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Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production


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Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production

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Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production

  1. 1. Poultry Genetics ATTRA for Pastured Production A Publication of ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Anne Fanatico,NCAT Agriculture While most pastured poultry producers in North America raise the same fast-growing Cornish-and-Specialist White-Rock-cross broilers used in conventional confined production, many producers are interested inand Skip Polson alternative genetic types that may be more suitable for outdoor production or for niche markets. ThisUpdated 2005 publication provides information on the Cornish Rock crosses in outdoor production, discusses severalby Holly Born, slower-growing breeds, and provides information on hatcheries that offer these alternative breeds.NCAT AgricultureSpecialist© NCAT 2005 MContents ost pastured poultry producers in and confinement-rearing became the domi- North America raise the same Cor- nant form of production for the U.S. poultry nish-and-White-Rock-cross broil- industry. A 1950s contest, sponsored by the ers used in conventional poultry produc- Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, called “The tion. These are the standard meat birds Chicken of Tomorrow” encouraged the devel-The Conventional of the industry, and essentially all broilers opment of meatier birds. Cornish crossesIndustry Dominatesthe Scene........................... 2 produced commercially in North America became the birds of choice at that time.Producer are Cornish crosses. Since then the conventional poultry industryPreferences ....................... 3 has genetically refined them for rapid growth, This has been true since meat became a pri-The Importance of efficient feed conversion, broad-breastedness, mary focus for chicken genetics in the 1940s,Access ................................. 3 limited feathering (for ease of plucking), andOther Decision other traits considered desirable for rearingFactors ................................ 4 very large numbers of birds in confinement.Beyond Cornish Because of their rapid growth, they reach aCrosses ............................... 4 market weight of five pounds (live weight) in six to seven weeks. However, most pastured poultry producers today use the Cornish crosses because they are readily available, not because they are ideally suited to rearing on pasture. Many of the characteristics that make the Cornish- cross broiler strains good for industrial con- finement production are not well-suited for alternative production systems. Many pas- tured poultry producers see the Cornish crosses as having weak legs, excessive ratesATTRA is the national sustain- of heart attacks, a high incidence of conges-able agriculture information tive heart failure (ascites), poor foraging abil-service operated by the NationalCenter for Appropriate Technol- ity, poor heat tolerance, and other liabilitiesogy, through a grant from the when raised on pasture. While most pro-Rural Business-Cooperative Ser-vice, U.S. Department of Agricul- ducers value their rapid growth, others findture. These organizations do not it unnaturally fast. In most pasture-basedrecommend or endorse prod-ucts, companies, or individu- production systems, Cornish crosses usuallyals. NCAT has offices produce a five-pound bird in eight Fayetteville, Arkansas,Butte, Montana, and Photo by Keith Weller©ARS Keeping the birds longer than eight weeksDavis, California. ���� and allowing them to get larger can contrib-
  2. 2. ute to even greater leg that is widely available in North America pro- Breeding Companies problems. duces as much meat as economically as the Cornish crosses. This economic fact makes it Many pastured poultry Aviagen very difficult for producers to consider other producers would like to breeds, even though there is abundant vari- raise birds that are bet- Arbor Acres ety in the poultry world. Color photos and ter suited to range pro- (includes downloadable duction than the Cornish descriptions of many poultry breeds can be management guides) crosses. Therefore, the seen at purpose of this publi- PoultryPage.html#Chickens. Ross Breeders cation is to identify the The primary breeding companies for broilers (includes genetic options available in the U.S. are Aviagen (which includes the technical manuals) to producers who do not formerly separate companies of Arbor-Acres, Nicholas Turkeys want to use the conven- Ross Breeders, and Nicholas Turkeys), Cobb- tional confinement-pro- Vantress (which now includes Avian Farms duction model. and is owned by Tyson Foods), Hubbard-Isa, Cobb-Vantress This publication was and Hybro. Most of these companies are originally compiled for multi-national enterprises, and they domi- Peterson Farms nate the world market for conventional broiler Heifer Project Interna- production, as shown in the table below. tional’s North America Program. Partial finan- These companies work constantly to pro- cial assistance for its duce genetic improvements in their breed- preparation was provided through a grant to ing stock. They typically use a system of Heifer Project International from the USDA’s four-way crossing to produce the parents of Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture, the birds that are raised as broilers. They Research and Education (SARE) program select and develop certain strains to use as (project number LS 99-105). their male line, with emphasis on growth per- formance and body conformation, while at The Conventional the same time developing different female Industry Dominates the lines, with emphasis on reproductive perfor- mance. This cross-breeding system protects Scene each company’s genetic research, because Many pastured poultry producers would like the genetics of the original grandparents can- to raise birds that are better suited to range not be reproduced from their offspring. production than the Cornish crosses, but their alternatives at this time are extremely Most of the primary breeding companies pro- limited. There are several different strains of duce more than one strain of Cornish cross. Cornish crosses, but there is very little differ- They try to meet the needs of their custom- ence among them. No other type of chicken ers by producing a heavier-breasted bird for producers focused on white meat, a thriftier bird that has a slightly better feed conver-World broiler production is estimated to be 32 to 42 billion sion ratio, or a heavier strain for the roasterbirds per year. market. Some also offer slower and fasterEstimated global market shares for the different broiler growing strains of Cornish-cross birds. Thebreeder companies (SOURCE: WATT Poultry USA) slower-growing strains may be of interest to Company Percent pastured poultry producers, because they Aviagen 35-45 may have fewer heart and leg problems. Cobb 30-40 The different strains of birds that the breed- Hubbard 10-20 ing companies offer are described at their Hybro 5-10 Web sites. Some of these sites also include technical manuals and guides for raising Other 10-20 their birds.Page 2 ATTRA Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production
  3. 3. The breeding companies sell crossbred par- ria when deciding which birds to raise andent stock to vertically-integrated poultry pro- where to get their day-old chicks. Many haveducers, independent hatcheries, and others concluded that a hatchery’s customer ser-who produce the hatching eggs that will ulti- vices and location are more important thanmately become the broilers we eat. Most the precise strain of broiler chicks available.independent hatcheries do not keep their own They have learned to get their birds from theflocks to produce hatching eggs. Instead, most reliable hatchery, one that can get thethey buy their hatching eggs from a few very chicks to the farm with the least shippinglarge suppliers (such as the Keith Smith com- stress. Usually this means the hatchery thatpany in Arkansas,, or has the shortest delivery time. Death lossesCWT Farms in Georgia, www.cwtfarms. and slower rates of growth that result fromcom). Therefore, all the chicks available shipping stress are often more significantfrom hatcheries throughout North America than the performance differences betweenare mostly the same strains, and they are the strains. The liability of shipping stress issame strains being used by the vast majority also confirmed by the practices of the majorof the conventional industry. conventional industrial producers. They use their own employees and vehicles to deliverProducer Preferences chicks directly to their contract growers; they try to control the chicks’ shipping conditionsEven though the differences in the Cornish- as much as possible and minimize their ship-cross strains are small, some pastured poul- ping stress. This is an argument for havingtry producers do have preferences. Over the more (rather than fewer) hatcheries, and hav-years they may see that one strain performs ing them located as near as possible to thebetter for them than others. These differ- producers who will raise the chicks.ences may be things such as fewer leg prob-lems, slightly faster (or slower) growth, or Here are the Web sites of sev-lower mortality. Therefore, while most pas- eral hatcheries. These are Samples of hatchery Web sitestured poultry producers do not know exactly not given as recommenda-which strains they are raising from batch to tions, but simply as examples www.belthatchery.combatch, a few producers always try to purchase of what independent hatcher- 559-264-2090a particular strain of chick. ies have to offer and how they present themselves. A more 800-345-1420Yet even those producers who express a pref- complete listing of hatcher-erence for one strain may have had their ies throughout the U.S. can www.mcmurrayhatchery.comopinions unduly influenced by factors that be found at www.aphis.usda. 800-456-3280are not related to the genetics of the birds gov/vs/npip/ and at www.poul-they have raised. For example, the age of the 215-536-3155breeder flock influences the size of the hatch- eggs and the chicks that result. Young flocks produce smaller hatching Shipping constraints beyond 800-451-5603eggs and smaller chicks than mature flocks. the control of the hatcher-Older flocks nearing the end of their produc- ies can be an important fac- www.privetthatchery.comtive lives also produce chicks with greater tor, as well. During the early 877-774-8388inconsistencies in their size and vigor than a and mid-1900s, the practice www.townlinehatchery.flock at the prime of its life. Therefore, some of sending day-old poultry by com/chicks.htmlproducer preferences may not be objectively mail from hatcheries to cus- 616-772-6514justifiable. tomers all over the country became very popular andThe Importance of Access commonplace. In recent years, however, the number of airlines willing to carry day-Because the differences between modern old poultry as U.S. mail has declined, evenCornish-cross strains are so small, most to the point that the chicks-by-mail servicepastured poultry producers use other crite- appeared to be in jeopardy. Then in ATTRA Page 3
