Showing posts with label Livestock and Pets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Livestock and Pets. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Annual Chick List

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year again - chicks have been ordered and are arriving any time now.  I know lots of you are old hands at raising chicks, but new readers stop in, so this post may be a refresher, or a good list to have on hand.

My Chick List is as follows:

Chick starter.
Boiled eggs for an extra nutritional boost.
Number 1 grit.
Carbo Vegatabilis homeopathic just in case there are shipping problems.

Wash and sanitize feeders and waterers, and make sure they work!
Inspect heat lamps, have extra on hand.

I make sure the brooder is well bedded, well-rested, and all my supplies are in place, so when the chicks arrive at the post office I am ready for them.

If you're new to raising baby poultry, you're going to be mama, so it's up to you to make sure your brooding area is clean, warm, draft-free, and predator proof.

In addition, heat lamps are a somewhat dangerous way to provide heat, necessary, but caution needs to be exercised.  Many barn and garage fires have resulted from poorly installed heat lamps.  The most dangerous, I think, are the clamp on type.  Sockets for heat lamps can be installed in chick hovers, or you can make sure your lamps are hung securely so there is no chance the hot bulbs can come in touch with the bedding.

Chicks need 90F degree temperatures the first week, and turkey poults need 95F degree temperatures the first week, so any attempt to treat them the same results in too high of temperatures for the chicks and too low for the turkeys.  And ducks fall in somewhere in between those temperatures. 

Let the chicks and their behavior be your guide instead of a thermometer.  If the chicks are huddled under the lights, they are too cold, if they are huddled away from the lights, the heat is too intense.  If they are running about or taking naps you probably have everything just right.  Make adjustments as needed - raise or lower lights, add lights, or turn off a light, check for drafts. 

My rule of thumb is if the chick dies within 72 hours of hatching, it is the hatchery or weak chicks fault, after that I figure it's my fault and I do my trouble-shooting to ascertain the problem so I can make corrections.  The goal is low mortality - if you have high mortality - figure it out and don't blame the chicks.

Raising your own poultry is a rewarding experience and gets easier the more you do it - Happy Chick Raising!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Raising Calves

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

New babies are always exciting!  We have had calves born here on the farm (Wags and Mimi) and calves we've brought here and fostered onto Lucy (Honey and Poppy).  We've never raised calves ourselves though, Lucy has always helped.  You can read lots about our journey with a house cow and calves throughout the co-op blog and here.

Today a new little guy arrived - Red.  He's being raised for the freezer and is a by-product of the dairy industry.  I'm trying to foster him onto Lucy alongside Mimi (who is a big girl at over 4 months now), but Lucy's not exactly keen on calves which aren't her own!  So meanwhile I am also bottle-feeding him.

Bottle feeding a calf with calf formula is something I remember doing as a child.  Also trying to convince them to drink from a bucket by letting the calves suck our fingers.  It was lots of fun, even though newborn calves are quite pushy and can easily bump a child over!

I'll post more about our new baby as the journey progresses.

Meanwhile, read about calf-raising here.  And if you have experience with raising calves, or other baby animals, please share!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

House Cow FAQs

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Also posted on Home Grown

It's been over a year since we first got a house cow, and we've learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the most common questions people ask us, and our replies. We are rather unconventional in the way we manage our home dairy, and I encourage cow owners to seek out information most suitable to their animal before following our example.

How do you tame a cow from a commercial dairy?

This was harder than I expected. Lucy was very frightened and stressed about being away from her herd. At first we had to use fences and ropes to get her to co-operate because it was important that a) we fully milked her at least once a day and b) the calf we also brought home (not hers) got milk. After the initial rough days, Lucy would lead on a halter (the show type with a small chain under the chin). From there we brushed her, spoke kindly to her and got her used to a routine - dry food with minerals and molasses, same time of day, same people around, same calls and commands... Within months Lucy would come when called and take herself into the milking shed at least some of the time. She didn't kick or otherwise carry on for us.

Where do you get the foster calves from?

