Integrating Free Range Poultry with Ruminant and Agroforestry Production in a Systems Approach
When free-range poultry are raised in extensive systems, they are generally integrated into ruminant production or other farm activities. Extensive systems require a lot of land and the profits from free-range poultry along may not be sufficient to justify the cost of land; however, when integrated with cattle, sheep, or goat production, free-range poultry may be a complementary enterprise. The ruminants can manage the forage sward for the poultry and keep the forage short and vegetative. While poultry are not ruminants, they can obtain significant nutrients from forage, particularly protein and vitamins. In order to optimize the use of forage nutrients, alternative poultry feeding systems, such as free-choice or cafeteria feeding, may be needed. Our research has found that free-choice feeding of free-range chickens resulted in similar weight gain and lower breast yield compared with formulated feeding, but cost less than fully formulated diets. Integrated production systems may provide additional mutualistic benefits such as parasite control. Sericea lespedeza has been shown to have anti-parasitic properties when fed to small ruminants and research is needed on its impact on poultry. As part of this project, the impact of sericea lespedeza on coccidial parasites was evaluated in chicks.
1. Determine impact of integrating poultry with ruminant grazing on animal and poultry performance
2. Determine impact of grazing poultry on high-protein forage and forage with condensed tannins on performance and parasite control
3. Determine impact of grazing poultry under shelter/shade/roosts and feeding tree fodder for agroforestry systems
4. Determine the nutrient content of poultry products due to integrating poultry with livestock production and agroforestry
5. Conduct on-farm verification trials to determine the impact of practices developed
Objective 1. Determine impact of integrating poultry with ruminant grazing on animal and poultry performance
Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture tested the integration of layers into cattle operations. They raised two heritage breeds, Delaware and Wyndotte, to integrate with cattle production.
Due to two years of low rainfall, results regarding the potential of poultry to reduce cattle parasites are not conclusive. During periods of drought, parasites may be less active in the forage sward and cattle less likely to ingest them. In addition, parasites are less active due to the hay feeding that was necessary during the drought. Although the center maintains a strong interest in integrating poultry with livestock and horticultural activities, due to short-staffing, there are no plans to raise poultry in 2013.
The Dale Bumpers Small Farmers Research Center (DBSFRC) has noted from experience and from discussions with other poultry producers who use forages for poultry and cattle, that the forage left behind after poultry are moved off is not useable again that season. Poultry producers are handling this by planting annuals (mostly wheat or rye) at appropriate times of the year after poultry are moved from forage. There is an economic cost for doing this that should be considered. This effect from poultry may depend on rainfall.
Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit:
The number of small- and medium-scale producers raising specialty chickens for local and regional markets is growing and many producers do not have access to the nutritional services that large producers do and also may have specific goals in regard to nutrition, such as using farm-raised feed ingredients and pasture forage to provide nutrients. In the organic programs of most countries, outdoor access is required for poultry and, in addition, many programs do not permit the use of synthetic amino acids in feed. Free-choice feeding is a method that offers birds separate feedstuffs, such as grains, protein concentrates, natural vitamin and mineral sources, from which they can self-select a diet suited to their changing needs. Free-choice feeding may prove useful in production systems with outdoor access because nutrient needs change widely due to temperature fluctuations and bird activity. Free-choice methods have had a historic use and can be useful for alternative producers, making use of farm-raised feeds to improve savings and increase nutrient cycling. Research was conducted to determine the impact of free-choice feeding on free-range meat chickens.
Specialty poultry production is growing, including free-range, organic, and small flocks. Feed is a high cost, particularly for organic producers and small-scale producers. Free-choice feeding, where feed ingredients are provided in separate containers, may offer cost savings, including the use of on-farm ingredients, reduction in feed transportation, and milling costs. A study was conducted to determine the impact of free-choice feeding on performance in free-range meat chickens. Pens of slow-growing chickens (20 birds per pen) were randomly assigned to one of two treatments: fully formulated diet (FF; control) or free-choice (FC) diet. There were 5 replications of these treatments. Birds were raised in floor pens in a naturally ventilated house; popholes provided access to grassy yards during the day. During the starter period (weeks 0-3), formulated feed was provided to both treatments. During the grower period (weeks 4-6), FC treatment also received formulated feed along with free-choice ingredients for training, and during the finisher period (weeks 7-12), FC only received free-choice ingredients. Birds were commercially processed at 83 days. The formulated diet was a commercial product with an average of 20.75% crude protein (1.04% total sulfur amino acids); while the free-choice diet chosen by birds at 11 weeks was 13.2% crude protein (0.70% total sulfur amino acids). Final live weights did not differ between treatments (P > 0.05); however, ready-to-cook yield and breast yields were higher in the birds from the FF treatment (P < 0.05). These higher yields are most likely due to amino acid supplements in the formulated feed. The diet chosen by FC birds at end of finisher period was less expensive than the formulated diet ($0.07/kg vs. $0.08/kg). These data indicate that while free-choice feeding of free-range chickens resulted in a 1.4% lower breast yield than formulated feeding, FC feed cost was lower. The USDA National Organic Program is planning to ban synthetic methionine, and when that occurs, there may be no difference in yield among birds from formulated and free-choice diets.
