Its my understanding that pastured poultry generally refers to Joel Salatin's system of moveable cages. The cage is moved daily to fresh pasture. Manure transfer and pasture
utilization is the most uniform. Birds access to fresh air is also greatly improved over confinement. The chickens are contained in the 12' X 16' foot pen from the time they are moved to pasture(normally 3 to 4 weeks) until they are marketed. Predators are easier to control because the chickens are always inside the cage. Labor requirements are higher
than free range methods.
Free range chickens are not penned up. They are given a shelter, group waterer, and feeder. They can be fenced into a large area. Some allow the chickens the run of the farm
or have a moveable shelter that follows behind their cows in a MIG system. Very large numbers of chickens could be grown under this system with large range feeder, automatic waterers, and portable shelters. Stocking rates in the midwest can be 400-500
chickens/acre. Shelters can made so the birds can be shut in at night for predator control
and also to make catching birds for marketing easier. Manure tranfer and pasture utilization is a lot harder to control on free range birds than Salatin's pasture cages.
Organic, from my understanding, could be either production model or others. I don't think
most certifying agencies allow confinement birds even if they are free of synthetic inputs.
OF COURSE that may change with the proposed rules.
The biggest thing I see in the non-ruminant pasture systems is a lack of growing high
quality pasture. One of the big keys to Salatin's system is that his chickens are part of
his beef pasture operation. His chickens graze a very lush pasture. To get utilization
of pasture for chickens and pigs, we need a very high quality pasture. They are very innefficient users of fiber. I've always argued that if ruminants aren't part of the grazing
program that we need a different pasture for chickens and pigs. We need a legume
based pasture. They won't bloat. Why not plant something that they can get all their protien
from? If you read an old poultry or pork production book, Ladino clover was the pasture of
choice. Thats because back then the protein was the most expensive component of the
diet. Guess what? It still is.
That finally brings me around to your other question about research. I think we need to be
really careful about judging the value of research. Free range by USDA definition has to do with the square footage of birds and the fact that they aren't in cages. Nothing to do with
pasture. I know of an operation selling "Free Range" eggs that has 26,000 hens in the same
house they used to raise caged hens in. They just took out the cages and put the chickens
up on a raised wire mesh floor. Do you think that is what the consumer thinks they are
buying? Do you think that is a better product than caged eggs? At least the birds have
some freedom to move, but I would question whether they would be any healthier.
It seems to me free range should mean the chickens would have to harvest some of their own
feed and be outside.
I think Wisconsin is doing some studys on the saturated and unsaturated fat levels of animals
on pasture versus confinement. I think something came across the graze-l last summer about the levels of CLA's (Conjugated Linoleic Acid's--a potential anti-carcigen) levels in grass dairies milk
versus confinement dairies. You should be able to find that with a search of the graze-l archives. I'm not sure if they have tested any chickens. Ireland has dones some studies
on beef. Its not surprising to me that they came up with the same results.
I'm no rocket scientist, but I think I understand enough about animal nutrition to skew the
results of a study to justify that there is no health benefits from animals raised on pasture. (Am I saying that could be done??)
I think I see how this whole livestock system should fit together for soil quality, animal health, human health, environment, and strong rural communities. In the midwest, livestock systems should includes grazing livestock. They improve the soil quality both with the nutrients and the pasture in the rotation. Animal health is better in livestock that are raised in the fresh air on high quality pasture. Human health is better from animals on a forage based diet. The environment is better with the pasture. And the rural communities are stronger with farmers that are making money with true low cost production systems. Take one component out and the sustainability
of the whole system falls apart!
BUT, add in the fact who stands to lose with a sustainable livestock system in the US and I can also see why we will never see any concious effort by very many universities to show
the real benefits of pastured livestock. It takes power away from agribusiness and gives it
back to the farmers and consumers. It isn't going to be easy to change.
There is an extreme difference between chickens raised on pasture(free range or pastured poultry) and confinement
birds! Whether we will ever see research to document it is what is questionable in my mind.
Pasture hog farmer
> Dear SAN-netters,
> Having just finished a conversation with a colleague, I realize I don't
> understand some really simple terminology. What's the difference between
> pastured poultry and range-fed?
> Has any research been done on the differences among confined poultry,
> pastured poultry, range-fed to determine taste, moistness, toughness,
> bacterial levels, nutritional value? Aside from people wanting food that
> is free of chemicals like drugs, pesticides, heavy metals, GMO's, etc.,
> what makes the organic production command higher prices? Is the general
> public so totally ignorant of these differences that they cheerfully accept
> "orange tennis balls" in lieu of "real" tomatoes and other similar products?
> Has research been done by any universities on any of these issues? If not,
> why hasn't it been done? Why isn't it being done? Is the organic community
> like the proverbial blind men trying to describe an elephant--the elephant
> being the Monsantos of the world?
> Any references to specific research would be very much appreciated.
> Thanks. k.
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