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Raising poultry on pasture

Agriculture.com Staff 03/24/2011 @ 10:02am

What’s pastured poultry?

A common way to raise pastured poultry involves putting 75 to 100 three- to four-week old meat chickens in movable pens during the growing season. These floorless 10 by 12 by 2 pens are moved daily by sliding them along the ground, providing fresh pasture. Chickens also receive a grain-based ration. At 8-14 weeks, the chickens are butchered and sold to consumers or restaurants.

Why pastured poultry?

  • Low capital investment
  • Can start small and grow
  • Strong demand
  • Potential for extra farm income
  • Can be run by one person
  • Kids can help
  • Provides sustainably produced meat
  • Chickens build soil fertility
  • Chickens attract customers for other products

How much money can I make with pastured poultry?

With a grant from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, CIAS studied five farms (four in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota) using the pastured poultry method described above. The farmers had 3 to 10 years of pastured poultry experience. Farmers charged an average of $1.90 per pound for the chickens and sold them from their farm, at farmers markets, and to restaurants.

Returns to labor and management were collected for four of the farms in 1997 and 1998 (see the table on below). The average annual net return per bird for all farms was $2.43, with a range that varied greatly from $-2.82 to $7.05. The average annual net return per farm for all farms was $3,580.25, with a range of $-1,609 to $11,040. While farms had similar overhead costs (buildings and land), their feed costs varied. Feed costs and experience level account for some of the variability in returns. The primary goal for the pastured poultry operation-whether monetary or something else (attracting customers, building soil fertility)-also explains the range.

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