Researchers at Iowa State University in America believe that integrating chickens into vegetable production systems could lead to greater efficiencies and healthier soils.
The researchers are testing what happens when a flock of broiler chickens lives on a vegetable field for part of the year. The chickens forage on the plant matter left behind after the vegetables are harvested and fertilize the soil with manure. Three different systems are being trialled, with around 40 chickens living in four mobile coops that the researchers move every day. Moving the coops around ensures the chickens have access to fresh forage and keeps their manure from concentrating any particular part of the field. An electric fence surrounds the field to keep out predators.
The chickens are introduced to the system after the vegetable crops have been harvested to prevent contamination of fresh produce, and the system has been overseen by the US Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
However, while the system may provide a number of environmental benefits, the scientists acknowledge that it may not be suitable for commercial situations. “We might come up with results that really help the soil, but if the system is not economically stable, I doubt growers will be willing to adopt it because it has to work for their bottom line as well,” Ajay Nair, an associate professor of horticulture and a vegetable production specialist at ISU.
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