The High Cost of Cheap Turkey

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Is Pastured Turkey Worth the Cost?

Here in Virginia, a regular fifteen-pound turkey at the supermarket will cost you about $30 or less. But if you want a local, traditional turkey like a Bourbon Red, raised on pasture—expect to pay anywhere from $60–$90.

That’s a lot of money! Is it really worth it?

I saw some turkeys a while ago that definitely answered that question for me. These turkeys were probably around five months old, in a truck, on their way to slaughter.

A “normal” turkey’s life span is about 7–10 years. But these turkeys wouldn’t make it to see their first birthday. If they weren’t slaughtered for Thanksgiving, most of them would die of heart disease and organ failure by Christmas.

In fact, statistically speaking, 20 percent of their turkey buddies already died before they got to this truck. Around 6 percent of them had their heart give out within just one or two months of birth.

Why Are These Turkeys So Different?

In order to maximize profits, these turkeys were selectively bred to have incredibly large breasts—so large that the birds have trouble standing up. And forget about flying! Their legs often bow and sometimes spontaneously fracture under the weight.

Heritage breeds like the Bourbon Red that are raised on pasture are incredibly athletic and free. They run up to 25 miles per hour, fly, and often roost in the trees. (If you want to see something funny, watch a farmer try to catch his or her Bourbon Red turkeys!)

And Ben Franklin is reported to have wanted our national bird to be the fierce turkey rather than the bald eagle.

Turkeys on Antibiotics

Given a choice, turkeys aren’t vegetarians. They eat lots of greens, bugs, and rodents.

The turkeys I saw on that truck, on the other hand, were fed a vegetarian diet of GMO grains like soy and corn.

And now, an important note about antibiotics: You may have heard about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive Final Rule, which went into effect on January 1, 2017.

The rule aims to reduce antibiotic resistance by eliminating the common practice of using “medically important” antibiotics to promote animal growth and feed efficiency. However, with the approval of a veterinarian, turkey producers may still feed these antibiotics in therapeutic dosages to prevent the illnesses fostered by the living conditions often found in commercial operations—dark, overcrowded barns packed with other turkeys, walking and living in their own feces.

In fact, a 2013 study showed turkey meat to be the dirtiest of all meats, with nine of ten samples containing dangerous fecal bacteria including E. coli.

As we’ve learned, humans aren’t the only ones harmed by commercial animal-raising systems.

The animals I was looking at on that truck were incredibly sick—the natural result of a commercial farming revolution that has rejected the wisdom of nature. Farming has gone industrial, so that the largest U.S. turkey farms produce well over a million turkeys a month.

The entire commercial turkey industry has learned to hijack modern science to breed and raise a turkey that gets as large as possible as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Plus, by the time you buy the turkey, it’s been so filled with salt water that this solution accounts for up to 40 percent of the turkey’s final weight.

So What Can I Do?

The farmers who embrace the wisdom of nature, the traditions of our ancestors, and the facts of modern science all agree: Raising a turkey on pasture so that it can eat its natural diet is the best way to optimize the health of farms, turkeys—and you, the customer.

Turkeys raised on pasture live healthier, happier lives; are healthy when they are slaughtered; and make you healthier, too. Their meat contains more anti-inflammatory fats like Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (another essential fat that is scarce in the modern diet).

Farming practices that embrace Mother Nature’s wisdom preserve the land, support the soil, and create far less pollution.

These are just a few reasons to choose a pastured turkey this Thanksgiving.

Three Questions for Your Farmer

If you truly want to do your part to help preserve our beautiful planet and your health, you need to ask three questions of your farmer:

  1. What did this turkey eat? You’re looking for a bird that lived on mostly foraged grasses and greens, wild animals, and only a small amount of organic grains and feeds.
  2. How did this turkey live? Happy turkeys move around from pasture to pasture and enjoy lots of sunlight.
  3. What drugs was this turkey given? Ideally, none—or only some medicines if they were sick.

You should know that the terms “cage free” and “free range” are virtually meaningless in that they make very little difference in the actual life or treatment of the turkey you are purchasing. If you see these terms, know that you are often no better off buying one of these than you would be buying an industrially raised turkey.

If you see “vegetarian fed,” know that turkeys are not vegetarians.

If you see “organic,” that’s a little better—at least you know they are hormone- and antibiotic-free, for the most part. But they still may have led lives of confinement indoors, eating grains, and living in cramped and unsanitary spaces.

Where Should I Start?

You can start by looking for a local farm that uses traditional farming practices. If you’re unsure, ask them the three questions above.

You can also talk to a practitioner who is listed on PrimalDocs.com. Most of them know where to get local traditionally raised animals.

Also check out LocalHarvest.org and EatWellGuide.org. Last, you can look up your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for help finding great farms and resources near you.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published in October 2014.) 


Sources:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6721797
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480912/pdf/canvetj00082-0039.pdf
  3. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/ucm449019.htm
  4. https://www.peta.org/living/food/turkey-factory-farm-slaughter
  5. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/AntimicrobialResistance/NationalAntimicrobialResistanceMonitoringSystem/ucm059103.htm
  6. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/05/01/180045788/antibiotic-resistant-bugs-turn-up-again-in-turkey-meat
  7. http://ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPFin.pdf
  8. http://extension.psu.edu/animals/poultry/topics/general-educational-material/the-chicken/modern-turkey-industry
  9. http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
  10. http://www.cooperfarms.com/OurCompany/MediaCenter/News/tabid/147/ArticleId/61/One-of-Americas-biggest-turkey-farms-is-in-NW-Ohio.aspx
  11. http://www.ibtimes.com/brine-injected-meat-40-percent-salt-water-usda-300969

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Tips & Tricks To Protect Livestock During Winter

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Taking care of livestock and poultry during warm weather is hard enough, but when frigid weather hits, it can be downright difficult.

Yet if you know what you’re doing, your livestock can survive and even thrive during winter weather.

This week’s guests on Off The Grid Radio — Shawn and Beth Dougherty — take care of cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and ducks throughout the year on a large farm in Ohio. They tell us the tricks they use to care for their animals when cold weather hits.

Shawn and Beth – the authors of the book, “The Independent Farmstead” (Storey) – also tell us:

  • What they feed their animals during winter.
  • How they keep the livestock’s water from freezing.
  • What they do to protect their animals when temperatures approach 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shawn and Beth also tell about the vegetables they grow in the garden during winter – and how they do it.

If you own livestock or poultry, then this week’s show is for you!

How to Butcher a Chicken

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Chicken slaughter is often a tough topic for new, and even experienced, chicken keepers. Even if you theoretically know how to butcher a chicken, actually doing it is another matter entirely.

Even though we all know where meat comes from and what has to happen for it to make it to our tables, there is some part of us that wants to pretend it just magically showed up at the grocery store or farmer’s market booth.

Part of becoming a backyard butcher is facing your meat consumption habits head on.

The most important advice we can give you on butchering your first chicken is, don’t overcomplicate the process.

Historically, backyard butchering was the norm. It didn’t take weeks of planning and preparation. It just took the will to do it, a little skill, and some basic tools.

Do Your Homework

Most of us didn’t grow up learning these skills, so we do have to do a little homework to prepare in advance.

But, unless you want to spend an unnecessary fortune or will be processing a ton of chickens, you probably want to make your process very similar to what your grandma’s (or great grandma’s) would have been.

There is an art to home butchery that comes only with experience.

Your first time butchering will be rough on you and possibly on your chicken.

In fact, even when you have become very skilled at doing it, it will probably still be rough on you.

You are taking a life, and if you don’t recognize the sentience of the being on the other side of that transaction, then maybe you need to seek psychological help!

That said, if you have been buying chicken at the grocery store, you have already been an active participant in slaughtering birds that were likely treated with less dignity and respect than you have shown the chickens you will be processing.

For meat eaters, home butchering could be one of the least ethically compromising decisions you can make.

Philosophical considerations aside, let’s talk about a few practical aspects of processing chickens.

