• • • Iowa State University researchers are integrating chickens into vegetable production systems
As small-scale backyard poultry operations proliferate in the new era of the “local food movement,” Iowa State University researchers are studying what advantages may arise from integrating chickens into vegetable production systems. The researchers must balance a range of concerns, including environmental sustainability, costs and food and animal safety, according to an announcement.
The experiments, currently in their second year, take place at the Iowa State Horticulture Research Station just north of Ames, Iowa. 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. This integrated approach could reduce off-farm inputs and also provide producers with sustainable crop rotation options.
The researchers are testing three different systems on a half-acre of land at the research farm. The first system involves a vegetable crop — one of several varieties of lettuce or broccoli — early in the growing season, followed by the chickens, which are then followed by a cover crop later in the year. The second system involves the vegetable crop, followed by two months of a cover crop, with the chickens foraging on the land later in the year. The third system is vegetables followed by cover crops, with no chickens.