As a beginning farmer, should I consider pastured poultry production?
For many beginning farmers, poultry may be the most logical livestock choice. Birds have several advantages?their small size, quick return on investment, and low start-up costs, to name a few. Poultry can be the “gateway” animal to raising larger stock like sheep, goats, hogs, or cattle.Poultry are raised on the farm for many reasons?egg and meat production, insect and weed control, selling stock, and more. Due to the great variety of sizes, diets, foraging behaviors, and hardiness among poultry species, poultry can be advantageously incorporated into almost any existing livestock or horticultural enterprise.The addition of poultry can diversify the farm’s offerings to customers through meat and egg production. Poultry can provide insect and weed control, increase soil fertility, and serve as a marketing and educational tool for families.Healthy Pastures, Healthy FlocksMany producers are shocked to see just how much green forage the birds, especially chickens and turkeys, will eat when given the opportunity. Depending on its quality, pasture may replace up to 25% of the feed consumed.Birds raised on pasture are typically quite healthy. Their immune systems are generally strong because they are exposed to sunlight, fresh air, and frequent fresh pasture in a naturally sanitary environment. The use of antibiotics and other medications is rare in pastured poultry production.When poultry graze on healthy pastures, gobbling insects and plants, the birds produce flavorful meat. The yolks of pastured eggs are usually dark orange and the fat deposited in the meat is often yellow, evidence of the elevated vitamin, mineral, and Omega-3 content of the meat. Many customers appreciate the humane practices of farmers who raise their chickens on pasture. All these factors mean that the pastured poultry farmer can charge a premium price.It’s not all a bed of roses with pastured poultry production. Hurdles include predators, processing, marketing, complex regulations, pasture seasonality, severe weather, product storage, and transportation.Once you get past the learning curve, though, pasturing poultry can be a great system. With a virtually untapped market and a tremendously popular product, farmers who are able to meet the challenges can profit from the emerging pastured-poultry industry. ATTRA has extensive resources related to poultry, including Meat Chicken Breeds for Pastured Production, Pastured-Raised Poultry Nutrition, and Range Poultry Housing, to name a few. To see the full list of available resources, visit https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry/.