Slaughter Planning

A clean kill starts with good planning. You need to decide how you are going to do it and what tools you are going to use.

Three Methods

Using a kill cone and sharp knife to slit a chicken’s throat on both sides is most common for small poultry processors. When using this method, some people put a straw bale under the cone area to collect the blood.

Since this is not a job you want to have to do twice on the same chicken, make it a habit to cut to the bone on both sides.

Chickens often try to back out of the cone in response to having their throats slit, so hold the head tightly and don’t let go until the chicken is no longer moving. This also prevents blood from splattering and making a big mess as dying chickens twitch.

You can also decapitate your chickens using a sharp knife and a butcher block or tree stump.

This method is easier if you have one person to hold the chicken and another to do the beheading.

One blogger decapitates her chickens using a feed bag to hold and then hang chickens during and after the kill. This method works really well and saves you the cost of a kill cone. Straw bale blood collection works in this scenario too.

You can also break a chicken’s neck. This method requires no tools for the kill, but as the blood is not drained during the process, it makes for a messier evisceration process. So be prepared to collect or clean the blood when you take the chicken to the table for evisceration.

Whichever method you use, speed and accuracy is critical. Watching videos of other successful kills and studying pictures in advance can help mentally prepare you for the task.

The neck has valuable stock meat and flavor, so the closer you can make your cut or break to the head, the more you get to keep.

Be Well-Prepared Prior to Culling

Set up your station before you start.

  • Slaughtering at home can be messy, so a lot of us opt to do it outside.
  • Having a hose with a sprayer makes it easy to keep things clean.
  • A work table makes evisceration easier.
  • Having some kind of hook for hanging to defeather helps.
  • If you plan to scald, you need a burner to heat your water.
  • You may also need electricity if you use a plucker.
  • Some people like to set up a three-bucket cleaning station, with soapy water, bleach water (1 Tablespoon per gallon), and fresh water to use to clean your knife and other equipment as needed during processing.
  • You also want to choose a location with good drainage so you don’t end up with chicken blood and scraps stinking up your backyard.

Plucking

Once you’ve dispatched your chicken, the next step is to defeather the carcass.

There are a couple ways to do this:

  • You can skin, dry-pluck, scald, and hand pluck.
  • You can scald and machine pluck.

Skinning

Some people skin the entire bird. However, for many, the skin is delicious and worth the extra work. You can check out this blog posting for a look at the process.

Dry-Plucking

Dry-plucking is exactly what it sounds like. You simply pull out the feathers after slaughtering.

It helps to hang the bird by the feet and pull down to extract the feathers.

The rule of thumb on defeathering the body is to pull away from the direction the feathers grow in. For wings, you need to hold the tip of the wing and then grip and pull the feathers straight out. Tail feathers are also easier to pull straight out.

Scalding

You can also scald a chicken before plucking, which makes it much easier to pull out the feathers.

You need a pot big enough to hold your entire chicken, a pair of tongs for dipping and stirring, and a thermometer (e.g., a fry thermometer) so you make sure you get the water to 135–145°F for scalding dry birds.

If I am processing a large flock, I like to use a garden hose to rinse my poultry thoroughly before scalding so the water does not need to be changed as frequently.

When I soak before scalding, I aim for a water temperature between 145–155°F since the cold water from the rinse, retained in the feathers, will drop my scalding pot temperature.

Also, birds like the Cornish Cross which have been breed for easier defeathering and are processed at a younger age scald well at around 135°F, and more heavily feathered birds are easier to pluck if scalded on the higher side of the scale.

  • If you’ve got your water temperature right, it takes about one to three minutes for the feathers to loosen. Use the tongs to move the chicken around, up, and down in the pot to make sure the hot water penetrates the feathers and reaches the skin.
  • After the first minute, tug on the body feathers with your tongs every 15–20 seconds to check.
  • As soon as the feathers are easy to pull, take the chicken from the pot, hang the carcass, and begin defeathering as described for dryplucking.
  • Pluck quickly for best results.
  • Also, don’t leave the chickens in the water too long, as they begin to cook and the feathers get harder to pluck.

Plucking manually, whether you scald or not, is about the hardest part of the process. It takes time and there are always some small feathers you have to pluck out with tweezers, torch off, or shave off with a straight razor.

If you’ll be processing chickens regularly, machine defeathering is a good option. You can build your own, like the Whizbang Plucker. Or, if that’s outside your budget and time constraints, you can buy drill attachments like the one that Marjory found at the Mother Earth News Fair a few years back. See her quick video about it here.

I like to think of plucking as a kind of meditation. And, sometimes, having company helps pass the time.

You can use the feathers for craft projects like jewelry, writing quills, and Halloween costumes. And anything you don’t use can be composted. Feathers are very high in nitrogen.

Evisceration

Once the feathers are removed, your next step is to eviscerate (remove the internal organs).

This is also usually the time you remove the feet, head (if not decapitated), and oil glands. Once you get the hang of it, evisceration is pretty easy to do. But it’s easier to learn if you have a coach or watch a few good videos, like this one with Joel Salatin.

Also, if you get your copy of the Mother Earth News Summit hosted by Marjory Wildcraft, it includes presentations from Joel Salatin and Patricia Foreman on raising and processing chickens. Patricia’s presentation on processing has very detailed pictures to make the process accessible to newcomers.

After you have a basic idea of the process, then keep in mind these few tips to have a successful first experience.

  • Use a clean cutting board or table. Plastic or stainless steel surfaces are easier to clean and disinfect, so they are recommended.
  • Have a hose at the ready in the event of accidental contamination, such as could be caused by cutting the intestines and contaminating your chicken area or work table with feces or by nicking the gall bladder when removing it from the liver.
  • Lungs don’t always come out clean in scalded chickens, so rinse the interior of the carcass and use your fingers to scrape out residual lung tissue if necessary.
  • Chill the heart, liver, and gizzard as soon as possible. The quality of organ meat degrades quickly once it comes in contact with air.

There are a lot of different techniques used to remove the head and feet, so feel free to use whatever works for you.

One method is to cut the feet above the orange socks and around the knee joint. Then, fold the knee in the opposing direction to loosen the tendon and cut through it. After that, twist and cut until the foot is off.

For the neck, you can cut the meat around the spine, twist the neck once around and then slice through the ligature.

Chilling, Aging, and Storing

Chilling

If you are processing poultry professionally, your goal after evisceration is to chill your meat to an internal temperature of 40°F as quickly as possible. That usually means plopping it into a cooler of ice water, like you would a bottle of champagne.

The longer it takes for a chicken to cool down, the more risk there is for bacterial contamination of the meat. And unless you happen to have a flash freezer at home, ice water baths are the fastest, safest, and cheapest way to chill your meat at home.

Ideally, you want to leave your carcass in ice water for about one hour per pound of carcass to make sure it is properly chilled.

Aging and Storing

At that point, you can package your chicken and place it in your refrigerator for aging or in your freezer for storing.

Whether you age your meat right after processing or after you defrost it, your meat will be more tender if you give it a day or two to “rest” at refrigerator temperatures. You can do double-duty by letting it rest in marinade before cooking, as well.

Some people keep chicken in their freezer for years. But, for best results, you should eat chicken within six months of processing.

Safety and Sanitation

When it comes to keeping things safe at a molecular level during processing, the No. 1 rule is to use common sense.

  • If you plan to process more than a chicken or two at a time, you’ll want to clean all your surfaces and equipment at least every couple hours.
  • If you suspect any kind of contamination (e.g., chicken feces, fly-by droppings from a wild bird, etc.), stop and sanitize.
  • A tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water makes a good sanitizer.
  • Use clean towels for handwashing.
  • Avoid touching your face or other body parts while processing.
  • Sharpen your knife before each kill and as needed during processing.

Again, use common sense. If your basic hygiene is bad, you could pass on norovirus and other nasty stuff, but only if you also fail to properly cook the meat before eating. Poor hygiene while processing and unsafe cooking procedures are both necessary for bad things to happen.

