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Organic maize for free-range poultry production

Organic maize for free-range poultry production

2014/15 Season

Owners: Ben Bostock
Farm location: Hastings, Hawke's Bay
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0021, P8805

An interest in organic farming, combined with a desire to build a livestock business where he had control from paddock to plate, led Hawke's Bay farmer Ben Bostock to establish Bostock's organic free range chicken.

The business, which is located on 8 ha of pasture on Ben's family's organic apple orchard in Hastings, started in June 2014. Prior to this, Ben had researched international poultry practices, and travelled to France to see how to best raise organic chicken.

"Superior tasting, succulent chickens are part of French culture" says Ben. "Our focus is on quality, not quantity and we're committed to healthy, safe growing practices". Day old Cobb chickens are purchased from Bromley Park Hatcheries and housed in eighteen state of the art 'chalets' which were imported from France. The 120 m2 chalets have a solar operated feeding system and windows which allow the chickens to roam freely outside once they are fully feathered. Each chalet holds 1,500 birds and it is moved every 10 weeks allowing the bird's access to fresh grass.

Birds are slaughtered at 63 days, by which time they have reached a dressed weight of 1.6 kg. During their time on the farm each bird consumes as much pasture as they can eat, plus 4 kg of an organic meal mix comprised of maize grain, barley, dried apple pomace and fish meal.

"We feed our birds a lower protein feed so it takes them twice as long to grow to slaughter weight" says Ben. "The slow growth rate increases our production costs, but produces superior tasting chicken which has been nurtured from pasture to plate".

Ben's father, John Bostock, has been growing a significant area of maize for several years, so maize grain was an obvious choice when it came to formulating a poultry ration.

"Maize yields well in Hawke's Bay and we know it's not too hard to grow maize organically" says Ben.

In the 2013-14 season Ben grew 4 ha of Pioneer® brand P0537. In spring 2014 he planted 32 ha of Pioneer® brand P0021 and 8 ha of Pioneer® brand P8805.

"We are looking for a hybrid which would deliver a high yield, but we also wanted some very early maturity maize because we needed the grain early for the chickens" says Ben.

Weeds are the key challenge for organic maize crops. Paddocks were ploughed in October and a 'false seed bed' was created prior to planting. This allowed weed seeds to germinate with the weed seedlings being removed by a second cultivation just prior to planting.

"This year we didn't plant until 5 November because the ground conditions were too wet earlier on" says Ben. "The later planting date allowed the maize to jump out of the ground and we only had to inter-row cultivate once".

Since an organic system cannot use synthetic fertiliser, Ben relies on chicken manure from the chalets to provide nutrients for the maize crop. This season it was applied prior to maize planting, and a second application is planned after harvest prior to planting a winter crop.

Ben's organic chickens are slaughtered locally before being packaged and sold at New World supermarkets and niche food stores around the country.

"Having control of the whole process means we can produce a high quality product which is healthy and safe" says Ben. "It's very satisfying to be running a successful business which meets all welfare standards, is kind to the environment, and is economic and sustainable".