In conclusion, free-choice feeding of free-range chickens resulted in similar weight gain and lower breast yield compared with formulated feeding. Free-choice feeding cost less than the fully formulated diet in this study. Free choice feeding may be more suited to small- or medium-scale production rather than large-scale, because the number of feeders needed makes automation difficult. It is also useful for poultry production in developing countries where formulated feeds and premixes may be limited.
The National Center for Appropriate Technlogy developed a publication on Pastured Poultry Forages that is in formatting. The publication covers historical use of forages, nutrients in forage, factors affecting forage intake, utilizing native and established forages vs. seeding, insects and other live protein, sprouting (indoor forage), feeding methods on pasture including free-choice, impact of forage-feeding on pastured poultry meat and eggs.
Raising poultry on pasture is a time established method of farming quality chickens, turkeys, waterfowl, and other poultry. As with all agriculture, the understanding of the technical aspects of raising poultry on pasture has increased greatly in recent times. This publication will explore the role that forages play in pastured poultry production, examining both the advantages and disadvantages. Attention will be paid to the relationship between the birds and the forages that they consume on pasture, with a special emphasis on pastured chicken production for both meat and eggs.
Objective 2. Determine impact of grazing poultry on high-protein forage and forage with condensed tannins on performance and parasite control
A manuscript on sericea lespedeza was published in the Journal of Applied Poultry Science. See publication list and attached.
Additional research was conducted to determine the efficacy of sericea lespedeza in chicks infected with two species of Eimeria.
The objective of this study was to find out whether sericea lespedeza has any activity against Eimeria species, the cause of coccidiosis in chickens, when included in the diet. Chicks were infected with oocysts of two species of Eimeria known to cause malabsorption of nutrients during the acute phase of infection. These species are E. acervulina which parasitizes the duodenum and E. maxima which parasitizes the mid-intestine. Both are widespread pathogens of chickens. The experiment was designed to determine whether sericea lespedeza has any effect upon the ability of E. acervulina and E. maxima to multiply in the gut.
There was no effect of sericea lespedeza on birds infected with E. acervulina or with E. maxima based on oocysts produced per gram of feces and oocysts produced per bird. Feed intake, conversion and body weight were not different among all treatment groups. Note: The feed level used in this study was much lower than that used for lambs (Burke et al., 2012), which comprised at least 25-50% of the diet when there was a reduction in fecal oocyst counts.
Objective 3. Determine impact of grazing poultry under shelter/shade/roosts and feeding tree fodder for agroforestry systems
Work has continued on the manuscript from the agroforestry trial.
According to an update from PPPSRU, the beauty berry plantings Callicarpa americana have partially survived the droughts. When establishing plantings of woody perennials, it may be important to use natives as noted in this project.
Objective 4: Determine the nutrient content of poultry products due to integrating poultry with livestock production and agroforestry
See NCAT Pastured Poultry Forages publication
Objective 5: Conduct on-farm verification trials to determine the impact of practices developed
Little Portion has integrated pastured pigs and pastured layers together. They raise 120 feeder pigs per year which are a Hampshire cross purchased from area breeders. The pigs have small portable huts and forage on pasture. There are no ruminant animals in the system but interestingly, the pigs graze the forage much like ruminants when initially introduced to the pasture area, generally a fescue/bermuda mix. A layer rotation (200 layer-flock) follows the pig rotation with a layer house on a hay wagon. Yards are set up in wooded areas for layer chickens and protected with electronet fencing. While hawks have preyed on chickens in the woods, Little Portion finds it is only white feathered birds and have converted the flock to brown-feathers Bovan Browns. Pasture areas that pigs have denuded, particularly under trees, are re-seeded with rye. During winter, layer chickens are housed in a large greenhouse structure.
Project participant Clay Colbert prefers raising pastured pigs compared to the pastured broilers they have raised in the past for meat because of the pigs’ large size. Pigs are slaughtered at a USDA approved plant in nearby Missouri. Little Portion is pursuing a permit to grade eggs on site and plan to increase flock size to 700 this year. They sell sell meat and eggs to restaurants, retailers, and individuals.
