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Cash Crops for Small Farms: Pastured Poultry

Updated on July 17, 2010

Sustainable agriculture guru Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms calls pastured broilers "probably the most golden agricultural opportunity of the foreseeable future," eggs from pastured layers #2, and pastured turkeys one of the best "complementary" opportunities.

It is easy and inexpensive to get started with pastured broilers. They have a quick return on cash spent - about 8 weeks - and in many parts of the country they can be treated as a seasonal commodity to keep costs low. One or more batches can be raised and processed in the summer in portable "chicken tractors" or range houses, erasing the need for the sturdier winter housing required by laying hens and breeding stock in most regions of the United States.

Pastured broilers, layers, and turkeys can be run almost anywhere. Salatin sends his through the pastures after cattle to spread the manure and eat pests and parasites. Other pastured poultry farms keep their birds in orchards, fallow farm fields, and even in suburban backyards!

Marketing for pastured poultry meat and eggs is also generally easy. Pastured meat and eggs taste so much better than the commercially produced equivalent that they often virtually sell themselves. The primary concern is the higher price. Selling to restaurants may also be somewhat difficult because many restaurants demand consistent size and weight, which may be harder to produce on pasture.

Photo by woodleywonderworks
Photo by woodleywonderworks

Legal Concerns

In most of the United States, it is possible to raise and sell up to 1000 broilers or 250 turkeys without inspections. It's extremely important to know the regulations for your state as thoroughly as possible in order to protect yourself against cease-and-desist orders or worse. Knowing the regulations inside and out can also protect you against fines or other problems if a regulating agency makes a mistake.

Some regulations can also be weaselled around. For example, some ethnic groups like to buy live chickens and slaughter them themselves.

In most states, regulations for selling eggs are not as strict as those for processing and selling meat.


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