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

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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Kathy Voth
Kathy Vothhttps://onpasture.com
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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