Our foster calves are calves from a nearby dairy which are excess to their needs. In commercial dairies, male calves are often killed at birth, or they are raised to sell for veal. Some female calves are not kept as replacement heifers because they might be the wrong bloodline or colour, or they aren't a strong animal. If a dairy runs about 200 cows who each 'work' for several years, and each cow has a calf per annum (the usual way in commercial dairying), and half these calves are female - the dairy can't use 100 replacement heifers each year. And so there are often perfectly lovely little heifer calves available for a low cost in dairying regions. And that is how we got Honey and Poppy! We use the term 'foster calf' to describe a calf raised on its own mother for a couple of weeks, who then comes to our farm to drink milk from Lucy until weaning age.

Do you really milk by hand?

Yes! I got a quick lesson from a friend who hand-milks, and a few tips from others who have milked by hand in the past, and within a couple of days had mastered the art! I find milking by hand is relaxing for the cow and I, and it ensures that no damage is done to the udder or teats during milking. Also, milking machinery isn't cheap!

Does owning a cow take a lot of time?

When I'm milking, or monitoring foster calves closely, the cows take me about an hour to an hour and a half each day. That is to feed, water, clean, milk, check the animals over, move them to other paddocks, and so on. To some, that may seem like a lot of time, but it is my exercise and 'hobby', and provides our family with milk. When I am not milking or required for so much hands-on work, I only need to check the cattle and their water once each day.

What do you do with the excess milk?

Excess milk has usually gone to foster calves at our place - I only milked out what we could use, and trusted the calves to take care of the rest! Currently, we don't have any calves on Lucy so with excess milk I make yoghurt, kefir, custard, soft cheese and so on. I also give milk to our animals sometimes, who seem to like it and digest it well.

Doesn't milk have to be pastuerised to make it safe?

After reading information from the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, we decided that the benefits of raw milk outweigh any small risk of contamination, for us. Also, because we control the health and hygiene of our cow and home-dairy facilities, we are confident that the raw milk we're drinking is a quality product.

How do you treat health problems in your herd?

We have been blessed to not have many health problems to date in our herd. We follow the advice of Pat Coleby who has excellent resources for farmers regarding minerals and nutritional supplements. We believe that this prevention is worth the investment of time and money. For buffalo fly, worms and ticks, all common pests in our area, we have tried Neem oil, and a specific mix of essential oils as well as supplementing their diet with specific minerals including diatomaceous earth. For behavioural issues we have used homeopathy and herbal treatments. We are not totally against conventional treatments and will use them if the health or comfort of our animals are at stake.

I hope this interests those of you curious about having a house cow, or looking into having your own cow sometime. I highly recommend the following resources:

Weston A Price
Sally Fallon- Nourishing Traditions
Keeping a Family Cow Forums
Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby
The Healthy House Cow by Patricia van den Berg
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsly

Friday, 11 June 2010

Growing food for Livestock

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

We have 20 acres of grass which supplies most of the food required, year-round, for our 2 horses, house cow and calves. It doesn’t snow here, and frosts are mild only browning off the lowest sections of grass. The grasses grown here are tropical varieties on which cattle do well, but horses do not always do so well. We supplement the horses with minerals and have a mineral lick available for all of the grazing animals to access as they need it. One of our horses is a bit fat, the other has been affected by the high levels of oxalates in local pasture and doesn’t do so well here. With supplements we hope he can improve condition. It is interesting that they metabolise the same feed differently, like humans I guess.

Choko leaves are a favourite food of our muscovy ducks

When I’m keeping any of the animals in a small paddock, for whatever reason, such as training the horses or keeping a close eye on the house cow or calves, I feed them other plants to prevent over-grazing of that space as well as offer variety. In the larger paddocks there are many shrubs and a wider variety of grasses to choose from.

In addition to the grazing animals we have a few ducks, a few dozen chickens, and several guinea pigs.