Just use your brain, and you’ll be ok!

You want to raise your own chickens, which means you’re probably a smart person. So use your own good judgment to keep risks out of your process.

Appreciation

After you raise, kill, and process your own chickens, take a few minutes to sit down, think about the experience, and figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how you want to do it better next time.

Then remember all that went into it—from picking your breed, to brooding your chicks, to moving them around in your pasture tractor, to watching them chase grasshoppers in your lawn.

Be amazed at all you learned in the process.

Celebrate your success in raising high-quality food for you and your family.

And of course, give thanks for the way nature provides, for the chickens who will grace your table, for anyone who helped you along the way, and for the fact that you have healthy food to eat and choices about how to provide for yourself.

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Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

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If you are reading this article hoping to figure out the absolute best coop option available for raising chickens, you’re going to be disappointed.

That’s because the coop, as we know it today, is more about what humans want than about what makes chickens happy.

Depending on your location, regulations, and preferences, you might decide to go with a movable chicken tractor, a fixed coop and run, or a fixed coop with free-range access or paddock areas.

You can raise healthy, happy poultry in any of them, as long as they meet your birds’ six basic needs, provide them with enough space to keep your chickens healthy and happy, and make it as easy as possible for you to manage poop and thwart predators.

Meeting Chickens’ Needs

From a chicken’s perspective, its needs are basic:

  • Fresh air
  • Clean water
  • A patch of dirt to use as a dust bath
  • Lots of forage (particularly insects)
  • Options to let it escape from predators
  • Enough freedom of movement that it doesn’t have to spend all day standing in its own poop

Sometimes it needs a little private time, away from the rest of the flock. If it’s a broody hen, then it also wants a safe place to nest, undisturbed, for about twenty-one days.

The Last-Century Chicken

If it had been a backyard chicken a hundred years or so ago, it may have roosted in the barn with other animals, roosted in a tree, or found shelter around the porch of the family that threw it scraps.

Maybe it spent its nights in a designated outbuilding reserved just for chickens, but it probably wasn’t anything like the luxury chicken manors found on sites like Pinterest today.

It probably didn’t have a nest box.

Eggs were often collected by children in a manner resembling an Easter egg hunt, since the hen’s goal was to hide its eggs for safekeeping until it had enough to make it worth risking life and limb to set a nest.

As long as it laid eighty or so eggs a year and managed to hatch a brood of chicken replacements once in a while, the family that let it forage in the yard was content to keep the bird around.

As far as predator protection went, the bird and its flock mates kept watch and used elaborate vocal communications to warn each other when trouble was near. If there was a rooster among them and the flock was attacked, he might defend the hens in his care to the death, if necessary.

Mamas would also protect their chicks by sheltering them in her wings.

But, among mature hens, with the moral imperative to survive and reproduce hardwired into their chicken nature, the expression “you don’t have to be faster than a bear, just faster than the guy behind you” usually applied.

Weak or sick hens were often pecked to death by stronger hens for the health and safety of the flock.

And though the birds may have really appreciated it when the lady who lived in the house threw them kitchen scraps or a handful of grain, they’d watched her wring enough chicken necks to realize they should scatter if she got too close.

How Things Have Changed

Things have changed a bit in the last hundred years.

As more areas are developed and populations increase, so does predator pressure on livestock. And it’s not just your random roaming mountain lion (which is now a rarity in the suburbs) or a wily coyote.

Now, chickens have to be careful about domesticated dogs and cats, escaped pet snakes and ferrets, car traffic, and even overzealous or malicious neighbor children. Top that off with all the local legal ordinances, HOA requirements, and other lethal hazards in our environments, and we’ve got to rethink the way we raise chickens.

Toward that end, let’s take a look at chicken space needs.

The Truth About Chicken Spaces

A hundred years ago, eggs were eaten when available and chicken meat was reserved for special occasions. Now, the average American eats 90 pounds of chicken meat1http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/percapita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-inpounds/ and about 250 eggs2https://www.uspoultry.org/economic_data per year.

In fact, chicken-based products rank No. 3, just below bread and dessert, among our sources of calories in the American diet.3http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/top-10-sources-of-caloriesin-the-us-diet

Living Space for Factory-Farmed Chickens

The amount of space and quality of life considered suitable for raising chickens seems to have declined in direct proportion to the amount of chicken meat and eggs we want to eat. Today, your grocery store egg layer gets about a sheet-of-paper-sized allotment of space and shares a battery cage the size of a filing drawer with five to nine other hens.4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_cage

Your typical grain-fed broiler gets only eight-tenths of a square foot per bird.5http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/industry-issues/animal-welfare-forbroiler-chickens/

“Free-range” birds need only two square feet of space outdoors to qualify and “pasture-raised” requires 108 square feet per bird.6http://certifiedhumane.org/free-range-and-pasture-raised-officiallydefined-by-hfac-for-certified-humane-label/

All of us who are concerned about the state of our factory-farmed food system would love to give our chickens as much room to roam as their hearts desire. But sometimes you’ve only got a limited area to work with.

And when you factor in the costs of predator protection, less space starts to make a whole lot more sense.

The Ideal Amount of Space for Chickens

So, how much space do chickens really need to be healthy and happy?

We’re not talking about how much they can survive in, but more like what amount of space would be enough to keep you from having to trim their beaks to keep them from pecking each other to death.

The answer is, “less than you might think, but more than factory farms allot.”

Right-Sizing Your Coop

As Marjory tells us in her Grow Your Own Groceries video series, you will need about four square feet of space per chicken in the coop if they will be allowed to forage outdoors most of the day.

If your chickens will be confined full-time, then you need to add an additional 10 square feet to that number. If you have an 8-foot-by-8-foot coop, or 64 square feet of chicken space, you can protect 16 chickens for overnight lodging and only 4 chickens for full-time living quarters.

But as Marjory also points out in her video, a suburban backyard may be best suited for about two or three hens if you intend to allow your chickens unfettered access to your landscape.

Cost Considerations

Building or buying coops can be expensive—even if you free-source your materials by using discarded pallets, scrap wood, or non-traditional building materials.

The larger your coop, the more labor intensive it will be to build and the more space you have to maintain. It may also mean more regulations to navigate and more hoops to jump through. Additionally, if you live in cold-climate areas, smaller coops that keep chickens in close contact are warmer without supplemental heat.

So, bigger is not always better when building a coop. However, for overall chicken health and happiness, the more outdoor foraging space you can provide the better.

These space suggestions are just a starting point for determining your coop size and style of raising chickens.

Coop Concerns When Raising Chickens

All chicken owners need to think about two major things: predator protection and poop.

Chicken books and blogs often break these ideas down into more categories. But for simplicity and easy memorization, we settled on these two concepts as the big ideas chicken keepers should address to provide safe, healthy habitats for chickens.

Predator Protection

Many chicken owners will tell you that the hardest part about keeping chickens is keeping them safe. When you confine chickens to a limited space, you also limit their ability to protect themselves from predation.

Also, when you invest your time and resources into caring for your flock, you don’t want to face the 40 percent loss rate that would occur if your chickens were not housed in a predator-proof coop.7http://www.thehappychickencoop.com/a-history-of-chickens/

Suburban development has placed pressure on wildlife to seek new habitats and find alternate ways of feeding themselves. As a result, suburban areas are sometimes the most predator-prone places of all.

Add to that the number of backyard pets eager to express their genetic history (i.e., dogs descended from wolves, house cats from jungle cats), and you’ve got lots of incentive to place priority on building a rock-solid coop.

Ways Predators Can Breach a Coop

Here’s a few predator facts to be aware of when planning predator protection.

  • An owl can fly through an open window and carry away a small chicken.
  • A fox or digging dog can tunnel under a foot of dirt to get to your chickens.
  • A determined raccoon can claw through chicken wire, reach a paw through openings over an inch wide, and open many doors.
  • A bear can tear a door from its hinges.

