Integration of poultry and cover crops for soil health in vegetable production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $11,977.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University


  • Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, greens (lettuces), peppers
  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: free-range, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: cropping systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    Integrated systems have the potential to provide an array of benefits to producers, the land they manage, and the environment. Through the proposed project titled “Integrating Poultry and Cover Crops into Vegetable Production for Soil Health”, we will investigate changes in soil properties, crop performance, poultry health, and farm profitability over three growing seasons. Treatments will compare two vegetable-poultry-cover crop rotations with a typical vegetable-cover crop rotation system and determine its effects on soil health, poultry health, vegetable crop performance, and economic feasibility, and prevalence of food-borne pathogens in soil especially following pasture raised poultry. The hypothesis is that the implementation of integrated systems will increase soil health while also increasing farm profitability and resiliency. Producers will receive access to the results via field days at the research station, poster presentations at annual growers' conferences, written extension bulletins, and a peer- reviewed journal publication. An on farm grower collaboration will also be pursued. Short-term outcomes include a better understanding of the benefits of integrated systems and increased grower knowledge of the cost/benefit of integrated systems specifically a system that uses red ranger chickens in a long-term vegetable rotation. Project impacts will be measured using follow-up surveys of field day attendees and by holding focus groups at growers' conferences.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Organic producers are constantly looking for new methods to improve soil health while also improving farm profitability. Changing from specialized to integrated systems has the potential to achieve that goal. A production system focusing solely on crops has led to a loss of knowledge especially in the areas of effectively integrating crops and livestock to benefit the entire production system including the soil. For these reasons, this project aims to increase knowledge of integrating poultry into a vegetable and forage based system, the use of slower growing breeds of poultry, and reduction of off farm inputs from the use of live animals in a rotation. This study will outline specific infrastructure requirements necessary to raising poultry outdoors and address the day-to-day knowledge necessary for producing these birds for profit. We will identify cover crops that work well in an integrated system doubling as soil health builders and poultry forage, and evaluate the economic feasibility of integrating poultry.

    This project hopes to increase grower adoption of integrated systems among vegetable producers in the NCR-SARE region.

    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.