Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to see two pasture production systems where beef cows and chickens are run together on a pasture system. Pastured chickens are raised in moveable pens. The chickens roam freely during the day, giving them access to fresh pasture, and roost in the pens at night. The fresh pasture (depending on quality and composition) can make up from 20 to 25 percent of their diet1. It is important for the pens to be moved on a regular basis so as to avoid overgrazing of pasture by the chickens, or overloading an area with nutrients from the chicken litter.
Other advantages of raising chickens on pasture include decreases in feed cost as well as improved nutritional content of eggs. Specifically, eggs from pasture-raised chickens have been reported to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin E, all which are beneficial to human health2. Not only is this system beneficial to the chickens and the quality of the eggs, it is also beneficial to soil fertility. Since the chickens are let out and moved across the pasture field, they contribute to soil fertility by returning their manure into the soil. Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen and contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus3. An improvement in soil fertility will increase pasture growth, allowing for a higher stocking rates and/or reduced feed costs.
Chickens also assist in insect and weed control. They are good at turning the soil and therefore can ferret out pests that are hiding below the soil surface, and they graze on weeds. During this process, the soil is mixed and aerated which improves microbial activity and water infiltration.
Raising chickens on pasture has many benefits. These include improved soil health, improved pasture health, and improved chicken health – which improves the health of the produce, be it meat or eggs. Subsequently, these benefits will also improve human health because of the better quality of the food produced by this setup. This production system is gaining more prominence. With all these benefits, I think farmers need to start thinking about bringing chickens into their pasture systems in order to save costs on fertiliser, and earn additional income from meat and eggs in the process.
- Why raise poultry on pasture? 21 September 2012. Available at: http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/2593/why-raise-poultry-on-pasture/
- Fraeye I. Bruneel C. Lemahieu C. 2012. Dietary enrichment of eggs with omega-3 fatty acids: A review. Food Research International, Volume 48, Issue 2. Pp 961-969.
- Dikinya O. Mufwanzala N. 2010. Chicken manure-enhanced soil fertility and productivity: Effects of application rates. Journal of Soil Science and Environmental Management, Volume 1, Issue 3. Pp 46-54.