- Animals: poultry
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns
- Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting
The Cornish Cross commercial breed has become the standard for American palates. However, it is not well-suited to production on pasture. And it is also not an active forager. Other breeds that historically were used for both egg and meat production have the potential for pastured meat production, but have limitations due to a slower rate of growth (lower feed conversion rate, longer time from hatching to slaughter which ties up equipment) and more dark meat and less breast meat than the birds Americans have been getting in supermarkets for the past 60 years.
French producers have developed the Label Rouge system, which utilizes a slower-growing bird in outdoor conditions, and market these birds as better-tasting. This system has captured 30 percent of the poultry market in France over the last 45 years. While this type of meat bird does not represent a large part of the U.S. poultry market, it does represent a small select market that could support smaller farms in raising a slower growing better tasting bird.
The project will entail comparing nine different breeds of chickens raised in the same system on pasture. Before the chickens arrive, I will determine the types of foliage in my pasture. I will study 4 batches of 9 breeds of chicken run from March to November: Cornish Cross, straight Cornish, Barred Rock, Delaware, New Hampshire, Wyandotte, Naked Necks, Rhode Island Red, and Redbro. I will grow each breed separately at 10 per batch in 9 tractors. I will observe and note foraging characteristics of each breed and compare them to one another. I will track the cost of housing, feed, processing, and final sale per species of chicken on pasture and compare the costs and profitability of raising each breed to see which breed does best under our conditions in west-central Alabama.
In a second year of a follow-up study, I could collaborate with several other local farmers to replicate the activities of the first year after narrowing down the nine breeds to three or four. We would follow the same line of inquiry, monitoring costs and comparing differences in their batches of birds.
I will try to discover the best combination of chicken type and grow-out rate to satisfy the demands of the small farmer, who wants to develop a system that raises a tasty, marketable pastured bird raised as quickly as possible.
I will measure the weight of a random sample, three birds of each breed of bird, every week and on the day of processing, and also the finished carcass weight, in order to compare growth rates of each breed. I will also measure total feed, feed/chicken, feed cost/lb. I will keep track of age onto pasture, age at slaughter, number sold, and mortality. I will also develop a taste test, based on accepted sensory evaluation methods, to be given to the public at the end-of-the-year Field Day, which will derive from a test that Anne Fanatico, Agricultural Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, has conducted.