Planning All-Around Predator Protection

Given these examples, as you are planning your coop, you will want to consider predator protection overhead, underground, and all around (e.g., windows and eaves).

This includes measures like the following:

  • Burying wire mesh (better than chicken wire) underground around the perimeter of your coop or placing it underneath moveable coops, over windows, around eaves, and over any openings otherwise not protected
  • Building a floor in a fixed coop or elevating a coop off the ground to deter diggers
  • The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD)
  • The use of overhead netting if flying predators (e.g., hawks, owls, magpies) are a big concern—or keeping chickens confined until they are full sized

You may also want to keep separate storage and feeding areas and make egg collection a frequent activity.

Many predators, such as bears, snakes, and opossums, are more interested in your chicken feed or eggs than in eating your chickens. By removing red-carpet invites like a feed trough housed in your coop and by emptying nest boxes daily, you can discourage some predators.

If there are other chicken keepers in your area, talk to them to find out what kind of predator pressure they have experienced to determine where to focus your efforts and what to expect.

Poop (Ventilation and Cleaning)

Yep, we just said poop, not manure. When the thick, putrid stink of fresh chicken droppings first hits your nasal passages, you’ll understand why.

This stuff doesn’t come out as lovely, garden-friendly manure.

It’s as rank and nasty as our stuff is until the freshness dissipates, which—depending on degree of soppiness and external humidity—can be minutes to hours.

How poop is treated in the collection process also determines whether it is useful manure or nuisance “feces” (as it is often referred to in city ordinances on chicken keeping).

Managing the Smell

Chickens may have just as many olfactory senses as human beings,8http://www.wardhenline.com/uncooped/behavior_senses so managing poop odors is as important for your chickens as it is for you (and your neighbors).

For indoor areas, good ventilation is key.

  • You can use wire-mesh covered windows or vents for this purpose and open coop doors during the day. Placing windows on opposite sides of the coop with access to the prevailing winds can be helpful.
  • However, keep in mind, ventilation is good, but drafts in extremely cold weather are bad.
  • For cold-weather areas, avoid placing ventilation openings directly across from nest boxes or roost bars.
  • For warmer climates, feel free to take advantage of cross breezes over roost bars. Or better yet, opt for an open coop, with plenty of fresh air for your chickens’ olfactory pleasure.

Other ways to minimize poop odors include adding a layer of fresh litter to poop-catching surfaces (e.g., straw, wood shavings, or cardboard chips on floors) or using a square head spade to scrape up manure and ladle it into a lidded bucket on a daily basis.

Alternatively, if you use a chicken tractor instead of a coop, you may need to move your chickens once or twice daily to keep them from spending the day standing in their own poop or creating problems in your soil from excessive nitrogen and phosphorous.

Except with a chicken tractor–style coop, you will need to the clean up the poop in the coop—and the more often the better if you want to cut down on pests, attract fewer predators, minimize the potential for health issues in your flock, maximize compost for your garden, and remain friendly with your neighbors.

(NOTE: Some people also use the built-up litter method to control odors, generate a little heat during the winter, and produce some nice compost for their spring garden.)

Coop Design With Cleanup in Mind

So, an important consideration related to poop and coop design is easy cleanup.

If considering an elevated coop, it’s a good idea to bring it up to waist height and make sure you can reach all parts of the coop by bending at the waist rather than hunching. This way you can use a hand shovel, dust pan, and brush for easy cleaning. In larger elevated coops, this may require more doors for comfortable cleaning access.

A coop that is tall enough to stand up in with easy-to-sweep floors or pitchfork-accessible areas also works. And the fewer unnecessary horizontal poop-catching surfaces, the better.

Bottom line, the easier your coop is to clean, the more likely you will be to clean it.

A clean coop contributes enormously to chicken well-being. It also cuts down on the likelihood that neighbors will take offense over your keeping chickens. Plus, fresh poop has a lot more benefits for your compost pile than old, dried droppings, so collect it early and often.

If chicken poop accumulates in outdoor run areas or heavily trafficked chicken hangouts, occasionally adding some kind of mulch material or hosing down the area to dilute and distribute can help.

You can also minimize poop plots by using movable pens or paddocks to direct chicken activity.

Once you’ve established how much space you need for the number of chickens you want to keep and how you want to manage the two chicken biggies of poop and predation, you can move on to choosing the coop style that works best for you.

Remember, there is no one perfect coop for everyone. But, by thinking through these coop considerations ahead of time, you’ll be well on your way to choosing a coop that’s perfect for you.

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/percapita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-inpounds/
2. https://www.uspoultry.org/economic_data
3. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/top-10-sources-of-caloriesin-the-us-diet
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_cage
5. http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/industry-issues/animal-welfare-forbroiler-chickens/
6. http://certifiedhumane.org/free-range-and-pasture-raised-officiallydefined-by-hfac-for-certified-humane-label/
7. http://www.thehappychickencoop.com/a-history-of-chickens/
8. http://www.wardhenline.com/uncooped/behavior_senses

The post Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations appeared first on The Grow Network.

Is This Organic Chicken Feed Good or Evil?

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A Funny Thing Happened at the Fair

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas. I gave my talk about “How to Grow Half of Your Own Food in an Hour a Day.” The talk was really great and several people in the audience came up to me afterward to tell me how excited they were about starting to grow some of their own food and medicine.

I just love that energy when someone gets excited about working toward real food independence!

After my talk was over, I was walking around the aisles at the fair and chatting with all of the people there. There were some pretty cool products on display—heritage crafts and folk art, these awesome modular livestock fodder systems, local organic seed companies . . . you name it.

If it’s about sustainable living or traditional organic foods, it was there.

So I was walking around, taking in the sites and soaking up as much info as I could retain, when I had a chance encounter that I want to tell you about . . .

Read more: Grow Your Own Chicken Feed the Easy Way

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Strangers in the Crowd

This encounter didn’t exactly start out on a positive note.

To tell you the truth, we were in each others’ way. I was trying to round the corner on a crowded aisle, and I had identified a tiny little narrow pathway where I could just squeeze through.

But about halfway through, I realized that there was someone else coming from the other direction who was also trying to squeeze through the same narrow opening in the crowd.

We met in the middle and started trying to shimmy around each other, but the space was too tight. We were stuck there together, caught in the crowd face to face, and neither of us could get to where we were trying to go.

We were both a little embarrassed, and we both gave each other a slightly sheepish smile when our eyes finally met.

“It’s pretty crowded today,” I said, in an attempt to break the ice and relieve the awkward vibe that was going on.

“Yeah,” she said, “I can’t believe how many people came out.”

The crowd started to thin around us, but we had already struck up a conversation, so I decided to stick with it. “I’m Marjory Wildcraft. I just did a presentation over there at the stage in the back corner. Did you see it?”

“No, I’ve been in the booth all morning long,” she said. As she spoke, she pointed to a big booth across the aisle.

I had to do a double take, because the booth she pointed to had a huge logo on the banner that I recognized instantly. It was the infamous red-and-white checkerboard of Purina.

Read more: Ferment Your Feed for Happier and Healthier Chickens

A Fox in the Hen House?

I was a little bit shocked . . . .

There I was, surrounded by all of the latest and greatest products in the organic, sustainable, traditional living marketplace.

Purina was one name I definitely had not expected to see in this crowd.

I looked around a little bit to see if maybe she had pointed at the wrong booth.

And that’s when I noticed her name tag.

There it was, right in front of me the whole time—that same red-and-white checkerboard right above her name, “Jodi.” I tried not to be rude, but I simply had to ask…

“What are you doing here?”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to take a step backward in the conversation. “I, uh, I’m surprised to see that Purina is here at the Mother Earth News Fair.”

“Oh. Ha, ha, yeah, a lot of people have said that to me today.” She smiled, and I knew that she wasn’t too offended by my surprise.

Read more: Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?

Making a New Friendship

When Jodi laughed, we both relaxed. I could tell that she was used to getting responses like mine, and she could tell that I was happy I hadn’t offended her.

