Archive for the ‘free range chicken’ 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.


Beware of the Bashers

The sustainable small farming community is a fairly tight knit one. The vast majority who are seeking to raise food ethically and sustainably, works just as hard promoting the movement as they do their own operation. Sadly there is the rare few who take it upon themselves to paint a negative picture of others. Recently on Facebook a farmer posted on his page a photo of another farm’s pastured poultry operation he obtained from a magazine article and challenged whether the picture accurately depicted a true pastured poultry operation. When called out for defaming this other farm, he insisted he was just seeking to educate consumers about what a “true” pasture based model should be. No matter if his opinion is an accurate one or he, he was committing what I consider to be a heinous act. He was painting a negative vision of another farm, that operates openly and transparently, without ever paying a visit. I fear that there will be a number of folks who take his word as fact without question.

I firmly believe that consumers themselves should take on the responsibility of meeting the farmer who grows their food. This is why local food is vital and consumers need to seek out as much within their immediate food shed as they can. “But I don’t have the time, resources, means to go all the way to Blufton or Good Hope or Rockmart or (fill in the blank).”#1. If that’s the only place the food is, yes you do. It’s a matter of priorities. If you want the best nutrition, you need to make the effort to meet the person who has dedicated his or her life to producing it. #2. There are resources to help locate nearby farms. Just Google Local Harvest or Eat Wild or look up your local Weston A. Price chapter.

So if you should hear a farmer criticizing another, don’t take his word for it, go see the farmer in question for yourself.

Humane, Home-Scale Chicken Processing | The Homestead Atlanta

Humane, Home-Scale Chicken Processing | The Homestead Atlanta.

Chickens are a great resource for the homesteader and farmer. Not only are eggs a wonderful and delicious source of nutrition, but hens are also an invaluable addition to any garden through fertilization and pest control. You may also find a nice source of income selling eggs, or if you have the room you might want to raise some broilers for yourself and others. Either way, knowing how to humanely dispatch a bird is the greatest dignity you can give the animal before it is harvested for food. We will teach a couple of different methods of slaughter and then we will teach you how to pluck and eviscerate the bird so that it is ready to go in the pot. Each participant will go home with a pastured, humanely-raised bird. Click the link above to register.

Have you had the best chicken ever? Time’s running out.

We’re placing our final order for chicks to be ready in October so place your order NOW.

If you haven’t ordered any chickens from us (or you’d like a few extras to last you the winter) it’s not too late! Use our online order form found on our website to order your pasture raised, GMO free, soy free, drug free chickens. Once we sell out, that is IT for 2013. We will not have any more broiler chickens until May of next year. Current Chicken CSA members will get them at the current CSA price of $5.25/lb, non-CSA members price is $5.50/lb. We can bill you via paypal or you can pay on the farm via debit or credit however, all of these options incur an additional 3% charge.

We could always use some extra help on processing day so if you’re looking to REALLY connect with your food, mark down these dates which are when we process chickens. Be here at 8:30 and we should be done by 3:30:
July 20, August 17, September 21, October 19
If you have already ordered birds, PLEASE make sure you have these dates marked on your calendar. Pick up time is from 4:00 – 5:30. Don’t forget your coolers, bags and ice.

Whole pasture raised chicken on the grill.

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Or Snow…

Will stop the farming. This Saturday was our first scheduled processing day for our broiler chickens and thank goodness for the ability to forecast the weather. We’ve been receiving gargantuan volumes of precipitation this year and with the knowledge that a significant storm front was moving in, I knew i needed to do a lot to get ready.

I asked for the shift off from the fire department on Thursday and spent the day tilling and planting, getting 60+ tomatoes in and 30+ squash. A part of that time was spent putting my burgeoning mechanical skills to use to keep our tiller going. Farmers have to be handy and somewhat mechanically inclined because if you use any machine long enough, it’s going to break. I’d go broke if I hauled something to the repair shop every time a belt burned off, a fuel line cracked or a head gasket needed to be replaced.

