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Washington State University - Puyallup Organic Farming Systems and Nutrient Management

Pastured Poultry

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 to right). Each cage held up to 35 birds and contained two feed troughs and two watering units. Cages were rolled daily onto fresh pasture using a hand truck. We supplied feed and water to fast-growing birds (Cornish Cross) 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 identify alternatives to chlorine bleach for carcass sanitation.

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.

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.

Resources:

Break-even Analysis of Small-Scale Production of Pastured Organic Poultry. Painter, K., E. Myhre, A. Bary, C. Cogger, and W. Jemmett. 2015. Pacific Northwest Extension Publication PNW 665.
(♣ PDF-Online)
(♣ Online Excel XLSX spreadsheet for calculating costs)

 

♣ Photos and designs of portable poultry cages.

Pastured poultry, moveable day pens

Above, movable pasture pens.

Pastured poultry, fast growing cornish cross

Above, Cornish Cross, final size.  Fast growing.

Pastured poultry, freedom ranger, "Rufus"

Above, Freedom Ranger, final size, named “Rufus.”  Slow growing.

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

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