manures
Source: Promar

Launching the report, Mr Baxter said: “Free range egg businesses are extremely efficient and will be at the cutting edge of technology when it comes to factors within their control such as reducing electricity and fuel consumption.
 
“My members have also planted millions of trees in the past 20 years to improve the ranges for their birds. These trees will be sequestering carbon for generations.
 
“The figures and information in this report give producers areas to consider as they look to the future, and it is our hope that it provides a factual basis for conversations with the whole egg industry about how we can improve our credentials.

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National grid 

“There are challenges over soya-based rations which are well publicised, but we also have to consider issues such as National Grid capacity which limits a lot of farms from generating more renewable energy. Producers also need clear leadership from the government over how environmental policy can be integrated into their businesses.”
 
Sustainability consultancy Promar International carried out the study over the past six months using figures provided by two free-range egg units – a 64,000-bird multi-tier operation across two sheds, and a 12,700-bird flat-deck system.

The full report is available from Bfrepa.