But I still had to know. I gave Jodi a gentle smile and took a second try at asking the same question . . . .

“So, really, what are you doing here?”

Jodi explained that Purina sees a lot of value in small-scale family farms. They recognize that homesteading is a growing movement; they think it’s important; and they want to make sure that they’re listening to those customers about what they need and want from the products they buy to feed their animals.

“Huh,” I said, still a little surprised. I was trying to tread lightly so I wouldn’t offend her again. “Have you gotten a pretty good response from the people here?”

Jodi lit up, “We have! We’re just here to listen to people, and I think that people really appreciate that.”

“I see,” I said.

My first instinct had been that the people at this fair would be somewhat hostile toward a company like Purina. But for a company like Purina to show up at a Mother Earth News Fair, just to listen to the people . . . well . . . you can’t really get too upset about that.

I looked over at her booth again, and sure enough, it didn’t look like they were trying to sell any products that day. I noticed that there was a small group of homesteader-type families standing around and talking to the Purina representatives, who were listening intently to what the people had to say.

All of a sudden it started to make sense to me.

“What are people saying to you?” I asked.

Jodi thought it over for a second and then replied, “Organic.”

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Is Organic Enough?

We talked for a while longer. Jodi explained that she had talked to lots of people with lots of opinions. Some of the people at the fair already purchased Purina feed regularly from their local farm supply stores. Others, like me, were just surprised to see Purina there at all.

But, one common thread that she heard a lot that day was that people want to give their chickens organic feed. It was a big deal.

And Jodi explained that Purina was already working hard to get a line of organic chicken feeds out on the market. It wasn’t a small task for them—they had to source all new suppliers, create a new production process, and find new distributors who were willing to stock the product.

I could see that Jodi knew all of the ins and outs of the project, and it sounded to me like Purina was serious about creating this new line of organic chicken feeds.

But still, even as Jodi was speaking, my mind kept wondering off. I was thinking about the Purina company that I already knew. The Purina company that supplies food to all of those big industrial chicken farms . . . . The Purina that formulated chemical changes in animal food to make eggs come out bigger and make hogs grow faster . . . . The Purina that has been passed around over the years—owned and operated by huge global conglomerates like BP, Koch Industries, and Nestle . . . . The Purina that has been blamed for poisoning thousands of cats and dogs with low-quality pet foods…

I was pretty confused.

Read more: Would You Eat Chicken-less Eggs?

The Benefit of the Doubt

After we had talked for a few minutes, I decided to give Jodi the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, I’m impressed that you’re here listening to people. And I’ll tell you what . . . If you ever get that organic chicken feed on the market, I’m going to buy a bag of it.”

Jodi laughed, “Oh, I hope you will!”

We parted ways, and I kept walking to take in the rest of the fair.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about it again for the next few years. That is, until I bumped into Jodi again at the Mother Earth News Fair in Texas this past spring. This time, I was lucky enough to have Anthony—the Grow Network’s videographer—there with me:

I’m A Woman of My Word

Well, I’ve never been one to break a promise. After we shot this video, I asked Jodi where I could find Purina’s new organic chicken feed, so that I could buy a bag and let my chickens try it.

She said that my local farm supply should have it—if it wasn’t there, I should just wait a month or two and try again. Sure enough, I found it in stock at my local store.

I have been raising a big flock of meat birds for a project we’re working on for The Grow Network this summer. I gave this food to those chickens for a couple of weeks, as a test. Come to think of it, it wasn’t much of a test. I think these chickens would have eaten anything. But they did seem to like the organic Purina feed. They ate the whole bag and I didn’t notice any changes in their health or behavior while they were eating it.

But I’m dying to know. . . .

Would you buy organic chicken feed from Purina?

Some of the people I’ve talked to swear that they’d never touch anything made by Purina. Other people don’t have a problem with it, and they say their decision would just be made based on the price.

So, what do you think? Is Purina’s organic chicken feed good or evil? Drop a comment down below to let me know what you think…

Raising Meat Chickens_1200x6301

(This post is an updated version of an article originally published on August 9, 2016.)

The post Is This Organic Chicken Feed Good or Evil? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Raising Chickens: The Scoop on the Coop

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If you are reading this article hoping to figure out the absolute best coop option available for raising happy chickens, you’re going to be disappointed.

That’s because the coop, as we know it today, is more about what humans want than about what makes chickens happy.

There is no single perfect coop.

Most of your decision-making depends on your location, regulations, and preferences. As long as you keep a few basic chicken needs in mind, the rest is up to you.

Meeting Chickens’ Needs

From a chicken’s perspective, its needs are basic:

  • Fresh air
  • Clean water
  • A patch of dirt to use as a dust bath
  • Lots of forage (particularly insects)
  • Options to let it escape from predators
  • Enough freedom of movement that it doesn’t have to spend all day standing in its own poop

Sometimes it needs a little private time, away from the rest of the flock. If it’s a broody hen, then it also wants a safe place to nest, undisturbed, for about twenty-one days.

The Last-Century Chicken

If it had been a backyard chicken a hundred years or so ago, it may have roosted in the barn with other animals, roosted in a tree, or found shelter around the porch of the family that threw it scraps.

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Maybe it spent its nights in a designated outbuilding reserved just for chickens, but it probably wasn’t anything like the luxury chicken manors found on sites like Pinterest today.

It probably didn’t have a nest box.

Eggs were often collected by children in a manner resembling an Easter egg hunt, since the hen’s goal was to hide its eggs for safekeeping until it had enough to make it worth risking life and limb to set a nest.

As long as it laid eighty or so eggs a year and managed to hatch a brood of chicken replacements once in a while, the family that let it forage in the yard was content to keep the bird around.

As far as predator protection went, the bird and its flock mates kept watch and used elaborate vocal communications to warn each other when trouble was near. If there was a rooster among them and the flock was attacked, he might defend the hens in his care to the death, if necessary.

Mamas would also protect their chicks by sheltering them in her wings.

But, among mature hens, with the moral imperative to survive and reproduce hardwired into their chicken nature, the expression “you don’t have to be faster than a bear, just faster than the guy behind you” usually applied.

Weak or sick hens were often pecked to death by stronger hens for the health and safety of the flock.

And though the birds may have really appreciated it when the lady who lived in the house threw them kitchen scraps or a handful of grain, they’d watched her wring enough chicken necks to realize they should scatter if she got too close.

How Things Have Changed

Things have changed a bit in the last hundred years.

As more areas are developed and populations increase, so does predator pressure on livestock. And it’s not just your random roaming mountain lion (which is now a rarity in the suburbs) or a wily coyote.

Now, chickens have to be careful about domesticated dogs and cats, escaped pet snakes and ferrets, car traffic, and even overzealous or malicious neighbor children. Top that off with all the local legal ordinances, HOA requirements, and other lethal hazards in our environments, and we’ve got to rethink the way we raise chickens.

Toward that end, let’s take a look at chicken space needs.

The Truth About Chicken Spaces

A hundred years ago, eggs were eaten when available and chicken meat was reserved for special occasions. Now, the average American eats 90 pounds of chicken meat15 and about 250 eggs16 per year.

In fact, chicken-based products rank No. 3, just below bread and dessert, among our sources of calories in the American diet.17

Living Space for Factory-Farmed Chickens

The amount of space and quality of life considered suitable for raising chickens seems to have declined in direct proportion to the amount of chicken meat and eggs we want to eat. Today, your grocery store egg layer gets about a sheet-of-paper-sized allotment of space and shares a battery cage the size of a filing drawer with five to nine other hens.18

Your typical grain-fed broiler gets only eight-tenths of a square foot per bird.19

“Free-range” birds need only two square feet of space outdoors to qualify and “pasture-raised” requires 108 square feet per bird.20

All of us who are concerned about the state of our factory-farmed food system would love to give our chickens as much room to roam as their hearts desire. But sometimes you’ve only got a limited area to work with.

