Comparing the pasture restoration potential and financial viability of Cornish Cross vs. Red Broilers, in combination with heritage pastured hogs, for a small pastured poultry operation in NE Minnesota

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $3,867.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Cindy Hale
Clover Valley Farms, LLC
Jeff Hall
Clover Valley Farms, LLC

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: other, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: poultry, swine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, grazing management, manure management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Our farm is located in a rural township ~20 miles north of Duluth, Minnesota and 4 miles inland from Lake Superior. The climate (Zone 3), thick clay soils and intermittent shallow or exposed bedrock (remnants of Glacial Lake Duluth and the last glacial ice retreat, respectively) make NE Minnesota and NW Wisconsin generally inhospitable to large, row crop farms. Historic farming in the area was dominated by pasture-based dairies and mixed subsistence farming. Recent increases in consumer demand for locally-produced, organic agricultural products have supported the development of many small farms that raise a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and meats. Our farm contains historic hay fields that have been maintained by annual haying, but the lack of any pasture rejuvenation over many decades has led to very low productivity and poor quality forage, typical across the region. We have developed a successful pastured poultry operation over the last 4 years. Demand for our chickens (and eggs) far exceeds our current level of production (300 birds/year). We are interested in profitably expanding our poultry enterprise through comparison of the economic and marketability of two different breeds and relative affects of each on pasture rejuvenation to provide high quality, low-cost forage for the future. While raising Cornish Cross chickens in Salatin Style pasture pens that are moved daily, we observed that the paths along which the pens moved through the season were not only greener (more productive) in the coming season, but appeared to contain more desirable plants (i.e. clovers) than did the unaffected pasture only a few feet away. We did no seeding which suggested to us that a soil seed bank exists that may be sufficient to improve our relatively, unproductive pasture solely through the action of grazing our chickens. In 2009, we raised several pens of the new “Red Broiler”, developed specifically for pasture operations. They scratch and forage much more than do the Cornish Cross, have lower mortality and were reported to have better flavor by several customers. We want to explicitly test the relative impacts of each breed on pasture rejuvenation and the economic and market potential of these two breeds. Recommendations for pasture rejuvenation in our region generally include raking or tilling of the field, addition of soil amendments (i.e. lime, P, K and manure) and re-seeding. Our experience suggests that this fairly costly and labor intensive manner of pasture rejuvenation may not be necessary if chickens can do the work for us. To look at this more objectively, in year 1, we propose to seed half of the area grazed by chickens with a 50:50 mix of red and white clover and leave the other half as a “no-seed control”. We will also include a section of pasture that remains ungrazed by chickens, half of which will receive seeding of the clover mix to compare the affects of seeding alone to seeding in combination with the different chicken breeds. In year 2, we will test the cost efficiency of the different forage enhanced areas (i.e chickens/no-seed vs. chickens/clover mix) on the profitability of each chicken breed. The purpose of this study is to explicitly test the effectiveness of pasture rejuvenation using 6 different chicken breed/seeding combinations (e.g. Cornish/clover mix, Cornish/no seed, Red Boiler/clover mix, Red Broiler/no seed, no chickens/clover mix, no chickens/no seed); and profitability of production of each breed over a 2 year period under different pasture conditions. Study Objectives: 1) Determine the impacts of Cornish Cross vs. Red Broilers on the relative changes in plant composition and productivity after grazing only vs. grazing and seeding over 2 years. 2) Determine the financial break-even point for the two chicken breeds under the same pasture conditions (e.g. the lbs of feed required per unit finished weight of chickens).

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.