Growth Performance of Fast-growing Broilers Reared under Different Types of Production Systems with Outdoor Access

Free-range broilers grew faster when housed in one fixed house than in small hoop houses, which became too hot in the summer in this study conducted in Arkansas. House type did not affect feed conversion, bone strength or foodborne pathogens in the environment.
calendar icon 28 July 2014
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Outdoor access is an important part of organic and free-range poultry production, according to first-named author, J.R. Moyle of USDA-Agricultural Research Service and co-authors there, at the University of Arkansas and Appalachian State University. In a paper in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Poultry Research, they report that there is limited information on the effect of various housing and production systems on growth performance and colonisation of food-borne pathogens.

Therefore, the primary purpose of their 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.

The researchers 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 labour 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 four treatment groups:

  • small, portable hoop houses with access to pasture
  • small, portable hoop houses without access to pasture
  • a fixed house with access to the outdoors, and
  • 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, the researchers found, raising birds in hoop houses resulted in a lower growth rate than those 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, added Moyle and co-authors.

They suggested that expanding on forage choice in pastures and customising hoop houses to deal with weather fluctuations – especially in regions where extreme heat may affect production – are important considerations for these systems.


Moyle J.R., K. Arsi, A. Woo-Ming, H. Arambel, A. Fanatico, P.J. Blore, F.D. Clark, D.J. Donoghue and A.M. Donoghue. 2014. Growth performance of fast-growing broilers reared under different types of production systems with outdoor access: Implications for organic and alternative production systems. J. Appl. Poult. Res. 23 (2): 212-220. doi: 10.3382/japr.2013-00882

Further Reading

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July 2014

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