Queensland Arrowroot - tubers for us, and leaves and stalks for the livestock

Some of the plants I feed the animals include:

Queensland Arrowroot

Choko Vines and Fruit

Sweet Potato Vines

Ceylon Spinach

Banana Leaves

Pigeon Pea branches - leaves and pods

And ‘trimmings’ from the garden. I normally remove the outer leaves from celery, comfrey, spinaches, cabbages and lettuces. I feed them corn stalks once I’ve taken the cobs for us (and feed them the outer husks of cobs), I throw in any excess herbs – parsley is a favourite, and add some land cress, nasturtium, dandelion and other suitable 'weeds', and kang kong as well. We call this a “salad” and mix it up in big buckets for the animals – choosing what is best for each one. They search through, tasting everything and eating their favourite foods first (just like children) and nibbling on new flavours or discarding bits they dislike after that. Sometimes we will harvest different grasses as well, which grow only in certain areas but I know are okay for stock.

Nasturtiums are pretty and make a nice addition to a salad for humans and animals alike

We also feed kitchen scraps to the chickens, ducks and guinea pigs – each has their own bucket as they prefer and tolerate different foods.

I would like to grow more grains, and harvest more hay, as these are feed items I buy in for the animals, especially the chickens.

I wish we could provide more homegrown food for our cats. They eat mice who dare to venture in or near the house, but otherwise rely on bought food. We don’t eat very much meat ourselves, but I imagine if we were eating more chickens, ducks and beef there would be leftovers for the cats to eat.

Are your animals eating homegrown food? Tell me more…

Friday, 28 May 2010

Our House Cow Journey Continues

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I'm cross-posting from Home Grown this week, because my cows are the most interesting thing happening on the farm right now!

I began milking Lucy when Wags was a few weeks old. Until then, he and Poppy the foster calf shared all the milk. As they began to eat a little grain and some hay and grass, I decided to separate Lucy and Honey from them during the day, giving her several hours to graze the grass in the orchard and house paddock, and then I brought her in to be fed, checked over and milked before releasing her back into the small paddock with the babies and Honey for the night. I did this around four times each week, taking around 3 to 4 litres each milking. The other days they all grazed together. This routine went well for a little while, and then Lucy was only giving 2 litres at each milking, and then just a litre for the final couple of milkings last week. And then I gave up. Why go to all the bother of mixing feed, setting up, milking, cleaning the dairy, the buckets and everything for a mere litre of milk? As I led Lucy back to the small paddock, her udder would swell and teats fill with the rest of the milk she had withheld from me, ready to feed her babies she'd been apart from all day.

Last week we let them all into a larger paddock to allow us to do some maintenance on their small paddock and the areas we graze them inside electric fence tape. I'm not milking Lucy for awhile. We've slashed their paddocks and we'll harvest some manure and hay from near their pens to use in some of the raised garden beds I've emptied out recently. Do I still have a House Cow? Or a dairy breed with her calves let loose in the paddock? I'm trying to convince them they're still our dairy herd by encouraging them back to the water troughs daily for their minerals, perhaps some hay or another treat, and some checking over and brushing. Poppy and Honey especially love to be brushed, I think because they've had less affection from Lucy, being foster calves. I use a horse brush on them and they mostly love careful strokes around their face and ears.

When it's time to wean the calves, I'll bring Lucy back to the small paddock. I'm not sure on the exact management of the herd from there, but I'll try to get her into once-a-day milking again. I don't think I'll bother with another foster calf for a little while.

We have just castrated Wags using the banding method, which seems to us to have been a humane way to carry out the process. His job now is to eat grass and grow big!

The next thing we need to think about is getting Lucy artificially inseminated (AIed), which is usually done three months after a dairy cow calves.

So much to consider... And to think that once I just thought that cows ate grass, drank water, made manure and existed with little human intervention!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Two birds with one stone

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

In our efforts to raise our own food, sometimes some of the tools we require can be an expensive part of the deal. Especially fixed equipment or buildings. To spread out the cost a little, we try to plan for multiple uses when we are planning and purchasing. By applying the permaculture principle of stacking we can utilize the same space and expenditures many times over, and sometimes simultaneously to help defray the initial cost.

