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How to Get Your Chickens to Make the Best Use of Pasture

By   /  July 14, 2014  /  Comments Off on How to Get Your Chickens to Make the Best Use of Pasture

Changing the time when you feed your birds can increase their foraging, potentially increase weight gain, and reduce labor costs.

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Chicks in feeding trialLabor cost and feed-conversion efficiencies;  these are the two things that determine the profitability of a pastured meat-bird operation.  The less you have to work with the birds, the lower your labor costs.  But how do you improve the rate that they turn feed into meat?  That’s the question that the producers at Pasture Perfect Poultry decided to answer with some on farm research supported by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.)  It turns out that by paying attention to WHEN you feed the birds, you reduce your labor costs and you increase their feed efficiency.

After watching the birds in the Day Range system, they learned that birds foraged most actively during the early morning and the evening hours.  That also happened to be the time when they fed they chicks and let them out to forage, or when they put them up in the evening.  But what if they fed them once a day between 11 am and 2 pm?  Would that take advantage of their natural behavior and improve weight gain?  If it did, this kind of system would also reduce labor costs by requiring only one visit to the chickens each day.

Weighing chickensThey ran two feeding trials each at two of the four Pasture Perfect Poultry farms to compare the difference between feeding twice a day, as they always had, or once at mid-day.  On processing day, they weighed each bird and determined an average live weight. What they found is that there was not a significant different in the weights of the birds between the two feeding.  But there was a difference in labor cost, according to project coordinator Melissa Fischbach:

“Being able to feed the poultry one time per day in the Day-Range system would save one visit to the poultry, which depending on the number of birds being raised, can easily be 0.5 to 1.0 hours per day. Over the 4 week pasture grow-out period this equates to up to 28 hours saved. Multiplied by an hourly wage of $12 per hour, feeding one-time per day could save up to $336 per batch of birds. Although the results were not consistent across all four batches tested, the once-per-day feeding may even increase the performance of the birds. A 0.5 average weight increase was observed for one of the batches, which equates to an extra $1.40 of revenue per bird assuming a retail price of $2.85 per pound.”

1xperdayvs2perdayfeedingsMelissa encourages others to do this trial on their operations.  She notes that very little research is being done in this field, and that additional data gathered by farmers will help everyone figure out how to maximize profits and gain.  If you’d like to run your own trial, she and her colleagues created a “how-to” manual that you can download here.  You can share your results by contacting Melissa and Jason Fischbach at pastureperfectpoultry(at)gmail.com.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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