Considering raising birds on pasture? Unsure of how to get started in pastured poultry? At Moyer’s Chicks, we are passionate about helping family farms and producers of all sizes embrace pastured poultry. Below we’ve compiled tips, advice, and best practices for getting started in raising pastured poultry.
The growth of pastured poultry is due to many factors: consumer demand, economics, and passionate farmers. First, consumers are demanding organic, natural grown, and locally sourced meat and eggs. Free range farming is uniquely suited to meet this demand. Second, the economics of commercial poultry farming is unsustainable for many smaller producers, while the low overhead and higher profit margins for pastured poultry is appealing. Finally, the largest driver of farms incorporating pastured and free-range practices are the farmers themselves. This next generation farmer is passionate about raising a healthier, more natural product. These farmers want to create a legacy for the next generation built on a sustainable, ecological foundation.
Jim Powers was first introduced to pastured poultry through Joel Salatin’s classic book Pastured Poultry Profit$. After running a trial with grass fed chickens in 2000, Jim saw the benefits and potential markets and switched over the whole family farm to raising grass fed birds. The operation has now grown to over 3,000 birds a year.
Raising poultry on pasture makes the most sense for Mountain Meadow Farm. The farm has rolling hills with soggy ground, making it less than ideal for grazing cattle. Jim also grows hay on the farm, so the flocks are a constantly moving source of fertilizer for the soil.
Jim’s farm has partnered with a nearby farm that grows grass fed beef and pastured hogs to form Croton Farmers Cooperative for one-stop shopping for consumers looking for grass fed protein. The Cooperative sells directly to local customers, with stands at several local farmers markets as well as an on-farm store. Building this brand has taken time, but has been worth it in terms of generating word of mouth and repeat customers.
Jim recommends anyone looking to learn more about raising poultry on pasture is to join the APPPA. The resources, emails, and discussion boards contain the wisdom and experience of the world’s leading pasture farmers.
Better For You
Part of the trend for organic and pasture-raised meat and eggs is due to the health benefits. Consumers choose free-range chickens because they are high protein, low fat, and rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. And the benefits for those with a compromised immune system, developmental issues, and other health issues are underappreciated and are still being fully studied.
Better for the Environment
Raising a flock outdoors means relying more on natural resources and less on man-made ones. Farmers no longer need to build expensive chicken houses or pay the high electric costs to ventilate the buildings. Managing and moving manure is not an issue, either, as the flock’s compost is evenly spread around the field.
The improved genetics and healthy, active lifestyle that pastured poultry enjoy translates into better tasting meat and eggs. Discerning customers are now choosing responsibly-sourced chicken not only for ethical reasons, but also because it is a better product.
Better for Your Business
Switching to pastured poultry can be a benefit to your farm and help you create a sustainable, thriving business you can hand down to the next generation. While pastured flocks involve more labor costs, there are considerably less infrastructure and overhead costs than conventional farms.
In addition, raising free-range poultry provides you with a clearly defined, unique selling proposition, giving you a financial and marketable advantage over other farms.
One of the greatest challenges facing most commercial farmers in the 21st century is marketing and selling. As a pastured poultry farmer, you have additional, unique avenues to sell your meat and eggs that may not be available to traditional farms. Use these advantages to diversify your markets, raise your farm’s profile, and increase your profits.
1. Local Farmers Market
One of the most common avenues for family farms to sell their meat is the local farmer’s market. Long a staple of rural America, the farmers market has increased in popularity in recent years – especially in suburban and urban areas – as people are more discerning of where their food comes from.
Farmers markets are a great way to meet new customers and highlight the benefits of your free-range birds. To best succeed at a market, you’ll need to build your brand, highlighting your story, localness, and uniqueness. Be sure to check with your state and local laws to find out what regulations apply, including how many birds you may process and sell.
2. On-Farm Sales
If you live in an area with a lot of people, consider having open hours on your farm for people to purchase directly. This helps you create personal relationships with your customers, build brand loyalty, and increase profits per bird. Plus, having individuals visit your farm allows you to educate them on the importance of locally-sourced food and raising birds in a healthy, humane way.
