EVANSVILLE, Wis. – Farmers of all types were invited to see how organic works at a series of field days held this summer by the Organic Grain Resources and Information Network and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Doudlah Farms LLC hosted one of the field days near Evansville, Wisconsin.

Mark and Lucy Doudlah and their son, Jason, 17, welcomed visitors to their 1,450-acre diversified organic grain farm where they grow corn, soybeans, small grains, cover-crop seed, dry beans and other crops. The Doudlahs said they began transitioning from conventional to organic production in 2008 to help supply growing market demands for organic grains and feedstocks. In spring 2015, they also began producing poultry on pasture.

“We decided to produce poultry on pasture due to our crop rotation, as well as livestock health, soil health and human health,” Lucy Doudlah said.

She and Jason manage the poultry operation. They started with about 50 layer chickens and added another 200 layers this year to keep pace with demand for their organic eggs. They sell the eggs direct to customers and at farmers markets. Delaware and Wyandotte breeds have worked well for their pasture-based system, she said.

The Doudlahs also produce chickens for the broiler market. And – at the request of a company that will be giving turkeys to its employees to enjoy during the holidays – the Doudlahs are raising 68 organic turkeys this year.

For broiler production, the Doudlahs order Cornish Cross chicks from Purely Poultry of Fremont, Wisconsin. When day-old chicks arrive at the post office, the Doudlahs retrieve them and transport them back to the farm. The chicks are housed in a garage until they develop adult white feathers. Chicks that are too young – still having some yellow feathers – are more susceptible to wet and cold weather and can die, Lucy Doudlah said.

When ready for pasture, the birds are moved into one of two 10-foot by 12-foot portable shelters. The shelters are built on boards that can be lifted with a dolly. That’s because the shelter is moved to new pasture daily. The first shelter houses about 80 broilers. After two weeks, about half of the birds are moved to the second 10-foot by 12-foot shelter.

To protect chickens from predators, chicken wire is used around each shelter. The chicken wire is about 5 feet high. Attached to the chicken wire and boards are canvas tarps that can be rolled up on either side as well as the back of each structure. That helps to protect birds from the elements.

The shelters have no floors so the chickens are in contact with the soil. Narrow fencing panels are placed on the ground outside of shelter perimeters to prevent predators from digging holes in the soil to reach the chickens. Predators won’t dig tunnels to reach the birds, and predators overall have not been a problem at their farm, Lucy Doudlah said.

“Jason has done a lot of research and has made a lot of changes to the shelters,” she said. “They must be heavy enough to keep birds safe from high winds, but light enough for one person to move.”

The Doudlahs said they are considering fencing the shelters next year to give chickens more room to run. They will continue to daily move the shelters with fence.

The organic corn, beans and peas harvested on the farm are conditioned so grain and feed customers receive a clean product, Lucy Doudlah said. Fines and splits that remain after cleaning are ground into feed for the poultry and some Berkshire hogs. An Oliver tractor and a mix mill are used to grind feed on the farm. Because beans intended for poultry feed must be cooked or roasted, the Doudlahs hire an outside company to roast beans at the farm.

“Any bean which has not been properly cooked is potentially lethal for chickens,” Lucy Doudlah said. “They contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin. Illness will occur after eating as few as three or four beans and will progress very rapidly. Once eaten, there’s nothing to be done to save the bird. Keep bean plants well out of the way of your chickens.”

The poultry feed as well as swine rations also contain salt, minerals, vitamins and oregano encapsulated in cinnamon.

“The cinnamon helps to get the oregano down into the animal’s gut,” Doudlah said. “In general, oregano oil has the ability to destroy bacteria and promote a stronger immune system.”

Some research studies suggest oregano oil has similar effects as antimicrobials in vitro, but most animal studies have failed to show a significant growth response similar to that of antimicrobial additives, said Cassandra Jones, assistant professor of feed technology at Kansas State University.

When ready for market, the Doudlah broilers and turkeys are processed at Twin Cities Pack Inc. in Clinton, Wisconsin. Twin Cities Pack is organic-certified through the Midwest Organic Services Association Inc.

The Doudlahs sell organic poultry and meat products at farmers markets. A restaurant in Rockford, Illinois, also has been purchasing from them. Much of their business has increased via word of mouth, but they also use social media, Doudlah said.

“People like to know where their food is coming from,” she said. “They like to come to the farm and see the animals. They like the idea that they’re out on pasture. Some people like it because it is kinder to the animals. Others believe the taste is much richer since they are foraging and not confined. Even with organic standards, birds can be organic but not pastured. We prefer both.”

Author’s note: To read “Effect of anticoccidial monensin with oregano essential oil on broilers experimentally challenged with mixed Eimeria spp” visit www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26976910 for more information.

To read “Effect of Origanum chemotypes on broiler intestinal bacteria,” visit www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25071230 for more information.