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Scientists with Ohio State University believe naked oats may be a way to cut the cost of producing organic chicken. Also called hull-less oats, naked oats are named for their lack of an outer hull compared with conventional oats. The oats, which have a unique protein and amino acid balance, will be tested in a 4 year study in the diets of pasture-raised organic broiler chickens. The chickens will be considered part of the crop rotation within a given year, where they'll serve as both a product to sell and a source of manure to enhance soil fertility.

The goal of the study is to develop a way to reduce the cost of organic chicken feed by growing the cereal portion of the birds' diet on the farm, thus making it more cost-effective to raise and sell organic chicken, said Mike Lilburn, an animal sciences professor at the university's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in northeast Ohio and the leader of the study.

"What I'm hoping is that in four years we can offer a cost-effective crop rotation alternative to organic producers, one that produces a quality organic product but decreases the cost of production," said Lilburn, who also holds a joint appointment with Ohio State University Extension. "Naked oats are higher in protein than conventional oats and have an amino acid profile that may reduce the proportion of high-cost, high-protein supplements that are currently needed to produce balanced organic diets," Lilburn said. "If our hypothesis is correct and naked oats can be used at up to 70 to 80% of the diet for pasture-reared broilers, this becomes a new option for organic producers." Selling naked oats to other organic poultry producers or for use in high-value organic foods such as granola could be other options for farmers, he said.

For now, the cost of organic chicken feed, which is typically bought off the farm, is a limiting factor in expanding organic poultry production, Lilburn said. Organic farmers often sell their chickens only as "pasture-raised" rather than "certified organic" due to the high cost of organic feed. That cost can make the birds too expensive to produce, even if sold at a premium price. Pasture-raised chickens don't require organic feed but still get a premium price.

Adapted from: Where Food Comes From "Can 'naked oats' cut organic chicken production costs?" April 6, 2012

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