Dancing Springs has continued to maintain a mixture of goats, horses, broiler chickens, and layer chickens, as well as blueberries. They have tried many variations of production systems and currently prefer a contained pastured poultry pen (10 x 12’) placed in areas with goats. While birds may not have access to a large yard, the birds are safe from predators (dogs have been problematic), cannot fly out of a yard, and electricity is not required for fences. The farm is home to a large family with young children and electricity is a concern. The farm maintains other housing: fixed strawbale house, 16 x 5’ house on a trailer (heavy), and small house on a trailer for flexibility and future operations. Broilers will continue to be raised in warm seasons in a small hoophouse on skids. Blueberries have suffered from droughts.
- Layer houses with cattle at Kerr Ranch
- Kerr Center 2012 Poultry with Cattle Report
- Troughs offering free-choice feedstuffs
- Layers following Pineywoods cattle at Kerr Ranch
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We have extended our project work for one year due to heat/droughts. Increasing diversity on the farm is a key principle of sustainable agriculture, allowing for beneficial interactions, better resource use efficiency and microhabitat differentiation, better nutrient cycling with animals and enabling energy flow, and reduction of market risk for farmers. Diverse systems have more resiliance to disturbances such as drought. Successional-developed systems that include woody perennials such as bushes and trees can provide additional resiliance.
However, it is important that as enterprises are added to a farm that the quality of life not decline due to the management and labor required by multiple enterprises.
Pastured Poultry Panel, Independent Small Animal Meat Processors Association, November 6, 2010, Marion, NC
“Pastured Poultry Nutrition” and “Matching Poultry Genetics to Production System,” Organic Growers School, March 5-6, 2011, Asheville, NC.
Poultry Science Association Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, July 18-20, 2010, “Choice Feeding of Organic Meat Chickens.”
“Effect of Simulated Agroforestry Structures on Performance and Behavior of Organic Meat Chickens” 30th Poultry Science Symposium on Alternative Systems for Poultry – Health, Welfare and Productivity, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK from 7 – 9 September 7-9, 2011.
“Pasture-Based Meat Bird Production,” Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Annual Conference, Durham, NC, November 12, 2011.
“Sensory Attributes of Pastured Poultry.” American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Annual Meeting. Nov. 10, 2012. Carey, NC
“Producing Poultry Meat on Pasture.” eXtension webinar. March 28, 2013. www.extension.org/poultry (see Past Webinars)
Clark, D., Moyle, J.R., Bramwell, K., Tabler, T. 2013. Winterization suggestions for the poultry farm. Avian Advice Extension Publication, University of Arkansas.
Clark, D., Moyle, J.R. 2013. Dealing with summer heat in free range poultry. Avian Advice Extension Publication, University of Arkansas.
Donoghue, D.J., Reyes-Herrera, I., Venkitanarayanan, K., Fanatico, A.C., and Donoghue, A.M. 2011. Organic Poultry Production: Developing Natural Solutions to Reducing Pathogens and Maintaining Gut Health. The Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference. Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), Chattanooga, TN. (abstract)
Fanatico, A.C., V. B. Brewer, C. M. Owens-Hanning, D. J. Donoghue, and A. M. Donoghue. 2013. Free-Choice Feeding of Free-Range Meat Chicken. Journal of Applied Poultry Research (manuscript under review)
Fanatico, A.C., V. B. Brewer, C. M. Owens-Hanning, and A. M. Donoghue. 2010. Free-Choice Feeding of Free-Range Meat Chickens. Poultry Science (abstract)
Fanatico, A.C., V. B. Brewer, C. M. Owens, and A. M. Donoghue. 2011. Choice feeding of organic meat chickens. Poultry Science. (abstract)
Fanatico, A.C., J.A. Mench, G.S. Archer, Y. Liang, V. B. Brewer, Owens, C.M., and A. M. Donoghue. 2011. Effect of Simulated Agroforestry Structures on Performance and Behavior of Organic Meat Chickens. World Poultry Science Association. (abstract)
Moyle, J. R., J. M. Burke, A. Fanatico, K. Arsi, I. Reyes-Herrera, D. J. Donoghue, A. Woo-Ming and A. M. Donoghue. 2011. Palatability of Tannin-rich Sericea Lespedeza fed to broilers. Poultry Science (abstract).
Moyle, J.R., Burke, J.M., Fanatico, A., Mosjidis, J.A., Spencer, T., Arsi, K., Reyes-Herrera, I., Woo-Ming, A., Donoghue, D.J., and Donoghue, A.M. 2012. Palatability of tannin-rich sericea lespedeza fed to broilers. J Applied Poult. Sci. 21:891-896.
Spencer, T. 2013. Pastured Poultry Forages. ATTRA publication, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Fayetteville, AR. (In formatting)
Louisiana State University
Department of Pathobiological Sciences
School of Veterinary Medicine
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Office Phone: 2255789652
Research Animal Scientist
USDA Agricultural Research Service
Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center
6883 South State Highway 23
Booneville, AR 72927
Office Phone: 4796753834
18689 Lake Sequoyah WC 50
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Office Phone: 4795871731