Archive for the ‘Eggs’ Category

No More “NON-GMO” Feed

As of 2018, we will no longer be feeding feeds that are NON-GMO. Oh, we’re not switching to GMOs if that’s what you’re thinking, we’re switching to Organic.

Some folks make the mistaken assumption that because Genetically Modified Organisms aren’t permitted in certified Organic products, on equates (or comes close to) the other. That’s far from the truth. I’ve recently learned the truth and it makes me sick. I have long believed that organic feedstuff contains far superior nutrition and would be the best choice for our animals, namely the ones we would be eating. We actually fed organic feed several years ago and suffered a financial loss when one of our freezers that was packed full of organic fed, pasture raised chicken quit working. We estimated that we lost about $3000 and for a very small operation, that was a huge loss. It was a loss big enough that we became hyper-cautious with our budget and sought out an alternative.

When I found Non-GMO feed from Tucker Milling, I thought I had found the holy grail. Well not holy but I believed this was the answer to all of our feed problems, but not just ours, this could be the answer for all small livestock producers. There’s no gmo corn, gmo soy, gmo cottonseed, gmo rape (canola) and it was so much more affordable! I thought that I would never look back, but here I am. After feeding it for several years, I can definitely say that it does not deliver anywhere close to the nutrition that an organic feed does. First of all, the birds we raised did not perform as well as the organic fed birds we raised in the past. They seem to be much more susceptible to environmental extremes and were not as robust. Plus, I have been able to do a near side by side comparison between the birds we raised this year and the ones raised by a friend who feeds organic.

Now when I first made the decision that we were not going to use feed from Tucker, I initially considered other Non-GMO feeds. Both Hiland Naturals and Resaca Sun Feeds are certified by the Non GMO Project. I was speaking with a friend about this and she shared with me an experience she had while picking up feed from Resaca’s feed mill. While sitting in their parking lot, she observes a tanker truck pull in, on that truck is the name  Monsanto. This tanker is delivering Glysophate (Roundup) and she watches as they fill the tank of a spay rig on a tractor, which then goes out into Resaca Sun’s fields and starts spraying. After hearing this, I called the Non GMO Project to ask if they certify products regardless of pesticide/herbicide use. Their answer, “Yes we do.” So even though they certify a product as being GMO free, it very well could (and probably does) contain grains that were sprayed with Roundup prior to harvest. Here’s a video I did on our YouTube channel about this.

So what are we supposed to do? How can I feed something I now know to be poisonous? I can’t. There is no other choice but to go Organic.

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Cheap eggs, meat, veggies…

And then there was 36

Industrial egg prodution

In my previous post, one of the biggest challenges in what we do that I didn’t really touch on, is justifying the price we charge for our food.

I’ll never forget when the guys I used to work with heard I was raising eggs, and

Non-industrial egg production

Non-industrial egg production

when I told them I sold eggs for $4/dozen (at the time, we’re now at $5 but soon will be going up once we switch to all organic feed), they lost their minds. “You’re ripping people off!” “What are you, high on meth?” “Holy crap!” were some of the nicer exclamations. They never bought a bag of chicken feed and their only experience with eggs was buying them at the grocery stores. One of them said, “There’s a guy by my house that sells them for $2 so you are a rip off.” I tried to explain that the guy is obviously working another job to feed those birds and besides, you need them to do more than just pay for their food. They, like so many Americans, focus solely on the price stamped on the package without a single consideration to the nutrition value or why that food at the store is so cheap.

Every time I hear of someone new who is selling eggs for $2 or $3 a dozen, I just groan and shake my head. This is obviously someone who believes they have to compete with the supermarket price which is unrealistic. Or even worse, they say they’re not in it to make money and they give little thought to what they feed these chickens. Why is it worse? Because, there are more and more folks like me who want to do this for a living and when people have more money than they know what to do with other than buy some chickens and sell some eggs, they are undercutting us. We feed our birds the very best we can plus all the aggravation that comes with managing them in a free range/pastured model. What they are also doing is perpetuating the thought that farmers shouldn’t earn a decent living for what they do, hence the image of the poor farmer.

Many people also experience sticker shock at the prospect of paying $5/lb chicken, $8/lb beef, $4/lb vegetables and $10/gal milk. Producing food on a small-scale without chemicals, fertilizers, by-products, fillers, or any other cost cutting/corner cutting measures means a much greater investment in time, labor, infrastructure and of course money. We do not enjoy the government subsidies that the big industrial ag growers do, which along with their ability to operate in sheer gargantuan volume, is the reason their “products” are so cheap. So what it boils down to for eaters who want the very best food possible, what are you willing to give up in order to be as healthy as you can be? Soft drinks? Dinning out? Movies? Ski trips? So please remember that if you want a future where you have access to whole, healthy food, to support the farmers who are in it for the long haul.

