Production Guide

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Known as broilers, chickens raised for meat have a relatively short production cycle. Operations typically have 3- to 5-pound birds ready to process and sell in seven weeks to nine weeks.

For the past few decades, growers have tended to raise broilers indoors. Pastured production — the focus of this guide — has been an alternative. Paired with other farm enterprises, pasturing broilers may add on-farm efficiencies or other benefits. For example, pastured birds drop waste that can enrich the soil, and they consume insects that could harm livestock.

Before you begin raising broilers, study whether you have adequate access to processing capacity and markets. In Missouri for example, sellers must register as meat handlers, and chicken sold must have a mark of inspection or qualify for an exemption. Missouri, for example, has 1,000- and 20,000-bird inspection exemptions if an operation pursues in-state sales. Check with the Missouri Meat and Poultry Inspection Program to verify chicken meat inspection requirements for your operation.


A pastured broiler operation requires a brooder space where young chicks develop before entering pastures. The brooder provides a dry environment where broiler chicks have ready access to clean drinking water and ample feed. Within the brooder, provide clean bedding and rounded corners, which prevent chicks from piling into corners. Equipped with a heat source — ideally, a heat lamp that uses a red bulb positioned 18 inches from the floor — the brooder helps young chicks regulate their temperature. When you receive chicks, set the brooder to 90°F to 95°F. Each week, the brooder temperature should decline by 5°F until it reaches 70°F.

Outside, the space used to pasture broilers typically will be enclosed using fencing, such as poultry netting. It also must offer good drainage and access to water. Sites with a south- or southeast-facing slope tend to work particularly well for broiler production. To determine stocking rates, assume that chickens require 8 square feet to 10 square feet per bird.

Birds raised on pasture also do require a clean, well-ventilated indoor space — a recommended 2 square feet to 2.5 square feet per pastured bird — to protect the broilers from rain, heat and cold weather. Options to consider include portable pens without a floor, movable pens on runners, mobile hoop structures and stationary houses. The configuration selected should enable operators to regularly move birds to new pasture.


Broilers will consume seeds, forages and bugs while on pasture. However, because grazing reduces feed use by just 5% to 25%, the birds will not thrive on pasture alone. Therefore, broilers require feed formulated to meet their protein, carbohydrate, mineral and vitamin needs. The protein content should range from 20% to 23% — often higher than protein levels in layer diets. When choosing forages for pastures, consider those that have long growing seasons, return from season to season and tolerate chicken behaviors such as biting and scratching. Birds do show a preference for legumes, which also fix nitrogen and attract insects.

Pastures will require management. Tasks include amending the soil based on soil test results, allowing forage to establish itself prior to grazing and regularly rotating birds through paddocks to ensure they have fresh forage and manure doesn’t build up on pastures. When designing a rotational schedule, consider rest time for forages.

Broilers must also have access to grit such as small stones or shells. Grit works in combination with a bird’s gizzard to aid digestion. Sprinkling grit on food will provide enough of the material for young chicks. About a month after you receive chicks, transition to offering grit in a hopper.

Animal Selection and Care  

At the beginning of a production cycle, producers may purchase chicks or hatch them from eggs. When selecting broilers, consider breeds most likely to perform well in your climate and adapt to pastured conditions. Cornish Cross chickens gain weight well and quickly, and their flavor tends to match consumer expectations. Heritage breeds don’t gain as quickly, but they produce stronger meat flavor that certain markets may prefer. Some heritage breeds are considered dual purpose; examples include Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks. Often with dual-purpose breeds, the males are raised as broilers, and females produce eggs.

Predators such as raccoons, foxes and raptors may harm broilers, so consider practices to keep broilers safe. A portable electric fence, for example, may deter some predators. Other strategies include creating pasture paddocks away from wooded areas and playing music.

Recordkeeping is important. Track details such as grazing rotations, housing cleaning schedules and animal health problems including parasite and disease presence. With this information, you can monitor when to time management tasks. Considering operations new to broiler production may experience bird mortality rates that reach 10% to 30%, managing production factors known to affect animal health will be key.


Bare, Melanie and Christine Ziegler-Ulsh. How to Establish a Small-Scale, Pastured Poultry Operation. Rodale Institute.

Berton, Valerie, David Mudd and Terrell Spencer. Profitable Poultry: Raising Birds on Pasture. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

Bullen, Gary, Derek Washburn and Matthew Ernst. Pastured Poultry for Small Farms in North Carolina. NC State Extension.

Burbaugh, B., E. Toro and A. Gernat. Introduction to Pasture-Raised Poultry: Getting Started. University of Florida.

Hady, Adam A. Producing Poultry on Pasture. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.

Hamre, Melvin and Hannah Phillips. Raising Chickens for Meat. University of Minnesota Extension.

Hartsook, Christa. Establishing a Backyard Poultry Flock. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Jacob, Jacquie and Tony Pescatore. Pastured Poultry. University of Kentucky.

Missouri Meat and Poultry Inspection Program