California’s chicken industry has been experiencing dramatic shifts over the past few years, starting with the passage of a ballot measure known as Proposition 2 in 2008. The changes required by Proposition 2 have now been in effect for just over a year, allowing time for farmers and egg producers to see its results.
Proposition 2 passed with strong support and increased the amount of space that had to be provided to farm birds. The previous standard for cage size was 67 square inches per caged bird – an area smaller than a sheet of notebook paper, notes Rose Hayden-Smith, writing for the University of California’s Food Observer. The new standard that was adopted is nearly twice the previous size at 116 square inches. The larger cage size is intended to provide birds with enough space to move about freely and stretch their wings.
One of the effects of the new cage requirements was that many poultry farms closed because they could not afford to expand their facilities. The number of laying hens in California decreased from 18 million in 2014 to 11 million in 2015.
At the same time that poultry farms in California are being required to provide more space for caged birds, there is a growing consumer-driven movement for cage-free eggs. Even large companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s are starting to make a shift toward cage-free eggs in response to their own customers’ demands. Consequently, many poultry farms in California are switching to cage-free systems rather than to larger cages.
Pasture-raised poultry does present some new challenges for poultry producers, through. Predators are a significant problem on open farms, with as many as one-third of birds lost to predation. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other animals all prey on poultry. Another challenge for producers is keeping track of birds and making sure they receive a sufficient amount of feed. Flocks that are exposed to wild birds can be subject to disease as well.
UC Davis opened its Pastured Poultry Farm in 2015 to study backyard and pasture-based poultry farming. The project is intended to provide advice and information for hobbyist and commercial poultry producers in light of the recent trend toward cage-free poultry. The facility is also gathering extensive data to determine how productive birds are and identify ways to optimize egg production for poultry farmers nationwide.
Whether you’re looking to expand your poultry farm or start your own brood, Cackle Hatchery provides nearly 200 varieties of poultry to our customers. Call us today at 417-532-4581 to learn more about our available birds and to find out how we can help with your poultry stock needs