University of California, Davis. Pastured Hen Project
As the co-directors of the UC Davis Pastured Poultry Farm we read your op-ed in Egg-Cite on December 4th with much interest.
In general, it appears that you believe that our project seeks to re-create a 19th century poultry production practice and hence “hardly requires the involvement” of a university. Your assertion is simply wrong; our goal is to re-create these systems using 21st century technology to improve production, welfare, food safety, predator control, biosecurity, farmer ergonomics and management and environmental management.
Examples of this are:
• We are developing Bluetooth-enabled temperature, moisture and light sensors to transmit data remotely to a $35 computer inside the coop. The data then can be transmitted to a “cloud”-based system that also captures data submitted by farmers using a “Google form.”
• In addition, we are researching the use of hyperspectral imaging to better understand pasture management via the generation of Normalized Difference Vegetation Indices (NDVI).
Both of these examples may seem impractical, but with open-source data analysis tools and cost effective electronics (e.g., our computer was $35), these techniques have significant potential to improve production. This is not “re-inventing the wheel” as you suggest.
In short, a university is essential from an innovation, research and outreach perspective to address challenges in pastured poultry production and “integrative farming” (i.e., where the land is used for both livestock/poultry and field crops). We have faculty in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Plant Sciences, Animal Sciences and Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology and Cooperative Extension working jointly to research these systems, come up with practical innovations and extend that knowledge domestically and internationally.
While these systems may not “feed the world” they are becoming more and more common. As an extension veterinarian at a land grant university, it is my responsibility to work with these farmers who have traditionally not utilized all the resources that cooperative extension offers. Furthermore, while conventional poultry production is indeed more efficient, the idea that conventional production will solve all the world’s problems is not currently attainable in “food desserts” and in parts of the developing world. Alternative systems offer other options that should be considered.
To address one other point you made that was inaccurate: Your statement that our density is 1 bird per 1,400 square feet is incorrect. In fact you incorrectly extrapolated the amount of land we are using and what the maximum size of our flock could be. In fact, based on current practices and guidelines from certifiers the number of birds per square feet range from four square feet per bird to 108 square feet per bird.
Hypothesis driven research is badly needed to address problems related to predator control, biosecurity, production efficiency and food safety among other issues. Applying 21st technology to address these challenges will have a positive impact on non-conventional poultry production locally, regionally and globally
Dr. Maurice Pitesky DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ACVPM
Assistant Specialist in Cooperative Extension
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Poultry Health and Food Safety Epidemiology
Dr. Deb Niemeier, Ph.D, P.E.
UC Davis Department of Engineering
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Director: Sustainable Design Academy