The Challenges of Farming

When I steered my family’s life onto this course known as farming, we knew there would be numerous challenges to overcome. We knew that we were completely altering the way we would live our lives, but perhaps we didn’t realize just how drastic it would be. We knew there would be an immense amount of physical labor, however the logistics of prioritizing all the chores, tasks and projects threatens to overwhelm us and undermine  any sense of productivity. Growing the healthiest food possible seems simple enough yet, as we research the dangerous impact of GMO crops, we feel as though we’re after the white rabbit into a deep twisting hole. The sheer volume of money we would invest ( and have yet to spend) has probably been the greatest test of confidence.

I, like many who have plunged head first into this life, caught this feverish passion after reading any number of books and publications written by folks like; Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, Allen Nation, Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan. From them I came to grasp a set of ethics and ideals by which food should be produced, especially in regard to the manner in which animals destined to be eaten are raised. I was totally committed to never allowing a kernel of grain to pass the lips of my cows, giving my chickens freedom to roam, raising rabbits on pasture and integrating pigs as a vital component. I’ve managed to hold true to these, but just barely. I had to face some realizations; am I going to be a purely idealistic farmer who will always need to work an off farm job(s) or can I allow myself to temporarily sacrifice some of those ideals for the purpose actually making a bit of profit so that we could afford to improve our model?

The fastest revenue producer with the best profit margin of anything else a farmer could cultivate is pasture raised chicken IF, he orders Cornish Cross(X) hybrids male chickens and feeds them tax dollar subsidized commodity soy based feed. Doing this brings the greatest return, netting around $10 per bird or more in about 8 weeks. The Cornish X is the bird developed by and for industrial factory farming to satisfy the insatiable taste for fowl Americans have developed in the past 60 years. In the factory farms, this bird grows to size in just 6 weeks on a diet loaded with soy and corn, laced with antibiotics. By placing them in pens on pasture, they do have a better life than their FF counterparts, but if they didn’t get a high protein ration, they simply won’t grow. These birds are a purely man-made creature that has absolutely no foraging instinct. Sure they’ll eat grass, if they’re confined on top of it and have nothing else to eat, but if given the freedom to roam; cricket, grasshoppers and all manner of insectae are free to pass with little harassment from these grain hungry birds. Yes, the meat is  healthier because they’re outdoors in the sun with fresh air and aren’t being fed drugged feed. BUT, and it’s a mighty big but, They are not eating the natural diet of a chicken. Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians and since they can’t possibly get the protein they require strictly on pasture, their feed ration is still conventionally produced Genetically Modified grain, namely soy and corn. I write pages about the evilness that is behind GMOs but I urge you to do your own research. Everyone needs to watch Genetic Roulette, and you’ll be demanding GMO labeling of all the food you buy.

I’ve pursued raising rabbits for meat as well. Rabbits are more sustainable because we don’t have to rely on a hatchery and rabbits can glean the majority of their diet on pasture. I had this idea that we’d have rabbits living full time on pasture, breeding and raising young rabbits, never putting them in a suspended cage. That sounds great, but it doesn’t work. Even if you move the pen twice a day, a mature doe has a driving urge to dig and eventually, you’ll get to a patch of soil that she’ll dig through like butter and you’re doomed to play a game we call rabbit round-up. It’s not a lot of fun at all. You chase a few rabbits through the brambles, briers and bushes, and you’ll happily put her up in a cage. You also want to keep your bucks in the coolest location possible during the hot summer as they go sterile temporarily once the temperature climbs over 85 deg for at least three consecutive days. A doe with babies feels exposed and vulnerable sitting above ground. If something comes along and frightens her, her instinct for self preservation kicks in causing her to eat her young, and if there wasn’t a pen confining her, she’d run hide. The pastured rabbit model really only works economically, practically (and to maintain one’s sanity), by raising those rabbits who are destined to be eaten, out on the pasture. They will reach “fryer” size in 12-14 weeks and they do not develop a vigorous desire to dig, usually. So now we keep our breeders in cages and as awful some will say that is, it’s the safest manner for breeding and raising rabbit.

