- Animals: poultry
- Animal Production: housing, feed rations, free-range
- Farm Business Management: market study
Consumer interest in natural and organic poultry is growing. An experiment was conducted to assess the impact of alternative genotype, production system, and nutrition on growth performance, carcass yield, meat quality, and sensory attributes of broilers for natural or specialty markets. A slow-growing genotype (Slow) and a commercial fast-growing genotype (Fast) were raised were raised for 91 and 63 days, respectively. Each genotype was assigned to four pens of 20 birds each and raised in indoor floor pens in a naturally ventilated facility; each genotype was also assigned to four floor pens in a small portable facility with outdoor access (during daylight hours). The Fast birds were provided with a 3-phase diet and the Slow birds were provided with a 4-phase diet. The feeds were formulated to be low in energy and protein for a slower rate of production as in the French Label Rouge program. Birds were commercially processed and deboned at 4 h postmortem. The F birds gained more weight than the S birds (P < 0.05) even though they were placed 4 weeks later. The outdoor birds had a higher feed intake than indoor (P < 0.05), and consequently a poorer feed efficiency (P < 0.05). The F birds had a higher breast yield (P < 0.05), while the S birds had a higher wing and leg yield (P < 0.05) as a percent of body weight. The meat of the S birds became more yellow (higher b*) when the birds had outdoor access; however, this did not occur when the F birds had outdoor access (P < 0.05). The breast meat of the S birds had less fat than the F birds, with only one half the amount of fat of the F birds (P < 0.05). Production system had an impact on protein, with the outdoor birds having less fat than the indoor birds (P < 0.05). The S birds were more tender than the F birds (P < 0.05). A trained panel detected small differences in texture and flavor between conventional and alternative products, but the consumer panel did not indicate differences in liking. An additional experiment examined the impact of genotype and nutrition on performance and quality. The diets compared were low protein/low energy (Low) and regular protein/regular energy (Reg). The Low diet was the same one used in Exp. 1 and the Reg diet was formulated to contain adequate nutrient levels as defined by the NRC (1994). The Slow birds increased in mean weight when fed the Reg diet compared to the Low diet; however, this effect was not seen in the Fast birds. These data indicate that performance and meat quality differences exist among genotypes with different growth rates and reared in alternative production systems with differing diets.
There is interest in natural and organic poultry that have been raised with access to the outdoors. Small farmers, in particular, raise small flocks to boost farm income, contributing to rural development. Production systems vary, depending on size. Small farmers usually use small portable houses or field pens that are moved regularly to fresh pasture. Larger companies typically use stationary houses that open to enclosed yards.
Research is needed on the performance and quality of birds raised in alternative production systems. Many small farmers believe that the meat has superior nutritional content and sensory attributes compared to conventional poultry meat, and scientific research is needed to investigate the differences.
Fast-growing birds are generally used in alternative production systems in the U.S. However, fast-growing birds have been selected for indoor production and are likely to be more adapted to conventional systems. Fast-growing birds are a Cornish x White Rock cross and have been selected for decades for fast growth and high yield of breast meat. They reach a market weight in about 7 weeks. However, fast-growing birds are not active breeds compared to slower-growing birds. In addition, low lighting levels are used in indoor production systems to keep birds calm and encourage growth, but low lighting also discourages activity and exercise. Slow-growing birds take much longer to reach market weight–about 12 weeks–and medium-growing birds are intermediate, reaching market weight in 10 weeks. But slow-growing birds are hardy and do not tend to have the metabolic problems such as ascites and sudden death syndrome that is seen in fast-growing birds.
In Europe, slow-growing birds are used in organic production. In fact, organic chickens are required to have an 81-day grow out. In the French Label Rouge program, which makes up 30% of poultry production in France, slow-growing birds are required. Under the Label Rouge program, slow-growing birds are raised with access to the outdoors, fed low protein/low energy diets that support a slower rate of gain than conventional birds, and, at processing, are air chilled rather than immersion chilled, which is the prevailing method used in the U.S. The meat from Label Rouge birds is considered more firm and flavorful than conventional poultry meat and sells at twice the price of conventional. Slow-growing birds are not commonly used in the U.S., in fact, there is little availability. Europe is the leader in providing specialty genetics for commercial production.
Although small producers have been meeting niche market demands in the U.S., increasingly, large companies are beginning to produce for antibiotic-free, natural, free-range, and organic markets. Small farmers need to stay abreast of niche opportunities in order to compete with businesses with large-scale efficiencies. Evaluating specialty pasture-raised poultry products could help small producers with their marketing efforts. The use of appropriate genetics would be expected to improve production and further differentiate the product in the marketplace.
Assess the impact of genotype, production system, and nutrition on performance, carcass yield, meat quality, and sensory attributes.