2012 22.1 Meatbird Roundtable at Annual Conference

Recap from roundtable focused on meatbird research and production in Washington

The meat bird round table discussion at this year’s conference included folks from multiple experience levels related to poultry. Those present for the conversation had a chance to introduce and place themselves in one of three categories at the start of the session. Seven participants categorized themselves as Wants to have birds on-farm – with questions for folks with experience, six placed themselves under the heading, Has birds on-farm, but system needs work—wants to reform current system, and three felt they had Tried it all and are set in what works—wants to share knowledge. Most participants had nearly no experience with raising birds for meat, while some felt they had their system down as well as they could. Only a very small percent of participants felt they had enough experience to achieve the right technique for breeding to meet their needs. To the average small farmer, experience is important but more important is finding the right experience in raising poultry for meat. Many of the meat bird roundtable participants had yet to find that right experience.

Topics covered in discussion were: efficiency on pasture time to reach market weight, compatibility in rotation with fruits and veggies, feed to gain ratio, meat quality, sourcing chicks/poults/keets, mobility, feed sources, predator control, marketing and systems approach, value added, and inspectors. The majority of the conversation centered on participant experiences with: variations in the requirements for legal production and sale; chicken breeds; how much per pound folks can get for their birds (we noted a big difference between Eastern Washington and Western Washington); and meat quality of different breeds.

Most folks in this group who raise smaller flocks and utilize the 1,000 bird exemption on their farm do not care for the Cornish Cross, though everyone seemed to have tried them. These farmers, “[j]ust didn’t like being around and hanging out with the fast growing, fairly immobile birds, and find quality in the meat lacking in relation to other breeds.” A few had tried the “Freedom Ranger”, and had stuck with them over the Cornish Cross varieties for these reasons, but still felt their system and the breed could be improved upon. The “Freedom Rangers” received much higher ratings from this group for “character,” ability to fit into a rotational system and forage, meat quality, and customer satisfaction. One Eastern Washington farmer tried them and loved the meat quality, but found that the “Freedom Rangers” kept in tractor enclosures pick at each other, causing considerable damage, and will not raise them again. This farmer is now working with the “Slow Growing Roasters” from the Murray McMurray hatchery and has been happy enough with the results to stick with the breed. Another farmer found that when they used tractors with low ceilings they experienced picking in their birds, but when they raised the ceiling the problem was almost nonexistent. It was said that “Freedom Rangers” are better suited for areas with bird predators because they, “duck and cover better” and are more aware of their surroundings.

The meat bird roundtable discussion clearly showed that there is an interest in birds within small farm operations, the currently used breeds do not fully satisfy ethical and economical standards of most small farmers, and there is a big window of opportunity for the right breed to fill these needs. Many small farmers want to have meat, they want to diversify their operation and simulate the natural cycles of animals within vegetative ecosystems, and they need a better-suited breed to fulfill these goals, and reach economic and ethical success.

Look for future articles, blogs, and information regarding this issue as Tilth Producers moves the conversation forward about how to best incorporate animals in small farm rotation to better meet the needs of Washington farmers.

Tags: Broilers, Chicken Tractor, Cornish Cross, Feed, Freedom Ranger, Grain, Hatchery, Legal Production, Legal Sale, Market, Meatbirds, Murray McMurray, Pasture, Poultry, Predator, Quality, Rotation, Sourcing, Weight