GRIT Country Skills Series

Poultry on Pasture

There seems to be a widespread belief that poultry raised on pasture—call them open-range, free-range, or another buzzword—run around and meet all their protein and nutritional needs by eating only bugs and plant seeds. I often see this notion perpetuated in written text. Very little is said about the nutrition provided by the actual green plants and forage that the birds eat. In most cases, these plants and forage make up a surprisingly large part of the open-range poultry diet.

Within the first half of the 20th century, it was a given that open-range and pasturing would be a part of most poultry diets in farm settings. College and university textbooks on poultry management, from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, took this into account. Research on the nutritional aspects of pasturing poultry was conducted by many agriculture and land-grant colleges.

Concentrated feeds, such as grains and prepared feed mixes, were, of course, the core of the diet. However, mixed pastures of grasses, broadleaf weeds, and legumes like clover were also considered an integral part of the poultry nutrition program.

Because of this, many textbooks on poultry nutrition, of that era, had tables that listed the nutritional values of many pasture or forage plants. Clovers, various

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