Archive for the ‘Pastured poultry’ 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.

Advertisements

What it takes…

So what does it take to grow the best food possible? What goes into raising a chicken from a day old chick on organic feed on pasture until it is large enough 9 – 10 weeks later to be converted into food?

Well here’s a run down in a very condensed nutshell. First we map out the schedule for the entire year to pick the weekends that we will process the birds. We borrow some of the equipment from another farm so we plan around their schedule. I work every third day at the fire department and so we plan around that schedule. Next we have to take into consideration any holidays such as Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. which might render farm members unable to pick up their birds. This generally leaves us just a couple of weekends a month to choose from for processing our birds. Also in all this planning, we have to consider the time frame in which we are going to grow out each flock of birds and ensure that we allow for enough time between flocks. Oh, and each batch of chicks must be ordered 4-6 weeks in advance. Then we have to decide just how many chicks to order. We don’t want to order so many that we have a load of birds that don’t sell but, we don’t want to order too few that we don’t have enough to sell when a new member joins.

Next we have to put together our feed order. In order to make organic feed as affordable as possible, we order it by the ton. One ton of chick-starter feed and grower feed costs between $1300 – $1400 which is a substantial investment before we put the first chick in the brooder.

Then we get the call from the post office that our chicks have arrived. Yes, that’s right, the chicks are sent via United States Postal Service. But they don’t deliver them to us, we have to finish up whatever project we’re in the middle of and get to the post office and pick them up.

The chicks are then placed in the brooder where they will live for the next 3 weeks until they are big enough to live on pasture. Every day they are fed and watered at least 2x’s. We also must monitor their temperature to ensure they are warm enough. Once we move them to pasture in the chicken tractors, we no longer just feed and water them twice a day but we are also moving them to a new patch of pasture twice a day. For 6-7 weeks we maintain this routine along with all the other farm chores and family commitments. All of this then cumulates on that fateful day when these birds are converted from living animal to food to nourish bodies. On that day, we rise an extra hour early to complete the other farm chores and choke down a quick breakfast. We set up the processing area, giving all the tables and containers a final scrub down. We make sure the scalder is heating so that we have hot water for loosening the feathers. When the ice is delivered, we hand unload 1500+ lbs of ice for the warm up to all the activity the day has in store. We then take to the pasture to catch the birds and place them in crates or cages for hauling them up to the processing area. Then the real work begins.

In order to make a chicken edible, it must be killed, plucked and eviscerated. Performing this task on 100 – 150 birds takes around 6 hours if we don’t take a lunch and we have 4 or more volunteers who come to donate their time and labor. After the last bird goes on ice, cleanup begins. All equipment that was used; tables, buckets, knives, killing cones, scalder, & plucker must be cleaned of blood, feathers and other parts. Because I am the slaughter-man, I am covered in blood and other excretions and I make for the shower before any members show. Now we are waiting on folks to come during the two hour window we set for them to come get their birds. After the designated time is up, we now have all the same chores that we did once already this morning. After all that we remember we have kids to feed.

And so ends one phase, but there’s another flock of birds on the pasture and in a few short weeks we will convert them into food.

Come to our Spring Fling!

image

Food, fun, and a little bit of education is what’s in store this Saturday. Kids should come equipped with a basket so they can hunt for eggs filled with organic grain and after we find all the eggs, they will get to feed our chickens and pigs. We will demonstrate how to make butter and then everyone can smear some on a slice of homemade bread  to experience goodness like no other. Have a taste of pasture raised pork and egg salad from pasture raised eggs. Visit with other local farmers on site and engage in a conversation about what they grow. Sample some really awesome coffee from JavaGenesis and witness the roasting of coffee beans. Take a short walk through the pasture for a mobile Q & A on pasture based farming. All questions will be answered, no subject is taboo. I look forward to seeing everybody!

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.

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.