I mentioned GMO feed earlier. I came across a local grain mill that said they had non-GMO grain. I was extremely excited and I placed and order for three tons of broiler and layer feed. I asked about rabbit feed, but they didn’t have alfalfa so their’s would be soy bean and corn-based. Well I, and other farmers, asked them to work out a formula that was soy free. When I heard back from their rep, I asked for the ingredients so she starts reading them off to me I hear the words “blood meal”.  This was for rabbit feed and so I was rather startled. “Why blood meal?” I asked. “It replaces the soy beans” “Well I don’t want to feed blood to my rabbits, chickens are omnivores so that’s not too big a deal.” Long story short, I’m glad I asked about the ingredients or else I’d have been feed my rabbits something they should never eat. Then I got to thinking, where does that blood meal come from? (All you organic gardeners need to listen up) It come from the factory farm processing plants, from animals who were definitely fed GMO grain, plus just the fact that this was the product of factory farming was enough to get me to reject this feed. In my book, I’d rather feed the soy than feed the blood meal. After much thinking, praying and calculating, we’ve found that the only way to ensure we do not feed our animals any GMO grains was to switch to certified organic feed. So now we will be paying 3x’s as much to ensure our food is the healthiest possible.

Probably the biggest challenge we face is farming in a metropolitan county from which agriculture has all but disappeared. As old farmers passed away, their heirs would either lease out their pastures for horses or they’d just sell the land off for development. Our 7 acre farm is the remnant of  what was once a dairy farm. Our neighbors find themselves looking out their back windows at cows, chickens and pigs. Those that I’ve spoken with were very supportive and happy that there wasn’t another phase of development going up behind them. BUT. How do you raise free range, pastured eggs and keep your chickens out of the neighbors’ yards? Our first flock of egg layers really liked to roam, in the neighborhood next to us. Fence to them was just an obstacle that temporarily inconvenienced them in their quest for bugs and grubs. One neighbor came to me and in the nicest way possible, complained about the chickens coming in his yard. He didn’t mind them so much except for scratching out the flowers and leaving deposits on the patio and driveway. So after failing in to control them with netting (they just moved further down to the next yard) I had to lock them up in a shed with a pen. We found that part of the problem was the breed, so we switched out breeds and now we’re back to full-time free range.

Having cows behind your house is a novel thing for some, but the novelty wears off when said cow wants her baby back with her and it’s 3:00 am. Do you know what she does? No, she doesn’t “moo”, she BELLOWS! As in rattling the windows while you try to get the sleep you need before you get up in 2 hours to get ready for your commute to your office job on the other side of Atlanta. One of our neighbors drove past our house that morning, leaning on their horn.Ever since, we have tried to be as sensitive as possible to whatever our neighbors might be experiencing.

Why did we not decide to live in the country? Good question. This is really just a morsel of what we struggle to work with to raise  the best food possible.

And then there was 36

Looks like we are officially in the egg business now. A couple of days ago I found an ad on Craigslist for a flock of Leghorn (pronounced “leggern”) hens for $8 each. When I got in touch with the lady who posted the ad, I asked why she was selling them. She stated that the county ordinance requires a minimum of 2 acres to have any “farm” animals. They have 1.95 acres, and their next door neighbor complained about the chickens. So I ask what she’d take for all of them and she said $200 and I said “SOLD.” Now, she told me they were “cage free”, which my brain automatically interprets as free range, the two are not the same. When my oldest son and I arrived, I could see why the neighbor complained. The hen house and pen were about five feet from the property line, and there was a powerful stink. If I had lived next door, I’d have taken issue too. The pen was about 20’x40′ and situated under a tall privet hedge so virtually no sunlight penetrated and the ground was a black, sticky, mess. Well I was ready to get this over with  because the stink was becoming unbearable, and I now felt that these hens were being rescued. 
Catching them turned out to be much easier than I thought. The Leghorn is a very skittish chicken that avoids human contact, so we just had to corral them into the hen house, set the cage at the door, then the lady’s husband went in the house and shooed them into the cage. It wasn’t long and we had 32 white hens in my two cages. After we loaded them up, I asked them if they have always had chickens. “Oh yes,” she chuckled, “Back in Oklahoma, we had up to 6,000.” That explained some things, like when she insisted I should buy my next batch from the hatchery they bought from because, “They’ll de-beak and inoculate them for ya.” These were retired commercial egg farmers.
De-beaking is a practice in commercial laying operations because they have numerous hens confined to a cage and because they exist in such an unnatural setting, they will cannibalize one another. The industry’s solution is to cut the tips of their beaks off, leaving them blunted nubs. If you notice in this photo, these birds don’t have pointed beaks, and that’s not sunlight..
Leghorns in a commercial egg operation.
Inoculating, or vaccinating, is necessary because there are so many birds confined to an enclosed building with no sunlight and the air full of fecal dust. This is an environment that breed all kinds of bacteria, therefore they get injected after hatching and then are fed a medicated feed to keep them “healthy.” While these hens I bought were already enjoying a better life than the poor birds in the picture above, I believe they are now living as good a life as most any chicken could hope to.

Now we have 35 hens and one rooster, who the seven year old has named Max. 
Max.