3. Meat CSA
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups have become a popular option for farmers and consumers alike. Members of a CSA pay an upfront fee in exchange for a share of the farmer’s meat and poultry throughout the year.
Meat CSAs are a great opportunity for a farmer to receive money at the start of the season. To set yourself apart from other CSAs in your area, consider adding additional offerings – like vegetables or bone broth – or offer delivery to nearby communities.
4. Live Bird Market
Certain cultural & ethnic groups in the United States prefer purchasing live birds so they can process at home. They will buy birds from live markets, which are usually found in major urban areas – New York, Chicago, and Miami.
If there is not a live market near your farm, consider inviting these groups to your farm to purchase birds directly. While the orders will not be as large as selling to the live market dealers, you’ll enjoy higher margins for each bird you sell.
Selling wholesale can be a scary proposition for small-scale farmers, with the fear of rock-bottom pricing and complex rules & regulations drive people to avoid it. However, with the consumer push for organic & locally-sourced meat, pastured poultry farmers are now finding the right relationships for wholesale to make financial sense.
Start meeting and building relationships with restaurants, colleges, caterers, and other local organizations that might be in the market for your birds. If you can diversify your offerings by also growing herbs, vegetables, and other farm fresh items, you may see that relationship grow even further.
6. Whole Foods
Most national companies have long-term contracts with major producers to meet the demand, which leaves little room for small growers to enter the market. But there is now a trend for some sellers like Whole Foods to seek more from their producers, opening the door for local producers.
Whole Foods requires their producers to be rated by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) – an international organization committed to farm animal welfare. GAP 5-Step Rating is a certification process that ensures that animals are being grown in the most natural, humane manner.
If your farm is able to obtain the 5-Step GAP certification, you have an amazing opportunity to set your farm apart from others, while also opening your audience to include large markets like Whole Foods.
7. Additional Avenues
Some research can help you find additional, even unique, outlets for your poultry. For example, dog breeders can be an excellent option for selling whole chickens. Instead of feeding their show dogs kibbel, they feed the dogs raw ground chicken. The results of this diet are stunning: coats are shiny & thick and the dogs are healthy and fit. Connect with a local dog breeder or a network of them and find out where they are sourcing their raw chicken.
Free range farming can be hard, time-consuming work and is not for the faint of heart. That’s why it is crucial that you are passionate about growing birds in a healthy, sustainable manner. You need to care for the birds and want a better lifestyle for the things you are growing.
Raising pastured poultry requires a whole new set of skills. You’ll want to start with a small flock so you can learn and gain valuable experience, especially when it comes to flock management, planning, and biosecurity. First figure out how to grow 50 birds successfully before you move on to a larger flock.
Successful farmers know the importance of diversification. Provide value added services that can increase your profits without increasing your costs. Find creative opportunities to sell your birds and eggs. Always be networking – especially in the winter months – and creating additional revenue streams for your farm.
Of all the differences between raising commercial poultry and pastured poultry, perhaps the most difficult is protecting the pastured flock. Because they are not in a chicken coop or house, your flock will need new levels of protection against predators. Some farmers rely on live guards, including donkeys, geese, and large breed dogs. Others use fencing, electric poultry netting, or a chicken tractor for protection.
Partner with Others
There is a vibrant, growing community of like-minded farmers who are available to share best practices, ideas, and tips on growing a sustainable poultry farm. Two organizations we recommend:
“Success today is making as few mistakes as you can. Find a way to learn from the knowledge of others — take on an internship on a pastured farm, find a local mentor, and join the APPPA.”
Find the Right Hatchery
Your free range growing efforts are only as good as the chickens you raise; choose Moyer’s Chicks for the best day-old chicks for pastured poultry. From genetics to biosecurity, we produce a consistent, high-quality bird that will help you grow your farm.
We offer direct shipping to commercial customers, as well as USPS shipping for smaller orders and local pickup at our Quakertown, PA hatchery.
See our collection of breeds that are perfect for pastured poultry farming: