In the Netherlands about 2300 ha is used as outdoor area for organic and free range chickens. Most of these areas consist of grass only. But chickens – whose wild ancestors were forest birds – would feel much more at home if these areas included shrubs and trees for shelter.
Multifunctional outdoor areas
Within the farmers’ network Trees for Outdoor Chickens poultry farmers are working together to optimize their outdoor range areas. The aim is to find sustainable, multifunctional solutions to increase shelter for outdoor chickens. The bottom line is to improve chicken welfare. Preferably, the trees and shrubs planted for shelter also provide harvestable products and help to remove excess nutrients. Think of fruit and nut trees, trees for wood, and Christmas trees. The possibility of including bio-energy crops such as willow and Miscanthus is also being explored. Planting trees and shrubs in outdoor range areas will enhance landscape quality and biodiversity. Furthermore, it is expected that trees and shrubs help to keep out grazing waterfowl such as geese and ducks, thus decreasing the risk of bird flu contamination.
Participatory approach and advice
The participants in this network planted trees and shrubs during the winter of 2012-2013. In the coming years they will share their experiences with each other, and with other interested poultry farmers. The Louis Bolk Institute will compare and evaluate the various planting schemes in terms of chicken welfare, nutrient removal, biodiversity, profitability, and effectiveness in keeping out geese and ducks. The farmers will regularly participate in excursions and farm visits.
Organisation and implementation
Monique Bestman of the Louis Bolk Institute is project leader, responsible for field measurements, organisation of farm visits and field excursions, and project coordination. Bionext takes care of legal issues and communication. We are collaborating with a project of the Probos Foundation investigating the possibilities of planting outdoor range areas with willows for biomass energy production.
The poultry farmers’ network Trees for Outdoor Chickens is funded through April 2015, by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Foundation ‘Pluimveebelangen’, the BIO+ Foundation, the Adopt-a-Chicken Foundation, participating poultry farmers and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.
Brochure "Trees for outdoor chickens" (in Dutch)