When we had our large pastured poultry laying flock, we required a brooding space for a large number of chicks. What we didn't want was a single purpose building that would be outfitted just for chicks for a short number of weeks. And since heat lamps were involved for 24 hours a day for a while we also knew we didn't want to just partition off the corner of one of our existing wood buildings. Having heard too many tales of entire barns burning due to heat lamp failure, we decided not to put all our eggs in one basket. While the baby chicks were an important part of our operation, replacing a barn for $500.00 worth of chicks just didn't seem worth it.

What we settled on was a small hoophouse with metal framing and plastic covering. It would allow for natural light, provide semi-safe housing for baby chicks, and in case of fire, would be fairly easy and quick to replace. And a plus in our minds, also service as a great place to start early plants for the garden, or even grow a small quantity of plants after the chicks had outgrown the space.

For approximately $500.00 we purchased the bows, purlins, hardware, plastic, wire, and lumber to build a 20' x 20' unheated brooder/greenhouse. The chick area is 15' x 20' and that leaves a 5' x 20' space for feed and supply storage, our "personnel" area.

While it may seem cost prohibitive for a smallholding or farm. A smaller model with these ideas in mind may work better, but I have to say, these buildings, (we have two) have paid for themselves over and over.

A place to brood chicks, gather their nitrogen rich manure with bedding for the garden, and later in the year a hothouse for warm weather crops. By changing uses, parasite cycles are broken, giving "rest" to this plot of land and allowing us to spread the expense over several endeavors.

Normally, I start my plants on the chick hover before the chicks arrive. This year, we had terrible mice problems in the sprouting seeds. So we rigged up a hillbilly plant bench from leftover plywood and baling twine.

When it was time for the chicks, I moved the plants to the personnel area. The plants still need the warmth of the greenhouse, but I didn't want to be watering the chick bedding area daily. I did leave the makeshift plant bench though, and have been using it as place to store chick stuff. It's handy, and since it isn't fixed if it becomes cumbersome, I can take it apart in 5 minutes.

And actually it is quite pleasant to work transplanting, with the sound of the chicks nearby. I am sure they are getting the benefit of having growing plants in their space, and they are getting used to us because we are in there a lot puttering about with the veggies.

So this may not be for everyone, but I just wanted to throw the idea out there, to think outside the box in regards to our farmsteads and gardens. You never know what kind of ideas will grow!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Our House Cow Journey Part 3

From Spiral Garden

Honey, at six months, is now almost as tall as Lucy, her foster mother

Continued from Our House Cow Journey Part One and Our House Cow Journey Part Two.

Since I last wrote a cow update, Honey was gently weaned by mid-January and Lucy had nearly 10 weeks holiday from milking. So did we! The milk in the freezer lasted awhile, then we had to go back to buying local milk again from here.

Last week, Lucy's calf arrived. After spending many late night studying books and websites about calving, we woke around 6am to find a wet little bull calf at Lucy's feet in the paddock. We removed Honey to another paddock and stood back and watched. It was amazing seeing him take his first steps, and drink colostrum from Lucy.

Lucy with newborn Wags - having her mineral-fix to help prevent milk fever and mastitis

We watched them keenly for two days, and arranged to have a Jersey heifer calf, almost three weeks old, delivered from a nearby dairy on Day 3. The calf had already been named Sweetheart, though after a week I'm still finding it confusing as I use it as a term of endearment when speaking to the other cattle, and possibly even the hubby and kids! I hadn't noticed before she arrived, but I'm mentioning her name a lot more often than I'm actually speaking to or about her... So if another character enters this tale along the way, perhaps it'll just be that I will have changed Sweetheart's name.

Wags (top) 3 days old and 'Sweetheart' 3 weeks old

At first Lucy was not interested in her new charge at all. So a couple of hours later my daughter Abby and I led the calf to the milking shed and washed her off with warm water and rags. We dried her with an old towel, as it was a cool, rainy day. Then we led Lucy in to milk out some of the excess colostrum (just as we had the day before). When she was in place having her snack of grain, hay, minerals and molasses we encouraged Sweetheart forward to feed from Lucy's udder. She fed with gusto, having been kept away from the nurse cows at the dairy that morning to make the mothering-on process easier for us.

