Mussel waste can add essential nutrients to layer hen diets

By Peter Bedwell

Peter Cran is an expert in the sourcing of raw feed materials for pet food. 

Recently, he became aware that there was a plentiful source of a high protein additive from waste created in mussel farming. 

“The mussel growers in the Port Lincoln region of South Australia were disposing of tonnes of waste product into landfill and were looking for other industries that could use the potentially highly nutritious material in their industries. 

“Initially we were looking at the potential of the mussel waste material for use in dog food, but the high levels of calcium in the by-product was potentially a problem,” he told Poultry Digest in a recent conversation.

“My process, to turn the raw material from mussels into a viable feed supplement, is freeze drying which retains up to 97% of nutrient whereas dehydration reduces nutrient content to about 60%. 

“Our mussel-based feed additive is processed by Forager Foods in Tasmania,” Peter told Poultry Digest.

“However, we learnt that in New Zealand, a country with a major mussel rearing industry, research projects conducted by the Callaghan Innovation scheme showed that a dry feed additive created from the mussel waste was an ideal by-product for layer hen diets.

Callaghan Innovation is a research organisation that specialises in projects associated with primary industry, food and beverages as well as environment related research and it published an article in July 2019 on Frenz, an innovative layer operation. 

“Egg producer Frenz developed a way to create dry feed for its hens from mussel by-product.

“This adds essential nutrients to the layer diets and eliminates what was previously a waste product going into land fill.”

After discovering hens love mussel by-product, the egg producers set about developing a way to turn the waste into feed.

A near 10-year project later, and with technical and grant support from Callaghan Innovation, Frenz has figured out how to get a regular supply of the waste, dry it affordably, and dispense it to the chickens.

Frenz is now drying a tonne of Coromandel mussel by-product a day and testing its eggs to prove the nutritional advantage. 

It hopes others will follow suit, helping to reduce further waste throughout the country.

“We couldn’t have done this without numerous partnerships, and Callaghan Innovation was always in the background offering us good, sound scientific knowledge and expertise,” Rob Darby, the founder of Frenz said.

“Frenz philosophy is simple. The hens get to go outside early in the morning they get the benefit of all the fresh dewy grass that gives them all those extra beneficial minerals and benefits like extra omega threes of higher proteins less saturated fat that makes for a healthier hen and certainly a healthier egg.

“Some years ago, after coming back from fishing we used to feed the hens the excess burly and muscled burly while we’re in the Coromandel Peninsula. 

“Now the mussels obviously come back to be harvested and then sent overseas the waste has to either be buried in the land or kicked over the side. 

“When it comes to feeding chickens, it’s definitely not a waste for them so we figured how about we could get the hens to eat the mussels. That meant all those added benefits went into the eggs.

“The mussels are really high in protein and high in omega threes and we wanted a win-win situation where we could take the waste off those
mussel farmers, convert it to chicken feed and bring back export dollars as well. 

“The key challenges were getting the confidence of the mussel farmers, so we could have a steady supply of green-lipped mussels. 

“Of course, big part of it was getting it into the hens at the right rates and at the right and moisture content. 

“Callaghan was a real support for us right through. They have so much knowledge and so many people that we can contact that have knowledge of specific things. 

“Apart from the technical expertise they offered us, was the funding around the dryer which obviously had to be developed and it’s still an on-going project. 

‘Healthier hens, healthier eggs’. That’s the principle Frenz Eggs has been operating on since the early 1980s,” said Rob.

“The environment wins because we’re not putting waste back into the ocean or dumping it into a landfill. 

We’re giving it to the hens, converting it into a great source of energy and nutrition that goes into our eggs. 

We send the eggs overseas and bring back export dollars. It’s a win-win for everybody, and especially for our precious environment.”

“Finding this triple-win solution wasn’t simple. It took a near decade-long project to figure out a financially viable way to do it without creating any waste. 

The biggest challenge being getting everyone on board,” said Rob.

First up, Frenz needed to partner with mussel farmers and establish a regular supply of the waste, as well as get the local authorities on side. 

From there, they had to develop a way of drying the product and determine how best to deliver it to the chickens and in what quantities. 

Mark Eltom, Customer Manager Food and Beverage for Callaghan Innovation, backed the idea, saying, “Diverting waste from the landfill is a clear win for Frenz and a win for New Zealand”.

“We’re proud to have played our part in helping Frenz by providing
advice, guidance and access to co-funding to help push the project ahead.”

The hard work has paid off for Frenz, which has now developed a drying system and is processing around a tonne of Coromandel mussel by-product a day. 

That tonne of waste equates to about 300 kgs of dry feed, with the feed containing natural sea salt, calcium for the eggshells and an array of nutrients from the mussels which are protected because of the special drying technique.

From here, the business is wanting to comprehensively test the eggs to prove the recognised nutritional benefits of the new feed, ultimately creating a marketing advantage for Frenz.

“Our eggs already have up to three times the amount of Omega 3 as other eggs and are higher in protein and have less saturated fat, because of their unlimited access to green pasture and we’re confident we’re going to find other benefits from the mussel feed,” Rob said.

“We’re in the early stages of testing. We know feeding the mussel waste to our hens is adding to the nutritional benefits of our eggs, it’s now just a matter of doing the trials for long enough.”

Rob also hopes this development will pave the way for others, saying “We can’t dry all the waste in New Zealand, but we hope others will catch on and realise this amazing by-product can be converted into a superfood for animals.”

Peter Cran is very enthusiastic about the prospects for using treated mussel waste in poultry production. 

“We have done the development work and have a product ready for the market. 

What we need now is some energetic marketing muscle to help reach potential users,” he told Poultry Digest.

“Research into the nutritional value of the mussel waste product as a livestock nutritional additive has been conducted by SAARDI in South Australia,” Peter added.

With the Australian Federal Government’s recent initiatives to reduce GHG emissions in the agricultural sector, the diversion of a potentially valuable nutrition source from landfill to help boost layer and broiler production couldn’t have come at a better time.

For more information go to U –Tube and listen to Rob Darby from FENZ in NZ tell the story in a brief but informative video clip.