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Home  > Livestock and Pasture > Poultry > Sustainable Poultry

Sustainable Poultry

Free range chickens.
Photo courtesy of Luke Elliott

Americans eat a lot of poultry meat - more than 86 lbs. of chicken per person per year-which is more than beef or pork. On a world-wide basis, poultry play an important role in feeding people by providing a high-quality protein in the form of meat and eggs, scavenging unused feeds or by-products, and providing high-quality fertility to the soil by way of their manure. Poultry can convert feed more efficiently to meat and eggs than many other animals.

Poultry, especially chicken meat, used to be considered a luxury item, but now is the least expensive meat available in the U.S. Poultry meat and eggs have a low retail cost at the grocery store because of a focus on production attributes: genetic selection, nutrition, management, and veterinary care and a trend to large-scale confinement production to increase production efficiency.

Improving sustainability in poultry production means not only reducing costs and maximizing productivity but also a focus on bird health and welfare and other societal concerns. Large-scale production has led to geographical concentration of birds and their waste products, creating environmental concerns in some parts of the country in terms of water and air quality. Consumers have increasing concerns about food safety (food-born pathogens, pesticide residues, additives, antibiotic residues/resistance), nutritional (fat content, fatty acid profile, vitamins), value (appearance, flavor, traceability, regional production), and production process concerns (animal welfare, genetically modified organisms, environmental impact, worker safety, social justice), etc.

With concern about global warming from the production of greenhouse gases, individuals and companies are looking at ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels or reduce the "carbon" footprint. Poultry companies and producers look for alternative energy sources, including renewable energy generation on the farm and ways to improve energy efficiency. Instead of energy-intensive agriculture, some poultry producers use systems with biological synergies and diversity. Reducing the carbon footprint may mean returning small and midsize growers to the playing field. If their product is bought locally, there are less transportation miles. Composting is an important way to close the nutrient cycle.

Diversity is an important part of sustainability. Diversified, integrated systems rather than highly specialized monocultures give our environment and food systems more opportunity to recover from challenges such as climate change and water shortage. For the future, it is important to grow farmers as well as crops and livestock. Family farms have formed the backbone of the U.S. and are still needed to maintain rural communities, as well as keeping green areas near our cities. Sustainability ensures that the opportunities and natural resources for the next generation are the same or better than those for the current generation. Poultry may contribute less to global warming than other livestock.


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This page was last updated on: January 26, 2015