The Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO) in Flanders recently published the research report ‘Creating added value in organic farming through sustainable combinations of vegetable crops with outdoor range for poultry’. This is the final report of the LEGCOMBIO project that ran from 2017 to 2020.
In densely populated regions such as Flanders, the pressure on the remaining open space is increasing and efficient land use is becoming increasingly important. This applies in particular to the agricultural sector, one of the main actors in rural areas. This means looking for ways to produce more on the same surface. At the same time, concerns are growing about the impact of intensive farming practices on the environment and on animal welfare.
In the research project ‘Creating added value in organic agriculture through sustainable combinations of vegetable crops with outdoor range for poultry’, it is investigated how the efficiency and sustainability of production can be maximized by well-thought-out combining a multi-year, vegetable kept) poultry. The results of three years of research within this project are described in three
The desk study is the first part of a three-part project report. On the basis of an extensive literature study, the various sub-aspects (vegetable production of food, wood and / or
biomass and animal production component of eggs or meat, soil and environment, regulations, economic feasibility,…) of such mixed cultivation systems. Besides knowledge
From literature, practical experiences are also reported, based on contact moments between different producers, researchers and consultants during the course of the project. Practical testimonials are inserted throughout the desk study in separate text boxes at the paragraphs to which they apply.
The second part describes the results of a long-term experimental study into the promotion of outdoor use by laying hens. The influence was considered
of the weather conditions, rearing method and type of planting in the range on the range use of the chickens. It was also measured whether individual outdoor use is correlated to well-being
of the animal, and the impact of the chickens on soil conditions and the productivity of two types of crop cultivation was investigated. This experiment took place at ILVO and was already started prior to LEGCOMBIO (during Lisanne Stadig’s doctoral research) and will be followed up in the longer term.
In a third part, the system was evaluated under practical conditions in a reversed departure situation: here broilers were raised in an existing plantation of small fruit (kiwi berry) at the O’Bio company. We evaluated the influence of the environment and factors such as barn position and distance from water on outdoor use, weed pressure, crop damage and soil conditions.
At the start of the study, some hypotheses and questions were asked. Due to the observational nature of the trial (practical situation, no repetitions), as expected at the start, it was not possible to draw firm conclusions from this. Because the above-ground crop conditions, the clearing of the berries and the pest pressure were not explicitly monitored, these questions remain unanswered for the time being. Nevertheless, some things have become clear:
- Chickens in the outdoor area suppress the weeds locally (in the vicinity of the house), but extra stimuli to encourage outdoor use further away from the house are needed.
- The deposition of chicken manure locally creates a high nutrient pressure. At the barn openings (popholes), this accumulation seems almost inevitable solely through better chicken distribution, which implies the need to remove the manure. An attempt can be made to gradually increase the distance between barn and drinker at an earlier age (than was the case in this test) to obtain an even greater spread of manure.
- By better spreading the chickens and / or moving the house, the pressure in terms of root damage or nutrient accumulation will be leveled off and spread more evenly in the space. An increased mineralization rate by the foraging of the chickens could not be deduced from this experimental design.
Despite the fact that there is a large degree of shelter in the outdoor range due to the row-shaped planting, there are more factors that determine the degree of outdoor use. The part of the run that is effectively used by the chickens seems a lot smaller than the potentially available space.
Click here for the research report.