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Free-choice Feeding of Free-range Meat Chickens

17 December 2013

Research from the US has revealed that, given free choice, growing broilers select a diet with a much lower crude protein content than a standard organic broiler feed. While there was no difference in bodyweight between the two groups, those on the complete feed had heavier carcasses and higher breast meat yields.

Interest in small- and medium-scale free-range poultry production for local and regional markets is growing, and alternative feeding methods should be considered, according to A.C. Fanatico of Appalachian State University.

In a paper with co-authors at the University of Arkansas and the USDA Agricultural Research Service published in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research, they write that free-choice feeding is a method that offers birds separate feedstuffs, such as grains, protein concentrates and natural vitamin and mineral sources, from which they can self-select a diet suited to their changing needs. Free-choice feeding may prove useful in production systems with outdoor access because nutrient needs change widely due to temperature fluctuations and bird activity.

Many small producers do not have access to the nutritional services that large producers do and may have specific goals in regard to nutrition, such as using farm-raised feed ingredients and pasture forage to provide nutrients. In addition, most organic programmes do not permit the use of synthetic amino acids in feed.

Free-choice methods have been used historically and can be useful for alternative producers, making use of farm-raised feeds to improve savings and increase nutrient cycling.

In this study, a fully formulated diet and free-choice diet were compared in a free-range system using slow-growing meat chickens. The formulated diet was a commercial product (20 per cent crude protein), whereas the free-choice diet chosen by birds was much lower in protein (13 per cent).

Final live weights did not differ between treatments; however, ready-to-cook yield and breast yields were higher in the birds from the formulated treatment, most likely due to amino acid supplements in the formulated feed.

Fanatico and co-authors added that the diet chosen by free-choice birds was less expensive than the formulated diet.


Fanatico A.C., V.B. Brewer, C.M. Owens-Hanning, D.J. Donoghue and A.M. Donoghue. 2013. Free-choice feeding of free-range meat chickens. J. Appl. Poult. Res. 22(4):750-758. doi: 10.3382/japr.2012-00687

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December 2013

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