Sustainable Poultry Production

Sustainable poultry production does not focus solely on maximum productivity but rather includes bird welfare and protecting the environment. Consumers have additional concerns about pesticides residues, additives, antibiotics residue/resistance, nutritional content, flavor, traceability, regional production, GMO, social justice, etc.

The resources below are ATTRA resources available at App. State Univ. faculty Anne Fanatico authored many of these.

Production/Housing Systems

Alternative production systems for poultry provide outdoor access, where birds can perform natural behaviors, such as dust bathing and scratching, and have ample space, fresh air, and natural sunlight.

  • Alternative Poultry Production Systems and Outdoor Access. Describes production systems that include cage-free and free-range and management of the outdoor area to provide optimum forage, shade, and shelter and protecting birds from predators.
  • Poultry House Management for Alternative Production. Provides information on the "inside" part of alternative poultry production (ventilation, temperature, and lighting in natural housing), natural litter management and rodent control.
  • Range Poultry Housing. Provides information and construction plans for portable poultry shelters and small houses.
  • Poultry Equipment for Alternative Production. Describes watering and feeding equipment/options for portable poultry houses, along with fencing for free-range areas and roost options.


Poultry used to be among the most diverse of livestock but genetics has narrowed due to the focus on high-yielding commercial hybrids in the U.S. It is important to preserve breeds for the future, many of which have ties to specific regions of the U.S.

  • Meat Chicken Breeds for Pastured Production. Describes conventional fast-growing meat chickens, while highlighting alternative slower growing genetics that may be more appropriate to alternative production systems.


Diets in specialty poultry production are generally free of routine medications and animal by-products and may involve whole grain feeding, free-choice feeding to use feeds grown on the farm, and ingredients high in omega-3 fatty acids to enrich meat and eggs. Feeds may be commercially available, custom-mixed or mixed by hand on the farm.

  • Pastured Poultry Nutrition. Describes feedstuffs used in specialty poultry production and alternative feeding strategies such as whole grain feeding and choice feeding.
  • Organic Poultry Nutrition: Supplying Adequate Methionine. Topic of particular interest to large-scale poultry producers due to the impending ban on all synthetic amino acids.


Reducing stress will help the bird's immune system and includes good management, adequate spacing, proper temperature, ventilation and litter conditions, good nutrition, and clean water. Vaccines help prevent infectious disease and biosecurity measures also help prevent the introduction of diseases. In antibiotic-free production, gut health is particularly important and natural compounds, bacteriophages, prebiotics, probiotics are useful.

  • Parasite Management for Natural and Organic Poultry: Coccidiosis. Describes management to reduce incidence of coccidiosis, natural treatments to reduce the use of drugs, and vaccines.


There are few government-inspected small poultry processing plants to which independent producers have access. Some states allow small numbers of poultry to be processed on-farm without government inspection (less than 1,000 birds/year or sometimes up to 20,000 birds/year). Innovative technologies such as the use of gas stunning to improve welfare and air chilling to improve meat quality can be adapted to small plants. Egg regulations for small flocks vary by state, but usually eggs must be washed and held at less than 45F before selling to the customer.

  • Small-scale Egg Handling. Describes proper shell egg handling including nestbox management, washing (dry and wet methods), and storing.
  • Small-scale Poultry Processing. Describes on-farm, mobile processing units, and small-scale poultry meat processing.

Business and Marketing 

Small producers direct market to the consumer from the farm, at farmers markets, buying clubs, by subscription, etc. Larger producers work with collaborative marketing and niche markets. Niche markets include antibiotic-free, natural, free-range, organic, high-omega, high-welfare, local, American origin or place-based, gourmet, or heritage poultry meat and eggs.

  • Growing Your Range Poultry Business: An Entrepreneur's Toolbox. Feasibility and business planning, includes decision tree, budgets for small flock/on-farm processing, medium flock with processing out-sourced, and establishing a mobile processing unit or a small fixed plant.
  • Organic Poultry Production in the United States. Discusses organic husbandry practices including living conditions, health, stock and origin, feed and processing as required under the livestock requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program.

Additional Resources

Video: Master Breeder Frank Reese comments on the adaptation of turkey breeding to large-scale production.