UC Davis veterinary students shape the future of small chicken farms

UC Davis veterinary students shape the future of small chicken farms

Faculty and staff across the university collaborate on a new pastured poultry farm.

Veterinary medicine students at the University of California, Davis, are working to influence how small chicken farms operate.

Partnering with students from UC Davis’ College of Engineering and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the veterinary students are contributing to the university’s 4.5-acre farm near the main campus, according to a university release. The Pastured Poultry Farm, which is home to 150 young laying chickens, is intended to improve pasture-based poultry farms, integrative crop-and-poultry farms and backyard flocks. Diseases, chicken health, predators and workers’ occupational health hazards are among the research topics.

Veterinary students are partnering with students from across UC Davis to work on the chicken farm. Photo courtesy of Don Preisler/UCDavis. The students built the farm’s Eggmobile (a miniature 32-nest chicken barn on wheels) to shelter the chickens and fertilize the grass as it travels. Caring for the animals, installing an irrigation system and seeding the pasture are other responsibilities. 

The engineering team automated watering, created a tarp-pulley system, erected movable shade and buildings for protection from predators, and made roll-out nest boxes. A portable electronic fence protects the farm from predators, and there’s a 50-foot strip of uncultivated land that serves as a buffer from wildlife. 

The Pastured Poultry Farm is home to 150 chickens. Maurice Pitesky, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM, a poultry specialist with the School of Veterinary Medicine and co-leader of the poultry project, says change is quickly transforming the poultry industry and the pasture model gives farmers more options. “It’s also a way for crop farmers to move into poultry production without expanding their land or adding nitrogen fertilizer to their farming system,” Pitesky says in the release.
The chickens’ eggs will be donated to food shelters. Members of the public can visit the farm and take part in educational events at the farm. “We really want this to be a local and regional demonstration project,” Pitesky says.

There are plans to build more Eggmobiles and add broiler chickens. They also want to implement cropping systems that mix poultry, which means repurposing land over time, Pitesky tells dvm360. Land use is rotated from poultry to fallow to crops so the ground is naturally fertilized.

The Pastured Poultry Farm is supported by donations from organizations and individuals.