Archive for the ‘GMO’ 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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Could Confidence In Organics Be Overblown?

As our farm members, online followers and friends know, we now only purchase organic feed. There are a few reasons why.  Organic grains are grown without  synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides so they are better for our environment. Because they are grown without the chemicals, they are more nutrient dense and better for our livestock. Most importantly for me, using organic feed is the surest way to be confident that we are not feeding Genetically Modified Organisms to the animals who in turn nourish us. After coming to grips with what GMOs are, I tried to find a way around them.

Someone told me about a co-op that purchased bulk organic feed from Reedy Fork Farm and Feed Mill. I got on their email list and studied the price list, trying to figure out how to manage switching to organic feed that is considerably more expensive than conventional feed. I called up the farmer who headed up the co-op to get his take on switching over to organic feed. What he told me was somewhat disheartening. He told me that there is no money to be made feeding organic feed because consumers will not pay more than $5.00/dozen for eggs nor would they pay more than $4.50/lb for chicken.  He said that this was the reason he was no longer feeding organic, he was just keeping the co-op going to supply those who still wanted it. He urged me to look into a feed mill in Northwest GA that was producing non-GMO, conventional feed and so I did. I bought three tons of their feed and found out later that they could not promise me their feed was non-GMO for the next order. The last email I got from the Reedy Fork Co-op was that it was shutting down because the one coordinating it didn’t have time for it, especially since he was no longer feeding organic, and everyone was now on their own.

I had been going through the headache of finding a solution to the GMO conundrum along with my friends at My Dad and Me Family Farm. We agreed that the only way to ensure that we were collectively producing the best food possible (sans GMOs and Soy) was to go organic. We crunched numbers, prayed and one day they called me up and announced that they were now Countryside organics dealers. Here we are a year later, hundreds of chickens, thousands of eggs behind us, and now raw milk. It took us a good bit of trial and error to understand how to feed the organic feed rather than the crumbled soy and additive loaded conventional GMO feed to grow out a broiler, and the trick to keeping hens happy is just keep the feed available at all times. We also learned that alfalfa had been genetically modified and we started buying alfalfa pellets for our cows.

I think back to the statement made by guy who told me no one would pay more for eggs or chicken that was fed organic feed. Well he was wrong and customers of mine and My Dad & Me proved it. We found that once people were educated on what the significance was in feeding organic feed to produce the best food possible, they are glad to support it.

So how does all this even come close to reconciling the title of this post? Well I’ll tell you. A couple of days ago, I spotted a post on Facebook by the farmer who told me no one would pay for organic fed chicken and eggs. He had put up a picture of some free range chickens, out on a pasture, next to a shelter. I immediately recognized this as a photo of White Oak Pastures in Blufton, GA. His caption read “Pastured poultry or not in this photo? Anyone up for a respectful discussion?” Now at first one would perceive that he took the photo himself, but it came out that he had lifted the photo from the web. Below is the exact picture he posted.

 Everyone is certainly entitled to an opinion, but it is not fair to declare one based on one photo that shows such a narrow view. I’ve been to White Oak Pastures. I sat and talked with Mr. Harris. He gave me free rein to look at anything there on his farm. I walked among the shelters that the meat chickens leave and enter at will. This other farmer has not, and yet in a public forum, drives what is easily perceived as a smear campaign against another farmer. But he didn’t stop there.

The discussion soon turned to organic feed and the challenge for small farmers to source it and afford it. I made the statement that the tide was slowly turning and that there actually were small farms feeding organic feed and that as the concerned public continued to support those farmers and the farmers with the goal of going organic, the demand for organic feed would be such that it would be on a more level playing field as the conventional, GMO grains and we would see a decline in the cost. THIS is where it got really interesting and is where the inspiration for the title came from. The farmer I have not named stated (and I quote), “The confidence in certified organic feed is overblown containing soy, corn or alfalfa. There is no testing required by USDA or done by most feed mills, Countryside included unless things have changed recently…” This statement astounded me. Wow, what a revelation. I then asked if he was implying whether Countryside, Coyote Creek and Reedy Fork could be lying or are these feed mills just as duped as the rest of us. He replied, “You’re not lying if you don’t know… I know this stuff is hard to stomach but it is true. GMO are in there.”

Jaw dropping is what this is, and a slap in the face to the folks who operate the feed mills and the farmers who work their tails off to provide organic grain to those mills. I saw that I needed to move on but I let him know that I’d pass this news on to the before mentioned feed mills. And I did. I sent email messages to all three mills, letting them know of this newsflash that has come out on Facebook. Of course they all had some choice words to say on the matter. Which is what I will discuss in my next post. I fear I have rambled on long enough here.

It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.

Thomas Paine

Why We Feed Organic

There are a select few farms that I know of who feed organic feed, and we are one. We do because there is no way to avoid GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. We also do not feed soy because of the phyto-estrogen that soy produces. The vast majority of farmers who say they WANT to feed organic don’t because, they say consumers are not willing to pay what it costs to raise meat on organic feed. I challenge that they should try asking their customers whether they want healthier food or the HEALTHIEST food possible. I’ve already written a bit about our decision to switch full time to organic. It’s a bit of a rambling blog post but if you care to endure it you can read more HERE. There is simply no source for GMO-free feed unless it is certified organic. I heard one farmer tell me that they get a fed from a mill that uses non GMO soy but the corn is GMO, or vice versa. Calling a feed mix only 50% GMO is like saying you are only 50% pregnant. It is or it isn’t, period. So be sure to ask your farmer what he or she feeds and if they hem and haw about the cost, ask what they would have to charge per pound to earn a fair profit. If they know their operating numbers like they should they’ll likely respond that you, the consumer, would have to pay anywhere from $5.25 – $6.50 a pound. This is an absolutely fair price for organic fed, pasture raised chicken and next I challenge you to tell your farmer that is what you want and you are willing to pay that price. Then step back and see what he or she does.

If you care to see what we feed, come by the farm and I’ll gladly show you or you can visit the Countryside Organics website and read all about it.

Countryside Organic Soy-free Broiler Feed

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.

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.