Poultry production: Considering free-range chickens

Question: We need to improve our cash flow. We want to establish pastures around our house for rearing free-range chickens. The pastures should have the right protein and dietary content so the chickens will grow correctly. Which breed of chicken should we choose? I thought it would be best to get hens and a cock so that we can rear our own chickens. What do you think?

The first issue you need to sort out is the current market potential for free-range chickens in your area. In other words, is there a ready market for free-range eggs or is there a market for free-range broilers? There is a market for free-range broilers, but this is usually a niche market which you would have to develop.

Also read: Poultry production: How to get started – meat or eggs?

Examples of broiler breeds are:
Ross, Arbor Acres and Cobb. All three can be farmed successfully as free-range broilers.

If you decided to go for free-range eggs, ensure you buy a breed that will produce enough eggs to sell. Buy point-of-lay pullets from a recognised supplier and then develop your free-range system.

Also read: The difference between culls and point of lay pullets

It is not easy to rear laying pullets. Not only do they have to be the required weight by 18 weeks, but they must also have been vaccinated against the common poultry diseases.

For broiler chickens, you would need housing that can be heated, as day-old chicks need to be brooded for about 21 days. The chicks are placed in the shed and the temperature is set at 32°C. This is gradually reduced to 22°C by 21 days, by which time they can start to range. Remember that feed – commercial broiler feed – and water must be available inside the shed as well as outside.

The free-range system is based on the hens having access to fields, but nutritional needs are met by making the correct commercial feed available in the sheds. The nutritional benefit gained from grazing would be minimal as these are already met by the balanced broiler rations.

  • This article was written by Dr. Mick Versfeld and first appeared in Farming SA.

share this