After awhile we took them both back to the pen in the paddock where Wags was having a nap on the hay. Sweetheart again fed from Lucy, and Lucy let her! We were so relieved.

I continued to watch Lucy and the calves carefully each day - checking the calves' health and bowel movements (Wags was scouring for awhile, but it seems to be almost-normal consistency now), checking Lucy's udder and generally observing their interactions with each other.

Lucy, waiting at the gate to graze in the house paddock, with Sweetheart and Wags having a feed. See the mud? Hasn't stopped raining for 2 weeks!

In just a week they've all settled nicely, and Honey sleeps in her own paddock at night, but grazes alongside Lucy by day, with or without the calves.

We're still not taking any milk for ourselves, as Lucy is still producing colostrum, but we're looking forward to share-milking with two calves, and continuing our learning alongside our little herd.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Our House Cow Journey Part 1

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

For awhile, we've been wanting a house cow. We have lots of grass and lots of water and we love fresh raw milk from Jersey cows. Recently I heard of a farmer who was changing to only bigger breeds of cattle and selling off his handful of Jersey milkers. I got a farmer friend to help me choose a sound animal and waited to find a foster calf for her.

This is Honey, the foster calf. She came from another dairy. She was excess to their needs because she isn't of the breeding they wish to pursue in their herd. She is a Jersey heifer calf and came here at just under 2 weeks of age.

This is Lucy the cow (formerly known as 3361) getting to know her foster calf. She has never raised her own calves before as they're separated on most farms. Lucy probably didn't know her own mother cow either, but fed from a nurse cow twice a day at the dairy.

This is probably one of the first times an actual calf has suckled on Lucy. We had to tie them up so we could more easily handle them (the photos don't show all the kicking and head-butting which went on!) Honey had been feeding from a cow, though, not a bottle, so she knew what to do!

Once Honey was full, we had to milk out what remained in the udder. Lucy is used to being machine-milked in a dairy, not hand-milked in a paddock by two inexperienced milkers! At first we just milked onto the ground to give her very full udder some relief.

And then we introduced the bucket and caught some milk to take up to the house. The children lined up with cups for warm creamy milk fresh from the cow!

This is Honey a week later. She's feeding twice a day from Lucy and trying little bits of other feed too. She might be feeding more often from Lucy, but I supervise two big feeds whilst Lucy has her grain mix in a bucket and stands still for longer.

Lucy can be led to the bails now, so we're milking her out in there each afternoon, once Honey has had her fill. They still sleep together a pen each night, but Lucy is free to come and go into a larger paddock throughout the day.

Lucy is in calf so will feed Honey until she weans, then probably have a couple of months' break before delivering her own calf (another heifer we hope), and so our little milking herd will grow...

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Green, frugal recipes for your dog.

By Julie
Towards Sustainability

A large number of people have domestic pets and it makes sense that we want to care for them in the same way that we care for any other member of our family. So, when my family started trying to live more simply and frugally, I looked for ways to include our pets. If I could make foods and products for my family more healthily and cheaper than buying them, surely that applied to our pets as well!

The first aspect I looked at was their diet. Just as I was seeking to eliminate artificial additives from my family's diet, I also wanted to eliminate them from my dogs and cat. A quick glance at the ingredients list on their purchased food was pretty eye-opening, even though we had been buying supposedly 'fresh' food for our dogs (i.e. refrigerated dog food rolls) as opposed to tinned food. In hindsight, I doubt the 'fresh' stuff was any better, it was still full of artificial colours, preservatives, salt, sweeteners (!) and other cheap non-food 'fillers'. It was also quite expensive, especially with two large dogs to feed.

A quick Google search for dog food recipes revealed a plethora of information, including the BARF diet (Bones And Raw Foods, also known as the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet, said to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs and which is totally raw), plus numerous different homemade cooked dog food recipes, as well as a list of foods to avoid feeding dogs, namely:

* onions, shallots etc,
* grapes and raisins,
* chocolate, and
* artificial sweeteners.

