While feathers are often considered a by-product of poultry production (and often a waste by-product), some producers raise poultry specifically for their feathers.
Feathers are used in a number of decorative products such as boas, feather fans, masks, costume accessories, bird ornaments and even earrings and flowers. Feathers are also routinely used in the production of fishing flies.
How are fishing flies made? (answers.com)
Chosing the right feather for your fishing fly (Commerical site - www.flyfishingoutfitters.com)
Instructions for making fishing flies (Commercial site - www.trail.com)
While chicken feathers don't weigh much, with the amount of chicken produced in the US annually the volume of feathers produced is considerable. For the 8+ billion broilers produced each year, 2-3 billion pounds of feathers are produced. Research has shown that the keratin in the feathers (a protein also found in hair, hoofs, horns, and wool) can be used in the production of a wide variety of products, as discussed below.
USDA/ARS research project: Researchers have used feathers in the formulation of planting pots that can degrade over variable periods of time - from 1 to 5 years. The pots look and feel like any other plastic planters encountered at your local nursery, but they are made to disintegrate naturally, without harm to the environment. In fact, the pots - manufactured without any petroleum components - would slowly release beneficial nitrogen into the soil.
- Feathers are made of keratin, the same tough, tightly wound protein fiber that makes up hair, wool, fingernails, and hooves.
- Feather protein has properties in common with cellulose, the starch that forms wood and paper. Feathers are keratin just like wool but the surface area is much larger because the diameter of the fibers is much smaller. So the fiber can absorb more than wool or cellulose fibers. The crystal structure of feather fibers also makes them naturally stable and durable.
- More than 16 billion diapers, made from wood pulp, are discarded each year. A year's worth of feathers could replace approximately 25% of the wood pulp used annually for diapers.
- Three companies--Featherfiber Corporation, Maxim Systems, and Tyson Foods--are now working to scale up production of absorbent feather-based products including diapers, filters, insulation, upholstery padding, paper, and clothing.
- The orderly structure of keratin helps stabilize the structure of plastics, making them stronger.
- Feather meal is produced by a high-pressure steam processing method similar to autoclaving, followed by drying. Heat and steam hydrolyze the feathers into a cysteine-rich, high-protein product that is 60% digestible.
DISCLAIMER: References to commercial products or services provided via this Web site are intended for informational and educational purposes only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, University of Kentucky Extension, or the University of Kentucky as a whole.