Optimizing the Economic Return of Pasture-Raised Slow-growth and Conventional Broilers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $175,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Amy Barkley
Cornell University

Information Products


  • Animals: poultry
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed management, feed rations, genetics, heritage breeds, meat processing, processing regulations
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity and Justification: Poultry is a low-cost, rapid-return enterprise for small farms in the Northeast. The 2017 Ag Census indicated that there were 5,088 farms rearing broilers in the region. Of those, 60% are classified as small broiler enterprises (<2,000 birds/year). These enterprises don’t benefit from the economies of scale like larger producers, so input costs and retail values must be carefully considered. Many times, the true costs of production are not evaluated in enterprise budgets, or even known to the farmer, resulting in farm income losses. Slow growth and Cornish-type (also called conventional) broilers have different efficiencies, which are impacted by genetics, diet, management style, and age at harvest. Value-added processing allowed under the 1,000 bird exemption as well as processing method (on-farm vs outsourcing) can also impact profit margins. Deficient understanding of the optimization of these operations can result in substantial financial loss over many years, and the ultimate demise of small, local broiler farms.

    Solution and Approach: This project follows 40 pastured broiler farms across New York State through 4 total flocks each over 2 years. Twenty of the farms raise traditional Cornish-type broilers on pasture, where an additional 20 raise slow-growth broilers on pasture of breeds which include, but are not limited to Red Rangers, Freedom Rangers, Imperials, and Kosher Kings. In year 1, farmers will collect production, processing, marketing, and sales data on their flocks to determine their costs of production. Those financial indicators will be benchmarked against the average costs of production from the other pastured broiler farms on the project. Following the first production year, each farm will meet with their local extension educator to determine where they can decrease costs and increase income. These changes will be implemented for year 2 flocks. Production, processing, marketing, and sales data will be collected on these new flocks to benchmark against the previous years' data and the statewide average. These farmers will then determine how much their adjusted farm practices increased their income per bird and per flock. In addition to the farmers we will follow, we will host 5 field days and 2 virtual webinars, as well as develop 3 fact sheets to provide pastured broiler farmers across the state the resources they need to critically evaluate their production practices and increase income from their pastured broiler enterprises.


    Performance targets from proposal:

    Forty farms from across NYS producing either pasture-raised slow growth or pasture-raised Cornish-type (conventional) broilers will develop a robust understanding of the true income from their poultry operations. One hundred and sixty flocks will be part of this project (4 flocks per farm, 2 each year), involving a total of 12,000 birds. Farms that are part of the project will look critically at flock performance and financial balance sheets while making changes to increase income by $4.85/bird, or $363.75/flock.

    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.