And when you factor in the costs of predator protection, less space starts to make a whole lot more sense.

The Ideal Amount of Space for Chickens

So, how much space do chickens really need to be healthy and happy?

We’re not talking about how much they can survive in, but more like what amount of space would be enough to keep you from having to trim their beaks to keep them from pecking each other to death.

The answer is, “less than you might think, but more than factory farms allot.”

Right-Sizing Your Coop

As Marjory tells us in her Grow Your Own Groceries [LINKTO:] video series, you will need about four square feet of space per chicken in the coop if they will be allowed to forage outdoors most of the day.

If your chickens will be confined full-time, then you need to add an additional 10 square feet to that number. If you have an 8-foot-by-8-foot coop, or 64 square feet of chicken space, you can protect 16 chickens for overnight lodging and only 4 chickens for full-time living quarters.

But as Marjory also points out in her video, a suburban backyard may be best suited for about two or three hens if you intend to allow your chickens unfettered access to your landscape.

Cost Considerations

Building or buying coops can be expensive—even if you free-source your materials by using discarded pallets, scrap wood, or non-traditional building materials.

The larger your coop, the more labor intensive it will be to build and the more space you have to maintain. It may also mean more regulations to navigate and more hoops to jump through. Additionally, if you live in cold-climate areas, smaller coops that keep chickens in close contact are warmer without supplemental heat.

So, bigger is not always better when building a coop. However, for overall chicken health and happiness, the more outdoor foraging space you can provide the better.

These space suggestions are just a starting point for determining your coop size and style of raising chickens.

Coop Concerns

All chicken owners need to think about two major things: predator protection and poop.

Chicken books and blogs often break these ideas down into more categories. But for simplicity and easy memorization, we settled on these two concepts as the big ideas chicken keepers should address to provide safe, healthy habitats for chickens.

Predator Protection

Many chicken owners will tell you that the hardest part about keeping chickens is keeping them safe. When you confine chickens to a limited space, you also limit their ability to protect themselves from predation.

Also, when you invest your time and resources into caring for your flock, you don’t want to face the 40 percent loss rate that would occur if your chickens were not housed in a predator-proof coop.21

Suburban development has placed pressure on wildlife to seek new habitats and find alternate ways of feeding themselves. As a result, suburban areas are sometimes the most predator-prone places of all.

Add to that the number of backyard pets eager to express their genetic history (i.e., dogs descended from wolves, house cats from jungle cats), and you’ve got lots of incentive to place priority on building a rock-solid coop.

Ways Predators Can Breach a Coop

Here’s a few predator facts to be aware of when planning predator protection.

  • An owl can fly through an open window and carry away a small chicken.
  • A fox or digging dog can tunnel under a foot of dirt to get to your chickens.
  • A determined raccoon can claw through chicken wire, reach a paw through openings over an inch wide, and open many doors.
  • A bear can tear a door from its hinges.

Planning All-Around Predator Protection

Given these examples, as you are planning your coop, you will want to consider predator protection overhead, underground, and all around (e.g., windows and eaves).

This includes measures like the following:

  • Burying wire mesh (better than chicken wire) underground around the perimeter of your coop or placing it underneath moveable coops, over windows, around eaves, and over any openings otherwise not protected
  • Building a floor in a fixed coop or elevating a coop off the ground to deter diggers
  • The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD)
  • The use of overhead netting if flying predators (e.g., hawks, owls, magpies) are a big concern—or keeping chickens confined until they are full sized

You may also want to keep separate storage and feeding areas and make egg collection a frequent activity.

Many predators, such as bears, snakes, and opossums, are more interested in your chicken feed or eggs than in eating your chickens. By removing red-carpet invites like a feed trough housed in your coop and by emptying nest boxes daily, you can discourage some predators.

If there are other chicken keepers in your area, talk to them to find out what kind of predator pressure they have experienced to determine where to focus your efforts and what to expect.

Poop (Ventilation and Cleaning)

Yep, we just said poop, not manure. When the thick, putrid stink of fresh chicken droppings first hits your nasal passages, you’ll understand why.

This stuff doesn’t come out as lovely, garden-friendly manure.

It’s as rank and nasty as our stuff is until the freshness dissipates, which—depending on degree of soppiness and external humidity—can be minutes to hours.

How poop is treated in the collection process also determines whether it is useful manure or nuisance “feces” (as it is often referred to in city ordinances on chicken keeping).

Managing the Smell

Chickens may have just as many olfactory senses as human beings,22 so managing poop odors is as important for your chickens as it is for you (and your neighbors).

For indoor areas, good ventilation is key.

  • You can use wire-mesh covered windows or vents for this purpose and open coop doors during the day. Placing windows on opposite sides of the coop with access to the prevailing winds can be helpful.
  • However, keep in mind, ventilation is good, but drafts in extremely cold weather are bad.
  • For cold-weather areas, avoid placing ventilation openings directly across from nest boxes or roost bars.
  • For warmer climates, feel free to take advantage of cross breezes over roost bars. Or better yet, opt for an open coop, with plenty of fresh air for your chickens’ olfactory pleasure.

Other ways to minimize poop odors include adding a layer of fresh litter to poop-catching surfaces (e.g., straw, wood shavings, or cardboard chips on floors) or using a square head spade to scrape up manure and ladle it into a lidded bucket on a daily basis.

Alternatively, if you use a chicken tractor [LINKTO:] instead of a coop, you may need to move your chickens once or twice daily to keep them from spending the day standing in their own poop or creating problems in your soil from excessive nitrogen and phosphorous.

Except with a chicken tractor–style coop, you will need to the clean up the poop in the coop—and the more often the better if you want to cut down on pests, attract fewer predators, minimize the potential for health issues in your flock, maximize compost for your garden, and remain friendly with your neighbors.

(NOTE: Some people also use the built-up litter method to control odors, generate a little heat during the winter, and produce some nice compost for their spring garden.) [LINKTO:]

Coop Design With Cleanup in Mind

So, an important consideration related to poop and coop design is easy cleanup.

If considering an elevated coop, it’s a good idea to bring it up to waist height and make sure you can reach all parts of the coop by bending at the waist rather than hunching. This way you can use a hand shovel, dust pan, and brush for easy cleaning. In larger elevated coops, this may require more doors for comfortable cleaning access.

A coop that is tall enough to stand up in with easy-to-sweep floors or pitchfork-accessible areas also works. And the fewer unnecessary horizontal poop-catching surfaces, the better.

Bottom line, the easier your coop is to clean, the more likely you will be to clean it.

A clean coop contributes enormously to chicken well-being. It also cuts down on the likelihood that neighbors will take offense over your keeping chickens. Plus, fresh poop has a lot more benefits for your compost pile than old, dried droppings, so collect it early and often.

If chicken poop accumulates in outdoor run areas or heavily trafficked chicken hangouts, occasionally adding some kind of mulch material or hosing down the area to dilute and distribute can help.

However, your best method for minimizing poop plots is to use moveable pens or paddocks to direct chicken activity.

The post Raising Chickens: The Scoop on the Coop appeared first on The Grow Network.

Ferment Your Feed for Healthier and Happier Chickens

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Sprouting fodder for your chickens to eat is a great way to diversify their diet, and it is also a great way to increase the overall health and immune strength of your flock.  Leslie Parsons provided a long list of seeds that are good for sprouting in various conditions in her article “Growing Your Own Chicken Feed the Easy Way.” I’d like to draw some attention to another method for improving your flock’s diet: fermenting.

Fermented food has picked up a lot of traction in popular media these days, with the success of Sandor Ellix Katz’s books The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation. People have become more and more aware of the benefits of ingesting healthy living cultures of microflora. “Probiotics” has become a household word, and you can pick up a bottle of fresh kombucha at the corner convenience store.

Active cultures are helping people maintain good digestive health, enhance their immune systems, and even lose weight. But did you know that fermented food is good for your chickens too?

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Fermented Chicken Feed Can Improve the Health of Your Flock

Fermented chicken feed has been shown to increase weight gain in growing chicks. Chickens whose diets include fermented foods develop healthier intestinal tracts than those that eat a strictly dry diet. Moist fermented feed helps defend against dehydration, and it even promotes a healthy genetic profile for mother hens.

Fermenting chicken feed can significantly improve the nutrients that are available to your flock.

In an Aarhus University study about Fermented feed for laying hens, fermenting layer rations reduced the concentration of dietary sugar by more than three-quarters, from 32.1 to 7.3 grams per kilogram. Fermented food also has high concentrations of lactic acid bacteria, and small amounts of beneficial yeasts and fungi; so you’re basically creating some homemade probiotics for your flock. If you’ve got a chicken with IBS, maybe some fermented food could help her get regular.

Moist fermented food is easily digestible and its nutrients are more easily absorbed by the chicken than dry feed. Chickens will get more B vitamins, more vitamin K2, and more of several beneficial enzymes from fermented food.

Fermented foods help with immune function in chickens. Chickens with a fermented diet develop a highly acidic barrier in their upper digestive tract that blocks several acid-sensitive bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. One study, published by the African Journal of Biotechnology, considered using fermented foods as a replacement for antibiotic growth promoters in commercial poultry production.

There are also benefits for egg production and egg quality in laying hens.

Incorporating fermented food can help improve the number and size of eggs you’ll get. Yolk size frequently increases when a hen is fed a diet that includes fermented food. A diet that incorporates fermentation can help with problem egg shells too, improving shell quality, weight, and stiffness.

Why You Should Start Feeding Fermented Food

In addition to the health considerations outlined above, there are some benefits for you, the human, as well.

The biggest thing is that fermenting allows you to buy less feed. Chickens eat a little less dry feed when the feed has been fermented. The chickens are able to get more nourishment out of the same volume of feed. So, this is one way to make those expensive bags of organic layer rations last a little longer.

The chickens will also waste less of their food. As soon as a bowl is filled with dry feed, the first thing many chickens do is jump right in and start scratching. They throw the larger grains all over, leaving only the inedible fine dust at the bottom of the bowl. They don’t do that with a moist fermented food. They might still get in the bowl, but they won’t be able to disperse the food like they normally do with dry feed.

Finally, fermentation is an easy way for anyone to diversify their flock’s diet.

Chickens have an adventurous pallet at the table. They like to eat all kinds of things. Many of us don’t have the room to keep our chickens at pasture where they can get a good mixed diet of bugs and greenery.

Growing fresh chicken fodder is a great way to diversify your flock’s diet, but some people don’t have enough confidence in their green thumbs to begin starting seed for their birds. Fermentation is one way that any chicken keeper can mix things up for their chickens to begin improving health and immunity.

How Can I Start Fermenting My Chicken Feed?

fermenting-chicken-feed-in-a-bucketThe type of fermentation you’re going to do is called lactic acid fermentation. I’m not wearing a lab coat, but I think this means that good bacteria digest the available sugars and leave lactic acid as a by-product. You might recognize the sweet/sour smell of the lactic acid from yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

  1. Use any non-metallic container to create the ferment. I have been using a food grade plastic five-gallon bucket from the big box store and it works well enough.
  2. Start with a small amount of dry feed, about two days worth.
  3. Cover the feed with non-chlorinated water. Lactic acid fermentation is an anaerobic process, and it is important that you keep the food completely covered with water, so that it is not exposed to the open air. When the feed soaks up so much water that the feed is exposed to air, cover it back up with more water.
  4. Stir the mixture regularly, several times a day, and add more water as needed. Well water, distilled water, or rain water are fine, but fresh city water contains chemicals that are specifically designed to kill bacteria—so don’t use fresh city water. If all you have is city water, treat it to remove the chlorine or chloramines. [A Guide for Using Tap Water in Your Garden]
  5. IMG_5885Keep the fermenting container in a warm place; keeping it above 65 degrees F will get the best results. Warm temperatures speed up the process and increase the odds that the right bacteria will flourish when fermentation begins.
  6. You can add a starter culture if you want to, to make sure you get the right bugs. Allow at least 24 hours to begin producing a culture of lactic acid bacteria, but allow several days to significantly drop the pH.
  7. The end product should have a sour smell like sauerkraut. If your feed smells rancid or rotten, don’t use it. You might not have kept the mash covered with enough water, allowing air in to the mix. If this happens, throw it out to resolve in the compost, and start again.
  8. Dip a scoop or ladle down to the bottom of the container to get the moist feed. Try to include a little of the water in each scoop, but always make sure that the feed in the bucket remains covered in water. You can add more dry feed to replace the fermented feed you take out, if you want to keep the process going for a while. If you prefer to use up the first batch before starting the second, just rinse and repeat when the fermented feed is used up.
  9. IMG_5898If all of this sounds like too much work for you, consider trading with a friend for something they are fermenting. A neighbor of mine makes beer at home. We worked out a barter agreement where he receives fresh eggs and in exchange I get his fermented grains. My chickens love these grains and fight over them every time I put them out. Just make sure that the grains aren’t being fermented in a toxic metal container that could harm your chickens or you.

Common Problems with Fermented Chicken Feed

The biggest problem with fermented chicken feed is that chickens don’t really love to eat it.

In the Aarhus study I referenced above, the authors attribute irritability in the flock to a distaste for the fermented food. My chickens don’t seem to mind it that much, but I think they do prefer their normal dry rations. I know that they definitely prefer fresh bugs and green plant growth when those are available.

In nature, chickens will eat just about anything that’s small enough to eat. That includes a lot of bugs, a lot of plants, some invertebrates, and lots of odds and ends.

A very diverse diet is the best diet you could possibly feed your chickens.

If you’re someone who feeds only layer rations and nothing else, adding in some of that same feed after fermenting is an easy way to begin mixing up your flock’s diet and working your way toward the diverse diet they crave.

There is also a chance that you could accidentally grow the wrong bacteria, or grow yeast instead of bacteria. Always smell the food before you give it to the chickens. If it smells off, just throw it out.

Raising Meat Chickens_1000x525_2

(This post is an updated version of an article originally published on February 17, 2015.)

The post Ferment Your Feed for Healthier and Happier Chickens appeared first on The Grow Network.

Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?

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three-step-chickensWe have all heard about peak oil. But have you heard about “peak chicken?” Or peak almost everything else that composes the modern human diet—dairy, meat, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, vegetables, and sugar?

According to a study in Ecology and Society,1https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/ we’ve already been there and done that. We peaked on just about every food-related product considered critical to human survival, except farm-raised fish, in or before 2010.

Thank goodness for carp, catfish, and tilapia! If you don’t like those, you might want to start working on some new recipes and get used to them….

Once you get your head around the idea of peak food—meaning that food production is stagnant or declining—then do an Internet search for “world population clock.”

Sit back and watch as the world’s population increases before your eyes.

It is interesting to watch, until you do the math and realize that declining food production + increasing population = a big problem. Suddenly that population calculator looks a lot like a ticking time bomb, and the $60,000,000,000,000 (global public debt)2http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/ question is: “When does it explode?”

The truth is that we don’t know if, how, or when the bubble will burst.

Reason to Worry

But according to the authors of the Ecology and Society study, we should be worried. Their findings show that 20 of the 27 key resources for human survival peaked within the 50-year period ending in 2010.

The fact that so much of our food supply peaked within the same time frame makes sense at an intuitive level. Growing food with current industrial processes requires adequate water and fertile land suited to maneuvering large equipment. When we run out of fertile land, we develop undesirable land by leveling or clearing the earth, adding synthetic fertilizer, and pumping in water for irrigation. That works until we exhaust our water stores and deplete easily accessible nitrogen sources.

As land, water, and fertilizer become less available, the natural result is that food production declines, prices go up, and distribution gets contentious.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries like the United States have been insulated from most of the deprivations of peak food.

