North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Broiler Chickens Compared in Performance and Behavior
Alternative Broiler Breeds in Three Different Pastured Poultry Systems
The Cornish Rock Cross, the favored breed of large-scale poultry houses, has been bred for traits important to that production system; however, the birds have developed health issues as a result, and that’s especially evident in pasture production systems. Kim Cassano, who raises poultry and other livestock on an 80-acre farm in northern Wisconsin, wanted to compare the performance of the Cornish Rock Cross to five other broiler breeds on pasture.
To determine the ability of each breed to meet profitability, sustainability, and quality of life goals, Cassano provided 50 chicks of each breed to three farms using common pasture production systems: free range as promoted by Herman Beck-Chenoweth; day range, using the Andy Lee pen style; and the enclosed pen model that Joel Salatin pioneered. The breeds used were Cornish Rock Cross, Freedom Ranger, Moyer’s K-22, Silver Cross (aka Kosher King), Red Ranger, and Super Dixie.
As expected, the Cornish Rock Cross grew the fastest, ate the least feed to reach market weight, and had the highest carcass yield. Patterns were similar in data from both free range and day range farms.
Of the five alternative breeds, Freedom Rangers grew the fastest, ate the least, and had the highest carcass yield. The K-22s performed the worst, exhibiting the slowest growth, highest consumption of feed, and lowest carcass yield. The remaining breeds performed similarly to one another.
Cornish and K-22s suffered the greatest losses on the free range farm at 14 percent, while the Silver Crosses, Red Rangers, and Super Dixies lost less than 5 percent of their numbers over the course of the study. Flooding affected mortality on the day range farm. Discounting flood losses, Freedom Rangers showed the highest mortality rates at 18 percent, with Cornish Rocks, K-22s, and Red Rangers at 12 percent, and Silver Cross and Super Dixies below 5 percent. Mortality was consistently 6 percent for all breeds in the Salatin-style enclosed pens.
Comparing input costs (feed and chicks), on the free range farm, Cornish Rocks had considerably lower feed and chick costs despite the higher mortality rate. Input costs were more closely clustered on the day range farm, with Cornish Rocks being the least expensive and K-22s the most expensive. Input costs were highest in the Salatin-style pens.
While the Cornish Rock Cross showed the lowest input cost on all three farms, Cassano remains unhappy with the breed’s mortality rate, lethargy, and limited genetic diversity. She plans to raise alternative breeds using the data collected in this project — likely a combination of Freedom Ranger, Silver Cross, and Red Ranger. She will refine her choice to those most suited to her farm as she continues to monitor performance and health.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC09-771, Alternative Broiler Breeds in Three Different Pastured Poultry Systems.
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These products were developed with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within these products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.