Basic recipes should comprise of around 50% protein, 25% carbohydrate (grains) and 25% vegetables, as well as some oils to provide Omega-3's. In the wild, dogs would have gotten the carbohydrate and vegetable component of their diet by eating the stomachs of their prey. Also, be aware that many fresh ground/ minced meats, particularly 'pet quality' meats, quite apart from being made up of 'meat' of dubious origins, have had preservatives added to them to extend their shelf life (generally sulphur dioxide [preservative 220]), which have been linked to thiamine deficiencies in dogs if consumed in large quantities, and they are often sprayed with sodium nitrite to make it look red and fresh (when it isn't).

The recipe I use is one I picked up at the Aussies Living Simply forum a few years ago:

Homemade Dog Food
1 kg/ 2 pounds minced/ ground/ finely chopped meat*
1 cup raw brown rice
1 cup raw pasta
1 cup barley or lentils
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables (NEVER use onions or shallots)
2 cloves minced garlic**
1 spoonful of nutritional yeast (or if you are an Aussie, Vegemite)

* Including a small amount of offal in the mix adds valuable fats and vitamins.
** Small amounts of garlic are said to repel fleas and worms but can be harmful in large doses.

Mix all the ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice and pasta are cooked. Top up the pot with water and allow to cool. Freeze in portions.

Using a bulk pack of 3kg of minced meat and adjusting the rest of the ingredients accordingly, I make enough food for our two large dogs for approximately two weeks. Please not that this recipe doesn't contain a source of calcium so isn't suitable for growing puppies, but our adult dogs are fine on it. They also get uncooked bones to chew on as well, which I buy in bulk cheaply from our butcher.

If you are switching your dog from a commercial diet to homemade, you might want to do it gradually to reduce the chance of upsetting your dog's tummy.

Recipes for other homemade dog foods and treats can be found here and here.


After switching our dogs to home cooked food, the next area I looked at was their coat care. I had changed our family from using commercial shampoos to more natural, organic ones at that stage (and later went "no 'poo"), but natural, organic dog shampoos are very expensive, so I went looking for homemade alternatives.

I found that just like bicarbonate soda (baking soda) is great for washing human hair, it's also fabulous for washing dogs! You can use it both wet or dry.

Dry Dog Shampoo - Sprinkle plain bicarbonate soda over the dog's coat. Brush through the dry coat thoroughly with a soft- bristled brush. The bicarb soda neutralises dog odours, it absorbs dirt and oils in the coat and contains no nasty chemicals! It's terrific for wet days when our dogs come inside at night with that distinctive "wet dog" smell (erk!).

To use it wet, mix up the bicarb with water at a ratio of about 1 part bicarb to 4 parts water, and use as you would shampoo. Rinse thoroughly.

You can finish off with a homemade flea repellent spray if you wish:

Flea repellent spray #1 - Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle. Spray onto coat the dog's coat and allow to dry. Repeat every few days.

Flea repellent spray #2 - Bring about 1 litre (1 quart) of water to the boil, then remove from heat, add one sliced lemon to it and leave to steep overnight. Strain and store in a clean spray bottle, spray the dog's coat daily or as needed (the limonene in lemons supposed to repel fleas).


For those little "accidents", you can also use trusty vinegar and bicarb soda to clean urine stains on the carpet. For fresh accidents on carpet, blot immediately with towels to remove as much as possible, then blot with a 50:50 mixture or white vinegar and water, using clean towels. For dried stains, gently apply a 50:50 mixture of water and white vinegar to the stain and allow it to dry. When dry, sprinkle liberally with bicarb soda and then vacuum thoroughly. For persistent stains or smells, follow up with another application of bicarb soda, then mix 1/2 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a teaspoon of dish washing detergent. Don a pair of rubber gloves, and then slowly pour the hydrogen peroxide mixture over the bicarb soda, dissolving it and rubbing it into the carpet well with your gloved hands. When dry, vacuum thoroughly.

I'm sure there are many, many other green and frugal tips out there - feel free to share your favourite in the comments section!