  4. 4. and 2002, the U.S. Postal Service and sev- producers have customers who want very eral airlines modified their mail-carrying large roasters and are willing to pay a pre- contracts and the regulations governing the mium price for them. Uniformity certainly shipment of live animals through the mail. can become more important, however, as These new arrangements have apparently sta- producers move beyond on-farm processing bilized the situation, and the chicks-by-mail and direct marketing. A spread-out harvest service continues. The latest information on that is advantageous on a small scale may the postal regulations governing the shipping become a distinct problem at larger scales of live animals as mail can be found by visit- of production. ing the Web site of the U.S. Postal Service, Some customers prefer colored birds (red or, or black) over white-feathered ones. This kind of preference also influences producer deci- Other Decision Factors sions about which birds to raise. Some pastured poultry producers also make decisions about which chicks to raise based Beyond Cornish Crosses on other non-strain factors. For example, North American producers of range poultry some producers choose to raise all females, who want options other than those offered by because that eliminates the problem of cock- the conventional Cornish crosses do not have erels harassing the pullets as they mature, very much to choose from at present. Their resulting in a more tranquil flock and pre- options may be increasing, however. sumably better feed conversion. Or they will raise all males because their customers want The Noll family is working to make medium- large birds, and producers want greater uni- growing genetics more widely available in formity in their product. North America. Henry Noll offers a Silver Cross that grows to five pounds live weight Uniformity is tremendously important for in nine weeks. the conventional poultry industry. Birds are managed as a unit instead of as individuals, Noll’s Poultry Farm and birds that are not nearly identical to Kleinfeltersville, PA 17039 the others are problems. For example, pul- 717-949-3560 lets are brought into lay at the same time, 717-949-3722 FAX so they all need to achieve the appropriate Joe Cebe, Sr. offers a Cebe Red and Cebe body weight at the same time. For broilers, Black meat variety that grows to 5 pounds much of the conventional industry’s process- live weight in 9 to 10 weeks. ing equipment is automated, and odd-sized birds may not process well because they are Cebe Farms not the size the equipment is designed to P.O. Box 1404 handle. Variations in carcass size cause real Ramona, CA 92065 problems for automated equipment. 760-789-8221 Most pastured poultry producers do not seek Matt John of Shady Lane Poultry Farm, Inc. this much uniformity, however, because their is currently developing a new hatchery and market does not require it. Using straight- plans to introduce several alternative broiler run chicks gives a range of carcass sizes at lines during the next several years. butchering time because the cockerels grow Shady Lane Poultry Farm, Inc. faster. Most pastured poultry producers are 520 Agawam Road glad to have some variance in size, because Winchester, KY 40391 some of their customers prefer smaller birds 859-737-2636 and some prefer larger birds. Some will even choose to produce Cornish Game Hens Please send further information on other (which are the same Cornish cross birds, just breeding flocks of commercial meat birds butchered younger and smaller), while other to Anne Fanatico at 4 ATTRA Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production
  5. 5. There are genetic options in other countries. In Europe the slow-growing strains areIn France, in particular, there are lines that mainly supplied by the breeding companiesare bred for France’s range production sys- SASSO ( and Hubbard-ISAtems. These lines have been developed dur- ( They do not sell theing the past 30 years for pasture rearing, and actual broiler chicks, but only the parents;they deserve side-by-side comparison trials however, many pastured poultry producersin this country. have hatching capabilities. SASSO’s typi- cal Label Rouge cross is a T44N male andThese distinctive lines are used primarily a SA51 female. (Using a different male—by producers who are raising birds to be the T44NI—results in white under-feathersmarketed under the quality-labeling program in the offspring.) A typical Hubbard-ISAknown in France as Label Rouge (Red Label). cross is a S77N male and a JA57 female.Food products carrying the Label Rouge logo Broilers from both of these crosses will haveare highly valued by French consumers. red feathers, yellow shanks, thin skin, and aThe Label Rouge program focuses on high- naked neck. Other parents are available forquality products, mainly meats, with poul- broilers with white feathers and skin, blacktry as the flagship