Growth performance of fast-growing broilers reared under different types of production systems with outdoor access: Implications for organic and alternative production systems
Outdoor access is an important part of organic and free-range poultry production, yet limited information exists on the effect of various housing and production systems on growth performance and colonization of food-borne pathogens. Therefore, the primary purpose of the current study was to evaluate the influence of different housing systems, particularly fixed versus small, portable houses, with and without outdoor access to pasture, on seasonal growth performance, leg quality, and presence of bacterial food-borne pathogens. In the current study, we used fast-growing broilers, as many small producers use commercial broilers due to their carcass conformation and high breast yield compared with slow-growing hybrids or standard heritage breeds. Although interest in alternative genetics exists because they may be more adapted to outdoor production, they require longer growing periods, with accompanying labor and cost. A pasture containing a mixture of forages was used to simulate the conditions common for small farms in the local region. The experiment had 4 treatment groups: (1) small, portable hoop houses with access to pasture, (2) small, portable hoop houses without access to pasture, (3) a fixed house with access to the outdoors, and (4) a fixed house without access to the outdoors. The present study was repeated at different times of the year to determine if a seasonal effect on the consumption of pasture and carcass quality was present. Overall, raising birds in hoop houses resulted in a reduced growth rate compared with birds raised in the fixed house. None of the production systems altered bone strength or feed conversion. Food-borne pathogens commonly associated with poultry were not found in any of the environments tested. Seasonal production was an issue in the small hoop house birds, as extreme heat in the summer resulted in early termination of that trial. Expanding on forage choice in pastures and customizing hoop houses to deal with weather fluctuations, especially in regions where extreme heat may affect production, are important considerations for these systems.
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En: Poultry Science 23 (2): 212-220.