** I'm going to be away from the computer for a day or so, so please don't think I'm rude if I don't respond to any comments immediately :-) **

Friday, 6 February 2009

Raising meat chickens

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

For a multitude of reasons meat chickens are a popular type of livestock to raise. They are small, don't take up a lot of space, and in 2 to 3 months you have meat in your freezer or to can, that you were in charge of from day one. You control the type of feed, how the birds are handled and finally processed. Those are the trademarks of a responsible meat eater. If you process them at home and compost the offal, you can make your meat raising endeavors even more integrated into your personal foodshed in a permaculture manner.

We used to raise pastured poultry for sale ala Polyface, but decided that shipping grains in from far points did not suit our personal vision for our farm. We now just raise birds for ourselves, and a few extra for barter. We still raise the Cornish X, which is the bird that gets so much attention for being dumb, too fast of grow out, ugly, and the list could go on... . I will detail how we raise our birds and offer some different approaches for integration into a urban garden setting.

I do agree the birds are ugly from about week 4 or 5, but that isn't their fault, and it certainly may make for an easier transition to the freezer for first time growers. The rest is myth, I enjoy them and the fertilizer they provide for the pasture while they are alive and we certainly enjoy them at the dinner table.

Through trial and error on our farm, we discovered that almost all the problems encountered with this heavy meat breed (and actually our layers too) stemmed from the feed and minerals. Once we got those details worked out, we have had clear sailing since. We use Fertrell's Poultry Nutribalancer, and have our feed mixed with Fertrell's recipe, which is available on their website. The recipe is for a ton, but when we first started we purchased the raw ingredients and made our own feed in 50# batches. This is very doable for the homestead chicken flock. By using this Nutribalancer you're really adding good minerals to your chicken manure for your garden or pasture. Besides the minerals the biggest difference we noticed was that whole grains, ground for mash were better for the birds than the industrial pelleted or crumble feeds so widely available. Check out the section in Nourishing Traditions on breakfast cereal for humans. To make the pellets, the grains are cooked into a sludge and extruded at high heat. Plus, you really can't tell what ingredients are in those pellets, as long as the protein content is what is stated on the label, the feed companies are obeying the law. Even the poor maligned meat chicken should have a diet close to what his ancestors probably ate, especially if we are going to eat him.

A down side of meat birds, compared to a lighter, longer finishing breed is that they really need a high protein feed to grow. And we grew some of the dark Cornish for customers, but it took more grain, and time for less meat. I know the ideology sounds better to have a ranging bird, but if that bird eats more grain and you end up with less meat, you are responsible for more fertilizers, tilling, and petroleum use in the long run, and I think everyone agrees that is not a good thing. Even if the grains are organically raised, most organic farms are using shipped in fertilizers and soil amendments, and they are still making the same pass over that grain field with some kind of equipment. But my intention of this post is to maybe help a chicken eater become a chicken husbandman.

We receive our chickens in the mail. They are sold in lots of 25, that is for hatch run, males and females. These cuties are about 2 days old. We pick them up the next morning after they are hatched. Chicks are available at local feed stores, but they normally feed antibiotics as a prophylactic measure. We prefer our birds never recieve antibiotics. If you get them from the hatchery and provide clean conditions and don't stress them, antibiotics are unnecessary. We make sure all things are in order before chick arrival: brooder lights working, waterers filled, feed and grit available. The requirements are the same as for pullets.

We want to pasture our birds, so we time their arrival for when the grass is lush and succulent, and the weather is fairly nice, but not full blown summer. Our chicks arrive the last week in April, and depending on weather, are moved outside to a movable field pen at 3 - 4 weeks of age. However, if the weather is inclement, we wait. This puts us at a processing date at the end of June, just before we begin haymaking, and gardening in earnest. This way, our chicken chores are done for the year, before we really get busy, and we have capitalized on the young, palatable grass for that beautiful, golden schmaltz!