product. The program feathers, barred feathers, feathered neck, oremphasizes quality attributes such as taste, faster growth. These color combinations arefood safety, and free-range production. The possible because the female parents are red,average consumer can easily tell the differ- but this is recessive. Therefore, dependingence in taste between Label Rouge poultry on the male used, you can choose the colorand conventional poultry—in fact, regular of the feathers (red or black), skin (yellow ortaste-testing is a certification requirement to white), shanks (yellow or white), and nakedprove that these products are “vividly distin- neck or not. The ability to choose theseguishable” from conventional poultry. characteristics is important to French poultry farmers, because their customers have per-The main reason for the superior taste is the sonal preferences about these things.use of slow-growing birds harvested close tosexual maturity, instead of the fast-growing Some of the proven European genetics arebirds used in the conventional U.S. indus- available from B & B Agriculture, a smalltry. The meat is flavorful and firm, but not year-round hatchery recently establishedtough. in Canada. The hatchery offers medium- and slow-growing birds that are adapted forSlow-growing birds are the key to Label outdoor production and a gourmet market.Rouge production—birds grow to 5 pounds Some of these breeds grow out in 12 weekslive weight in 12 weeks. In comparison, the and qualify for the Label Rouge broilers (Cornish cross) of the B & B Agriculture has extensive experienceconventional industry reach five pounds in with these specialty breeds, having raisedsix to seven weeks. The slow growth allows birds in the U.K., and also offers workshopsthe organs, muscles, and bones to grow in and housing options on free-range produc-harmony. The carcass is generally more tion.elongated, with a smaller breast and largerlegs than conventional carcasses. B & B Agriculture Box 30, Station MainUsing slow-growing genetics and the low- RR2 Brandondensity Label Rouge production system also Manitobaoffers distinct health advantages—ascites, leg Canadaproblems, and sudden death are minimal, R7A 5Y2and birds have good immunity. Mortality for 204-729-8868conventional broilers in France is 6% during 204-729-8779 FAXthe 6-week grow-out; it is half that for Label baaron@mts.netRouge production (3%), even during a much www.bandbagriculture.comlonger grow-out (12 weeks). Contact: Barbara or Brian ATTRA Page 5
  6. 6. In the U.S., the S & G Poultry Company (for- 919-545-0022 FAX merly Rainbow Breeder Company) is devel- oping similar genetics and offers Free Range Turkeys are native to the Americas, and there (FR) Broiler parents. FR Broiler offspring are several slow-growing breeds available. (day-old chicks) are also available. Male These are naturally-mating turkeys and do chicks are regularly available; female chicks not require artificial insemination. Some are available only occasionally, since they have ties to the regions in which they were are used more in breeding (females grow at developed (e.g., the Bourbon Red is from 85% the rate of the males). Kentucky, and the Narragansett is from Mas- S & G Poultry sachusetts). Walters Hatchery offers eight P.O. Box 2363 heirloom turkey breeds, some of which have Clanton, AL 35046 been selected for commercial production. 205-280-3771 Walters Hatchery Rt. 3, Box 1490 Contact: Danny Eiland Stilwell, OK 74960 Redbro is a Hubbard-ISA Shaver product 918-778-3535 that is currently available in the U.S. via a Canadian company that imports parents from France. It is not slow-growing but rather a Developing more poultry breeds with geo- medium-growing broiler—it grows out in 9 to graphical ties could be an opportunity for 10 weeks. Jerry Srednicki at a Connecticut small North American poultry breeders. hatchery ships day-old chicks. For more information on poultry genetics, Yankee Chicks, Inc/Hall Brothers Hatchery contact Anne Fanatico. P.O. Box 1026 Norwich, CT 06360 Anne Fanatico 860-886-2421 or 860-608-1389 Poultry Program Specialist 860-889-6351 FAX National Center for Contact: Jerry Srednicki Appropriate Technology P.O. Box 3657 Importing live birds and hatching eggs from Fayetteville, AR 72702 other countries is not a simple task, but those 479-442-9824 who are interested in pursuing this approach 479-442-9842 FAX can learn more by visiting the Web site of the USDA Import and Export Center, www.aphis. There is also some interest in standard Amer- ican heirloom chicken breeds for gourmet poultry production. In general, however, heirloom breeds have not yet been selected for commercial production, and the carcass will be very small at 12 weeks. Contact the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) for more information about the American heirloom breeds. American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) P.O. Box 477 Pittsboro, NC 27312 919-542-5704Page 6 ATTRA Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production
  7. 7. ATTRA Page 7
  8. 8. Notes: Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production By Anne Fanatico, NCAT Agriculture Specialist and Skip Polson Updated 2005 by Holly Born, NCAT Agriculture Specialist ©NCAT 2005 Edited by Paul Williams Formatted by Cynthia Arnold IP256 Slot# 257 Version 033105 The electronic version of Poultry Genetics for Pastured Production is located at: HTML PDF pdfPage 8 ATTRA