Pastured Poultry/Crop Systems and Their Effect on Food Safety, Farm Economy, and Soil Quality

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2011: $24,807.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: University of California, Santa Cruz
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Kathleen Hilimire
University of California, Santa Cruz


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: walnuts
  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing management, pasture fertility, range improvement
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, new enterprise development, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: social capital, sustainability measures


    Integrating pastured poultry with crop production is on the rise in California due to high demand for pastured products and a desire by farmers to close on-farm fertility cycles. This project examined pastured poultry/crop systems using grower surveys, soil quality and crop growth investigation, and soil pathogen research. In summary, this research finds that pastured poultry/crop systems can be profitable to farmers and that certain crops can be grown in these agroecosystems without the addition of supplemental fertilizers. However, further attention to soil P management is critical, and integrated systems should be managed carefully to avoid cross-contamination of crops by pathogens.


    In the last 15 years, a number of factors have converged to make pasture-raising poultry and integrated poultry/crop agriculture practices of interest to farmers, scientists and the public. These have been: 1) a rise in fertilizer prices and a desire by farmers to cycle nutrients on-farm, 2) research by nutrition scientists demonstrating the health benefits of pasture-raised livestock, and 3) public concern for the animal welfare of birds raised in indoor systems.

    As the cost of fossil fuel-based fertilizers rises, interest in using animal manure as a fertilizer has grown (1). Integrated agroecosystems represent an innovative way of affording a fertilizer, as the sale of animal products can partially or entirely cover the cost of animal and manure production. Pasture-based systems represent a further innovation, as pasture is tilled less frequently than crop fields, leading to decreased erosion and higher carbon storage (2,3). With animals on pasture producing marketable products, pastured poultry/crop systems can become an economically viable way to apply manure and maintain a multi-year low-till “cover crop.”

    Recent research by nutrition scientists has demonstrated increased human health benefits from consuming pasture-raised animal products as compared to conventionally produced animal products. Pasture naturally contains higher levels of fatty acids than grain-based feed (4). In poultry, desirable fatty acids are directly absorbed from the intestine into tissue (5). As such, pasturing poultry significantly increases the n-3 (omega-3) fatty acid content of meat and the vitamin A, vitamin E and n-3 fatty acid content of eggs in comparison to caged birds with no access to pasture (6).

    Finally, public concern for the animal welfare of birds raised in indoor systems continues to rise, and popular publications highlighting pastured poultry (7,8) have contributed to the perception that humane alternatives exist.

    Project objectives:

    1. Interview growers and specialists with management and budget questions based on points identified as critical by farmer collaborators.

      Analyze benefits and challenges of raising pastured poultry.

      Determine whether fields that have been planted with pasture and grazed with poultry are suitable for crop cultivation with minimal addition of fertilizers, composts or cover crops.

      Quantify crop growth via greenhouse experiments from poultry pasture and control fields.

      Determine whether foodborne pathogens pose a problem for crops grown under pastured poultry/crop systems via literature review.

      Analyze treatment and control soils for E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Salmonella.

      Share results and support informed producer adoption via publications, workshops and presentations.

    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.