Always training, we have a waterer available like the one the chickens will have in their outside pen. This relieves stress, for us and the chickens at moving time. These Plasson plastic bell waterers are wonderful - gravity flow, easy cleaning, adjustable height as the chicks grow, and have lasted us for a long time.
At first the chicks are not too adventuresome, and we use the small waterers, and as they get older we begin placing the small waterers closer to the hanging waterer, and before they know it, they are BIG chicks, drinking from the BIG waterer.

We brood our chicks in a small greenhouse/brooder with a dirt floor, but the greenhouse is not necessary it is just how our operation evolved. We deep bed, and clean out after the season. Allowing rest for the next year. As you can see, grass grows in the off season giving the chicks a look at real forage from day one. At the brooding stage, we gradually wean them off lights, and this is where the greenhouse structure really helps. Most days, in the spring, it is warm enough to turn the lights off. And by week 2-3 they don't need the lights at night either, unless it is unusually cold. By having the lights off at night they get some rest from the feed too, to prepare them for their life on pasture.

Ready to move to the field pen, at four weeks they are quite large and fully feathered.

I move these birds at least once if not twice a day, once they are on pasture. This gives them fresh grass that hasn't seen a chicken for a year, (very important for parasite control) and it spreads their nutrient rich manure on the pasture in usable amounts.

My routine is pull out trough feeders, place wheeled dolly under the pen at the back, and move the pen forward one length. This takes about a minute. I close the lid and go do some other chore. If they see me hanging around, they won't graze, they will wait for me to feed them. In about 30 minutes I return and fill their feeders, and water bucket, and I'm done. It is same in the evening, if I move the pen, except I don't withhold the feed, because usually I have other more pressing chores to do.

For the broilers, I like the pen. These chickens are very young, and need aerial and ground predator protection. Crows, ravens, raptors, cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, and cougars are all things we have had to deal with. This works best for us. Providing shelter from the elements, and fresh grass.

Electrified poultry netting also works in conjunction with a shelter, but while making less chores, it gives the birds less option for fresh grass. By less chores I mean you only have to monitor the feed and water, and can allow the chickens to move about. But moving the fence requires quite a bit of time, and more than one fence section, which can get expensive. And it requires some way to electrify the fence to keep (some) ground predators at bay. Electric fence will not stop aerial predation. And most people don't move the fence often enough. By day 3, the grass and forbs will be picked over, and you will have 3 days of manure in one spot instead on 1 day of manure. This sets the soil equilibrium out of balance, but it hard to detect until after you have done it, and then it takes several years to correct.

An acquaintance raises a batch of meat birds in her greenhouse in the winter, to replenish her growing beds for the next growing season.

Another option we have used is a smaller pen, say 4' x 8', made to fit over a garden bed. This is a great way to build new ground. Lay down your mulch material, lasagna style, place the pen bedded with straw or leaves, and put in the chickens, bed each day to tie down the nutrient rich manure, and move after 3 or 4 days. At that time, lay down more newspapers or ??? and move the chicken pen ahead. It may take several people to move the pen, because it has to be lifted up and carried ahead, while the chickens walk to their fresh new spot. The next year you will have garden beds you won't believe! I actually think this would work great in a community garden set-up, plenty of hands to help, and once you have the chickens, taking care of 50 is not much different than 25. Enriched compost additives and some tasty "home" grown birds. Not unlike the city market gardens of Peter Henderson's day.

One thing I think should be changed is allowing birds like this in the city. They make no noise, and if you are tying down your nutrients (manure) with enough carbon, there should not be any odor at all. If there is, add carbon - straw, leaves, what ever you have available.

And as an aside to that, if you have a tall fence, do it anyway. These chickens will be gone before your neighbors are any wiser... and maybe a fresh chicken will insure their silence.

As a final note, raising your own meat birds won't be cheaper than the supermarket chicken that is readily available. But if you factor in your feed and bedding purchases as "fertilizer" for your garden needs, and the satisfaction of being less dependent on the industrial food system, it is a win - win.
The following link is of our grazing broilers right after a move to fresh grass.
I posted about how far we stretch one of these chickens here. And I detailed our expenses here.
My prices are for Western Oregon, where feed prices are high.