Friday I had two things that I knew would absolutely have to be done; pick up our feed order and prep a covered area for chicken processing. We have a large car port type shed next to our barn that I suppose was once used to keep a camper or  other large vehicle under cover. In the past year and a half, it became something of a “catch-all” for various junk like an old riding lawn tractor, leaking hose, an antique freezer, a recliner, and garbage cans full of… well garbage. So we went to work pulling out all the junk and the worst thing was there wasn’t time to go to the dump or scrap yard. I got the call that our feed order from Countryside Organics was ready to be picked up, so I hitched up the trailer and picked it up. Then we had to sort through it and separate the order into individual orders for those who order with me (otherwise we could barely afford to feed this stuff) and get it covered up.

Once we had the new processing area cleaned out, I realized it was time for me to run to Douglasville to pick up my oldest son from his mother’s. After returning and eating supper, we moved the processing equipment into the newly cleaned out area. (Somewhere in the middle of all this we got all the critters took care of.) The I got to thinking about how we were going to move chickens from the pasture before the rain arrived. Our wagon had finally bit the dust after 14 years of hauling kids, toys, rocks and chickens. The only other option is to use a wheel barrow. So we go down to where the broilers were in the pasture and start catching and loading them into a crate. I then pushed a loaded crate with about 50+lbs of chicken uphill to the barn. That was killer. The second trip just about did me in. 

If I was going to get all these birds up to the barn, I needed to do something else. So we decided to have a chicken drive. We moved the poultry netting around to make something of a long paddock that stretched from the chicken tractor to the top of the hill which would get us half way to the barn. We used a bucket of grain to try to lure them to follow us and after a bunch of chasing errant birds, frustration, and persistence we finally got them corralled in a small area. We went back to hauling birds to the barn but after a few more trips, I was done. The week had caught up with me and I could not carry another loaded crate. so we pulled a vacant chicken tractor over and loaded them in it to spend the night and weather the storm.

As I was getting into bed, Katie says over her shoulder, “Are you going to sharpen knives in the morning?” Sigh. I got back up, went to the kitchen, got out the knives and went to sharpening. The storms moved in and buckets of rain fell.

When I woke up Saturday, it was still raining. I roused up the kids and we got busy with our chores. While I was filling the scalding tank, my 9-year-old comes to me and says something bad has happened with the next flock of broiler chicks that we had moved out onto the pasture a few days ago. I walked down to the tractors that housed them and in one, there was a pile of dead chicks. These tractors are mostly covered but there is an area covered with wire. These poor, stupid, immature birds had tried to huddle together in the uncovered section and all died from exposure. I began picking up their cold limp bodies and counting. 15 small corpses were place in a bucket and two more that I could tell were on the verge of death, so I went ahead and ended their lives. I said a prayer, asked God for a positive attitude and carried on with our tasks.

The processing actually went quite well. The covered area was great and there is just enough room to get the entire “disassembly” line under shelter. I wasn’t surprised that about half of those who had said they’d be coming out to help didn’t show but our two consistent stalwarts, Amanda and Sandra joined us as did two first timers, Brad from Atlanta and my very own mother! I made an executive decision that to save us time, we would be leaving the necks attached and boy did it. It also saved the blades of our knives. The day went without a hitch, anytime there was a lull in the downpour, we’d fetch a load of chickens from the pasture. Our volunteers had to depart and in the end we finished the last eight birds simply as a family and we got done right as our first customers arrived. Everyone was super gracious and as always we received some tremendous words of support and encouragement. The worst thing that happened was that as one was slowing down to turn in our driveway, she was rear ended by someone. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Now for the icing on the cake; several days prior, I had been in tentative talks with some folks who were looking for a second vehicle as a trade for a young Jersey cow. I had (somewhat jokingly) offered to trade our Tahoe since we have three fuel hogs. I was rather surprised that they decided to go with the barter. I was looking at selling it anyway  and with my bottom price being about $1200 more than their asking price on their cow, they offered to include her heifer calf en lieu of cash. So after the final customer had left (barring a couple of stragglers), the Barnett Family arrived from Elberton with Rachel and her calf whom we’ve named Rosemary. Now we just need to see how Rachel is going to take to being a milk cow.


Post Script: Katie called me at the fire station today to tell me that seven more broiler chickens have died. Seems we’ve got some serious figuring to do.

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.