By Katie Keiger
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Chicken feathers are often seen as a nuisance to broiler house employees and are often thrown away, but the appendages are made out of proteins, specifically keratin which is found in teeth and bones.
A research publication by Yiqi Yang and Narendra Reddy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln goes into extensive detail about all the beneficial features feathers have, including the possibility of using them to create biodegradable materials.
According to the report, keratin is a very strong protein which is also found in horns and hoofs. Feathers are also a unique of this compound because of their low density and have a specific structure. By examining feathers up close, the researchers saw that feathers are composed of hollow honeycomb designs which make them flexible and light weight.
The American Chemical Society has noted that feathers could be used to make thermoplastics. The expensive ingredients used in making moldable and reusable plastic, such as natural gas, could be replaced by feathers, the society added.
Thermoplastics are one of the most used types of plastics; they are what is used to make soda bottles and are put into some clothes. Replacing natural resources in the production process would make a big impact on the environmental standpoint of thermoplastics.
However, Yang pointed out in his research that there are still some obstacles to this supposed solution to thermoplastics. He said that the plastics made out of feathers do not perform well when they get wet. This is a big setback, specifically for making bottles to hold liquids in.
Until this problem is fixed, there are still other uses for chicken feathers. A lot of food for dogs and cats are made from the ground up proteins from the feathers. Sarah Zhang of Gixmodo said not all the 8 billion feathers processed a year can be turned into food, but there are still other opportunities for them not to be wasted.
According to Zhang, the fibers can be ground up and used into making beauty products such as powder makeup. They can also be made into diaper layers for babies, thanks to their absorbing properties. Of course, these products are not made up entirely of feathers, but using them is better and cheaper than using other resources such as wood pulp.
Other research has shown that feathers could be utilized into making such varied items as paper and insulation for houses. However, the paper that feathers make often have the consistency of tissue paper.