Washington State University

Organic Farming Systems and Nutrient Management

Pastured Poultry

Click HERE to view photos and designs for movable poultry cages.

Raising pastured poultry is a simple way to integrate livestock onto small farms. They are suitable for farms that do not currently have livestock, or they can be raised in a system that includes other types of animals.

This page summarizes our experience with small-scale pastured poultry production on our organically certified land at WSU Puyallup from 2005-2007. We began raising pastured broilers with the goal of integrating them into a vegetable-pasture rotation in our organic farming systems experiment.

Pastured Poultry Cages

Methods:

We use small (5’x 10’), lightweight traveling cages (view photos and plans for cages) for housing the birds on pasture. Each cage holds up to 35 birds and contains two feed troughs and two watering units. Cages are rolled daily onto fresh pasture using a hand truck. We supply feed and water to fast-growing birds (Cornish Cross) twice daily, and to slower-growing birds once daily. We have needed to enclose the pasture areas with a movable electric fence to provide extra protection from predators.

Chicks are moved from the brooder to the field at 2 to 3 weeks of age, and are slaughtered at 8 to 11 weeks of age, depending on the breed. Our birds are slaughtered on farm using a mobile slaughtering unit.

Each bird is weighed when moved to the field, at intervals during their life cycle up to the time of slaughter, and after dressing. We also measure daily and total feed supplied to the flock and determine feed conversion. In 2007 we participated in a project to identify alternatives to chlorine bleach for carcass sanitation, and will participate again in 2008.

We raised Cornish Cross, Kosher King, and Slow Cornish birds in 2005, Cornish Cross in 2006, Freedom Rangers in 2007, and Slow Red Cornish Cross and Cornish Cross in 2008-2009.

Results:

Bird survival and weight, feed use, and feed conversion are summarized in Table 1 and 2. Cornish Cross chickens had much better feed conversion than the other breeds, but otherwise did not function as well in the pastured poultry environment. This was especially true in 2006, when we lost many birds late in the season because of heart attacks or inability to walk. The Cornish Cross also tended to have more difficulty moving with the cages, especially in the final weeks before slaughter. Feed conversion was lower in the spring of 2005 than in the later trials, likely as a result of not switching from chick grit to hen grit after they were moved to the field. Feed consumption and bird weights were down in 2009 due to a 10 day hot period when birds didn't eat or gain as much.



Table 1. Pastured poultry data summary 2005-2009,
Fast White Cornish Crosses.

Fast White Cornish Cross  

 

2005 spring 2005 summer 2006 2008 2009

Received alive

81 78 156 78 78

Slaughtered

69 75 129 72 63

Small birds (less than 3lb
live weight at slaughter)

11 1 0 0 1

Age at slaughter (weeks)

8 9 8 8 8

Average carcass wt (lb)

3.9 5.0 4.9 5.0 4.0

Feed used (lb)

1472 1293 2408 1363 875

Feed used /bird (lb)

21.3 17.2 18.7 18.9 13.9
Feed conversion lb feed/lb meat
5.5
3.5
3.8
3.8 3.4
NOTES: 2005 (spring): only chick grit was used, other years chick then hen grit in field
               2009: very hot period (10 days) where birds didn't eat/grow much

 

Table 2. Pastured poultry data summary 2005-2009,
slower growing broiler varieties
.

Kosher
King
CornishX Slow Freedom
Rangers
Red
CornishX
Red
CornishX

 

2005 spring 2005 summer 2007 2008 2009

Received alive

69 67 85 78 76

Slaughtered

52 54 75 77 73

Small birds (less than 3lb
live weight at slaughter)

13 23 0 0 1

Age at slaughter (weeks)

10 11 11 11 11

Average carcass wt (lb)

3.4 3.2 4.8 4.1 3.3

Feed used (lb)

1336 985 1860 1592 1270

Feed used /bird (lb)

25.7 18.2 24.8 20.7 17.4

Feed conversion lb feed/lb meat

7.6 5.7 5.2 5.1 5.2
NOTES: 2005 (spring): only chick grit was used, other years chick then hen grit in field
               2009: very hot period (10 days) where birds didn't eat/grow much

 

Below, young Kosher Kings, also called Barred Silver.

Kosher Kings Barred Silver

Below, Cornish Cross, final size.

Cornish Cross

Below, Freedom Ranger, (Red or Bronze), full sized, named "Rufus."

Red Bronze Ranger

 

Secondary content using h2 tag.

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