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Washington State University - Puyallup Organic Farming Systems and Nutrient Management

Pastured Poultry

Overview:

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 2005-2012. We began raising pastured broilers with the goal of integrating them into a vegetable-pasture rotation in our organic farming systems experiment.

Methods:

We used small (5’x 10’), lightweight traveling cages for housing the birds on pasture (see design plans below). Each cage held up to 35 birds and contained two feed troughs and two independent watering units. Cages were rolled daily onto fresh pasture using a dolly system. We supplied feed and water to birds as needed once to twice daily. The pasture areas were enclosed with a portable electric fence to provide extra protection from predators.

Chicks were moved from the brooder to the field at 2 to 3 weeks of age, and were slaughtered at 8 weeks (Fast Cornish Cross) to 11 weeks of age (Slow Cornish Cross varieties). Our birds were slaughtered on farm using a mobile slaughtering unit.

Each bird was weighed when moved to the field, at intervals during their life cycle up to the time of slaughter, and after dressing. We also measured daily and total feed supplied to the flock to determine feed conversion. In 2007 and 2008 we participated in a project to study lactic acid as an organic alternative to chlorine bleach for carcass sanitation during processing (see Publications).

We raised Fast Cornish Cross, Kosher King, and Slow Cornish birds in 2005, Fast Cornish Cross in 2006, Freedom Rangers in 2007, and Slow Red Cornish Cross and Fast Cornish Cross in 2008-2009 2011, and Red Freedom Rangers and Fast Cornish Cross in 2012.

♣ Photos and designs of portable poultry cages.

Results:

Bird survival and weight, feed use, and feed conversion are summarized in Tables 1 and 2 below. Fast 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 Fast 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.  In 2012 the Fast Cornish Cross ate more feed than previous years, but didn’t grow as well as previous years.

Publications:

♣ Break-Even Analysis of Small-Scale Production of Pastured Organic Poultry (PDF-Online) and ♣ Excel Spreadsheet for Calculating Costs (Excel Xlsx file-Online). Painter, K., E. Myhre, A. Bary, C. Cogger, and W. Jemmett. 2015. Pacific Northwest Extension Publication PNW 665.

♣ Validation of a 2 Percent Lactic Acid Antimicrobial Rinse for Mobile Poultry Slaughter Operations (PDF-Online). Killinger, K.M., A. Kannan, A.I. Bary, and C.G. Cogger.  2010. J. Food Prot. 73:2079-2083.

Photo of pastured poultry moveable pens showing the previous day's grazed area in the foreground of the cages.
Above-Movable pasture pens.
Photo of pastured poultry, fast growing cornish cross being weighed.
Above-Cornish Cross, final size. Fast growing.
Photo of pastured poultry, slow growing variety, freedom ranger, "Rufus."
Above-Freedom Ranger, final size, hen named “Rufus.” Slow growing.

Table 1. Pastured poultry data summary 2005-2012, fast growing White Cornish Crosses.

NOTES:

  • 2005 (spring) only chick grit was used which affected feed conversion. For following groups we used chick grit in the brooder then hen grit in the field.
  • 2009: very hot period (10 days) when birds didn’t eat/grow much.
  • 2012: Birds ate a lot but Fast CornishX didn’t grow like previous years.
 2005 spring2005 summer20062008200920112012
No. Received Alive817815678767075
No. Slaughtered697512972636766
No. Small Birds (<3lb live weight at slaughter)11100100
Age at Slaughter (weeks)898887.77.6
Average carcass weight (lb)3.95.04.94.64.05.03.8
Total Feed Used (lb)147212932408136387511371291
Feed Used/Bird (lb)21.317.218.718.913.917.019.0
Feed Conversion (lb feed/lb meat)5.53.53.84.13.43.44.9

Table 2. Pastured poultry data summary 2005-2012, slower growing broiler varieties.

NOTES:

  • 2005 (spring) only chick grit was used which affected feed conversion. For following groups we used chick grit in the brooder then hen grit in the field.
  • 2009: very hot period (10 days) when birds didn’t eat/grow much.
 2005 spring2005 summer20072008200920112012
No. Received Alive69978578787477
No. Slaughtered52547577736969
No. Small Birds (<3lb live weight at slaughter)132300000
Age at Slaughter (weeks)10111111111111
Average Carcass Weight (lb)3.43.24.84.13.33.64.2
Total Feed Used (lb)133698518601592127014501690
Feed Used/Bird (lb)25.718.224.820.717.420.423.5
Feed Conversion (lb feed/lb bird)7.65.75.25.15.25.95.7