The continued rise in the popularity of homesteading and sustainable living has led to an increase in awareness for raising pastured poultry. Pastured poultry is a sustainable technique where flocks are raised on pastures, as opposed to indoor confinement, for humane reasons and health benefits. It is also gaining popularity because it helps farmers by reducing capital costs and increasing pasture fertility. Pastured poultry is not limited to chickens and turkeys. It includes a variety of other birds, including ducks, geese, and exotics in the poultry family.
Pastured poultry require two things: access to grass and frequent rotation or movement — often by means of a moveable coop or chicken tractor. The flock lives outside, as appropriate for their age and the season of the year, and is free to roam and forage at will.
We know pastured poultry is better for a flock, but is it more nutritious? According to their website, “University research and research conducted by the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) has found pastured poultry to be more nutrient dense compared to non-pastured chicken and eggs, specifically in term of higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins, A and E.”
One of the top experts in pastured poultry is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. He helped to reintroduce the technique of pastured poultry and the rotation method which makes farms more like an ecological system than conventional farming. Today Joel is a published author and expert speaker on the subject of using available resources for sustainable farming. Take a minute to read our past articles guest-authored by Joel.
The following are a few suggestions to assist you when selecting breeds — meat birds (broilers) or dual-purpose — that are best in a pasture setting.
RHODE ISLAND REDS
One of our Top-Selling Breeds of 2017, the Rhode Island Red is one of the most popular breeds of American chickens. Known for its reliability laying brown eggs, this heavy, dual-purpose breed can take care of itself in a free-range environment and also dresses well for meat production.
NEW HAMPSHIRE REDS
The New Hampshire Red lays beautiful, large eggs and grows to a pleasant size for mid-scale meat production. This successful dual-purpose, early-maturing breed is known for their meat more than their eggs. They are fast growing and can be used as broilers or roasters. New Hampshire Reds can be raised in confinement or free-ranged and tolerates either environment well.
The Wyandotte is excellent dual-purpose bird. Their rose comb, plumage, and good body size make it well-suited for cold climates. While they tolerate confinement well, they are also good foragers and well-suited for free ranging. Available varieties include White, Columbian, Silver-Laced, Golden-Laced, and Blue-Laced Red.
RED RANGER BROILERS
The Red Ranger offers outstanding growth and livability — with 70% live to dress weight yield. They are a top choice in a free-range or pastured setting because of their excellent foraging abilities and overall hardiness. The are fully feathered which makes them more suited for outdoor living environments, as they are hardy and can withstand extreme cold and heat.
JUMBO CORNISH X ROCKS
Jumbo Cornish X Rocks are the most remarkable meat producing bird we offer, and our number one Top-Selling Breeds of 2017. Known for their rapid growth, feed efficiency, smooth finish when processed, and beautiful roasting size, these birds are ready for processing in just six to eight weeks. Jumbo Cornish X Rocks have a reputation for their extreme appetite and laziness. However, when successfully managed and pastured, they will be up and foraging with the rest of the flock.
To learn more about pastured poultry, visit the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) website, Polyface Farms website, and these books from McMurray Hatchery: Modern Free Range by Michael Roberts, or Free Range Poultry by Katie Thear.
Additional articles from the McMurray Hatchery archives: