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November 14, 2014

3 minutes read

High Welfare Meets High Tech

Farm Forward Board Member and 4th-generation Kansas farmer Frank Reese Jr. is on a mission to revolutionize the poultry industry by raising heritage turkeys and chickens in high welfare conditions. His latest achievement is a new, state-of-the-art barn at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. The barn is the first of its kind—a large-scale facility that produces exclusively heritage chickens and turkeys.

The 12,000-square-foot structure was built with a loan from Farm Forward, which was made possible by a generous grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). By doubling Good Shepherd’s production capacity, the barn allows Good Shepherd to fill orders for customers who would otherwise be forced to buy birds from factory farms. (This is the first project funded by Farm Forward’s Pay It Forward Loan Program. Stay tuned for an upcoming feature about this exciting new opportunity for high-welfare farmers!)

Most poultry operations ask, at best, ‘How can I improve welfare while keeping my costs the same,’” explains Farm Forward CEO Aaron Gross. “Reese’s kind of farming starts with a level of animal welfare as a non-negotiable principle and asks, ‘How can we keep costs as low as possible while maintaining these high welfare standards?’ Farm Forward’s loan to Mr. Reese is helping to transform the industry by shifting market share from typical industrial farms to farms like Good Shepherd,” adds Gross.

The new barn embodies the three principles of Good Shepherd’s heritage farming philosophy: animal welfare, breed conservancy and biodiversity, and environmental stewardship.

Animal welfare

The barn was constructed with the comfort and health of its avian inhabitants as a top priority. Reese installed doors that open onto large ranges at regular intervals along one wall and provided larger walk-out doors at each end of the barn, allowing birds easy access to pasture year-round. A built-in roost spanning 200 feet gives the birds plenty of room to rest safely. A host of temperature controls automatically respond to conditions in the barn to ensure that it is never too hot, too cold, or too humid for the birds. In short, the new Good Shepherd barn exemplifies how modern agricultural technology can be employed to maximize the well-being of farmed animals.

Breed conservancy and biodiversity

As the poultry industry has moved away from heritage breeds in favor of hybrid birds to meet increasingly intensive production demands, conservation of heritage breeding lines has declined to the point that heritage poultry is in danger of disappearing completely. The preservation of diverse breeds is crucial to any future farm system for optimizing both animal health and animal welfare. In contrast to birds from hybrid breeding lines, the heritage breeds Reese raises, like Plymouth Rock chickens and Standard Bronze turkeys, are able to thrive on pasture, grow slowly, and mate naturally.

The new barn will help ensure the survival of heritage breeds by allowing Good Shepherd to function as a hatchery exclusively for heritage chicks and poults, saving a crucial and irreplaceable resource for promoting more humane and sustainable poultry farming. Currently, 99% of chicks sold to poultry farmers are hybrid birds from factory hatcheries, but farmers will soon be able to source heritage breeds from Good Shepherd.

Environmental stewardship

The barn is also designed to make maximum use of its surrounding space without depleting the land. Reese laid out the building so birds have access to three different pastures as they grow in size. Multiple pasture allows for easy movement of the birds and time for each pasture to re-charge between flocks. This method avoids the profound welfare problems associated with “tractor” systems that allow birds access to fresh pasture but continue to keep them confined in pens.

Reese and Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch have been featured in the New York TimesUSA TodayABC News, the Martha Stewart Show, and in the best-selling book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. The new barn at Good Shepherd advances Reese’s work in heritage poultry by helping make his ranch a model that other farmers can follow.

Farm Forward supports the development of agricultural practices that can help reduce the number of animals on factory farms and improve farmed animal welfare. We hope you’ll join us in working toward the highest welfare, most sustainable and just alternatives to factory farming.

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