Can ‘Naked Oats’ Cut Organic Chicken Production Costs?
OARDC's Mike Lilburn holds a beaker of "naked oats," which are named for their lack of an outer hull. They could be a key to cutting organic chicken production costs. (K.D. Chamberlain image.)
Ohio -- Scientists with Ohio State
University have received a four-year, $896,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture
grant to study the feasibility of incorporating so-called “naked oats” into organic
farming rotations as a way to cut the cost of producing organic chicken.
which have a unique protein and amino acid balance, will be tested in the diets
of pasture-raised organic broiler chickens. The chickens will be considered part of the crop rotation within a given year, where they’ll serve as both a product to
sell and a source of manure to enhance soil fertility.
The goal of
the study is to develop a way to reduce the cost of organic chicken feed by
growing the cereal portion of the birds’ diet on the farm, thus making it more
cost-effective to raise and sell organic chicken, said Mike Lilburn, an animal
sciences professor at the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and
Development Center in northeast Ohio and the leader of the study.
hoping is that in four years we can offer a cost-effective crop rotation alternative to organic
producers, one that produces a quality organic product but decreases the cost
of production,” said Lilburn, who also holds an appointment with Ohio State
naked oats to other organic poultry producers or for use in high-value organic
foods such as granola could be other options for farmers, he said.
called hull-less oats, naked oats are named for their lack of an outer hull
compared with conventional oats.
oats are higher in protein than conventional oats and have an amino acid
profile that may reduce the proportion of high-cost, high-protein supplements
that are currently needed to produce balanced organic diets,” Lilburn said. “If
our hypothesis is correct and naked oats can be used at up to 70 to 80 percent
of the diet for pasture-reared broilers, this becomes a new option for organic
the cost of organic chicken feed, which is typically bought off the farm, is a
limiting factor in expanding organic poultry production, Lilburn said. Organic
farmers often sell their chickens only as “pasture-raised” rather than
“certified organic” due to the high cost of organic feed. That cost can make
the birds too expensive to produce, even if sold at a premium price. Pasture-raised
chickens don’t require organic feed but still get a premium price.
The study will
be done at OARDC’s certified-organic research plots at the center’s East Badger
Farm near Wooster. The birds will be kept in portable pens, or “chicken
tractors,” with spelt and red clover as the other crops in the rotation.
study’s second year, three area “stakeholder” farms will join the project to
test the diets and rotations under real-world conditions. The farms will raise
two cycles of organic broilers in the second year, then two cycles of heritage-strain
broilers in the third year, with a further aim being to compare the different strains’ carcass characteristics and length of time to reach market size, which
is typically 6 pounds.
four years of the study, the scientists will also determine the chickens’
contribution to the soil fertility of the East Badger plots.
ready, each year’s findings will be shared with farmers through the eOrganic
online Community of Practice hosted by the national eXtension network and
through workshops organized by such groups as the Small Farm Institute and the
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
academic co-researchers on the study are Larry Phelan of the Department of
Entomology and Marv Batte of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and
Development Economics, both also with Ohio State, OARDC, and the center’s
nationally known Organic Food and Farming Education and Research Program
(OFFER); and Matt Mariola of the College of Wooster’s Environmental Studies
Program. Deb Stinner, former head of OFFER, now retired, had an initial role in
planning the study.
comes through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative program
of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This past fall, USDA
announced this and 22 other grants, totaling $19 million, to research and Extension programs at U.S. universities, all designed to advance organic
and more farmers adopt organic agriculture practices, they need the best
science available to operate profitable and successful organic farms,” U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement.
brand of organic agricultural goods is world renowned for its high quality and
abundance of selection,” she said. “These research and Extension projects will
give producers the tools and resources to produce quality organic food and
boost farm income, boosting the ‘Grown in America’ brand.”
OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State’s
College of Food,
Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.