  • But if you live in rural Mexico, you probably already know what a 733% increase in the cost of a staple like tortillas feels like.
  • Or if you’ve lived in parts of Venezuela in the last few years, you know what it’s like to go to the grocery store and find the shelves inexplicably empty.
  • In India, farming-related debt is so high and weather events are destroying crops so frequently that suicide among farmers has reached epidemic levels.

These are just a few examples of peak-food-related issues already occurring around the world.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Projections through 2022,3https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf “Although agricultural prices decline in the near term, continued growth in global demand for agricultural products holds prices at historically high levels.” This means that for those of us who live in the United States, Japan, or the EU, our days of food cost stability are numbered as developing countries are expected to outpace us on demand, economic growth, and strength of currency in international markets.

Additionally, the USDA’s Food Price Outlook, 2017-20184https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/ for the U.S. indicates that the most notable inflation increases in food have occurred, and will continue to occur, around the perimeter of the grocery store.

The Rise and Fall of Peak Nutrition

Poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fresh fruits—the most nutritious foods available—are becoming less affordable, and this is expected to get much worse.

In response to price increases, such as the market price of beef going up 10 percent in two years in the U.S., consumers have already diverted their budgets from nutrient-dense natural foods to prepackaged, high-calorie foods, which tend to be less nutritious.

Just as it makes intuitive sense that peak food would follow quickly on the heels of peak land, we can also assume that trading fresh, healthy foods for processed foods to make ends meet will lead to peak nutrition—after which our collective public health will begin to accelerate in its decline.

So, is there anything we can do to change our food future?

In light of their disturbing findings regarding synchronous peak production, the authors of the Ecology and Society study suggest that we need a “paradigm shift” in our use of resources if we are going to be able to adapt to our post-peak realities.

That seems like a polite way of saying, “we need to radically alter our methods for growing and distributing food, or we’re in big trouble.”

Finding Answers

The good news is that you, I, and other members of The Grow Network community are already starting to work on this. The peak calculations were based on data from the 2013 FAO Statistical Yearbook5http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm. That report includes figures reported by international governments like Gross Domestic Product, and is dependent on financial information provided in tax returns and financial statements.

All the home-scale food growing taking place around the world is not included in determining these peak food calculations.

The study also does not take into consideration the black markets and barter markets that are already prevalent throughout much of the world, and may be used by two-thirds of the world’s population by 2020.

Unfortunately, for the same reasons that these data are not included in peak calculations, it is impossible to determine how much of an impact home food growers, barter economies, and black markets are making in relation to peak food.

Anecdotally, though, we know that there has been increased interest in home-based food production:

  • Just look at the number of self-sufficiency publications showing up on supermarket and bookstore shelves over the last ten years.
  • The number of farmers’ markets have increased by nearly 500% over the last 23 years, according to the USDA.6https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
  • There’s been an explosion in intensive growing practices—raised beds, vertical gardening, companion planting, permaculture, aquaponics—methods that use significantly less inputs than industrial agriculture while producing a superior product with excellent yields.
  • The Obamas put a garden on the White House lawn, and Oprah started a farm in Maui.

These are all positive signs that a transition to more sustainable food-growing processes is already under way.

A 3-Step Solution

Taking a closer look at the details reveals that our current “peak food” problem is really more of a “peak industrial farming” problem.

What the Ecology and Society study makes absolutely clear is that we cannot feed the world using only industrial farming methods because they depend on resources that have peaked, or will peak, in the near future—such as constant nitrogen inputs, spray irrigation, and mono-cropping on cleared land.

However, we can continue to improve our outlook with regard to peak food by choosing to support a few clear, actionable solutions:

1) Diversifying What We Grow
2) Reintegrating Local Farming Into Our Communities
3) Supporting Community Food Security

Let’s take a closer look at these solutions…

#1. Diversifying What We Grow

sweet-potato-vinesThe fact that our key resources list can be narrowed down to just 27 items that include corn and sugarcane is both an indictment of our modern diet, and a mandate for change.

The Case for Corn

Corn, for example, could be an excellent “calorie crop,” meaning that it has the potential to provide a high calorie-per-acre yield. It has culinary versatility: corn bread, polenta, grits, tortillas, eaten on the cob and off the cob, popcorn, and as a supplemental feed for poultry and pigs.

But less than 1 percent of peak corn grown today actually makes it to your table directly. The rest is inedible for humans as it is grown specifically to go into our cars as ethanol or to be used as feed for livestock like cows, which would never touch it if they tripped over it in the pasture. A good portion of the corn used in our human food supply is corn syrup that is arguably a leading contributor to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Fields of monoculture corn swaying in the wind might even seem pretty—but don’t walk barefoot in those fields because they are loaded with toxic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that require protective gear to apply.

For the home grower, corn can be a fun food to grow as part of a balanced diet, if you have the space. You need to grow enough corn stalks for good cross-pollination or you need to hand-pollinate, and you have to take some extra precautions to prevent contamination from cross-pollination if you want to save your seeds.

But an even better option is to focus on more nutritious foods that don’t make the peak list.

Think about cabbage, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. These are also versatile in soups, sauces, and pies, and they can be mashed, added to breads and pasta, roasted, and fried. Pumpkin and squash take space to grow, but there is no reason that they can’t be grown in vertical space. There are compact varieties of sweet potatoes like Bunch Porto Rico that can be grown in containers. These alternative calorie crops also store well without additional processing and they are relatively high in nutritional density, according to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.7https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods

Mix these alternative calorie crops up with a long list of other highly nutritious foods that you can easily grow at home or pick up at your local farmers market, such as tomatoes, chard, beets, turnips, arugula, watercress, lettuce, and you will be on your way to post-peak food health and happiness.

A Not-So-Sweet Staple

Now for a not-so-sweet subject: sugar. Sugar is a staple of our diets … really?!

Why is something that significantly increases our chances of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease (according to the American Heart Association) a resource considered necessary to our survival? Sure, it’s got calories, but they are non-nutritive.

If you consume your calories as sugar, you must either overconsume other foods to make up the nutritive difference, or run a nutritive deficit. Both roads lead to poor health.

Currently, roughly 898,000 acres of sugarcane and sugar beets are grown commercially in the U.S. alone. That amount of land, replanted using intensive farming methods, could grow enough healthy vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products to feed 400,000 people a healthy, balanced diet.

If you’ve got an incurable sweet tooth, how about satisfying it with a source that takes almost no land to produce, is good for you, and the production of which actually increases crop productivity in the immediate area? This is not some manufactured miracle sweetener that we will later discover causes cancer. It’s the oldest known sweetener on the planet, so revered at one time that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were buried with it in their tombs, while indigenous communities risked life and limb to extract it.

Of course, you guessed it: The miracle sugar alternative is raw honey.

Raw honey is loaded with good nutrition. It may also help reduce the intensity of seasonal allergies, which are expected to increase in length and severity as a result of climate change, resulting in greater losses in productivity. Keeping bees near your garden increases pollination rates and raises yields. Since every third bite of food we eat requires insect pollination, and most of this is done by honey bees, adding honey to our key resource list makes much more sense than sugar.

If you want to keep your own bees, try a top-bar hive. You can make it out of scrap materials and it does not require expensive extraction equipment. If you can’t keep bees, buy raw honey from your local beekeepers to encourage more beekeeping activity that benefits our entire food supply.

stevia-growing-in-herb-gardenOr how about growing stevia? Stevia is an acquired taste, but once you adjust your palate, it becomes a viable alternative to sugar in beverages.

The leaves have negligible calories and can be boiled with teas and iced to make a sweet-tasting soda alternative. You can grow stevia from seeds obtained from a reputable supplier or you can grow it from cuttings. The plants do well in containers and can overwinter indoors in zones 7 and below with adequate light. When you harvest leaves by trimming the plants between leaf segments, similarly to how you harvest basil, the plants will become bushier and even more productive.

Corn and sugar are easy targets because there are delicious, available alternatives. But there are endless ways to diversify your diet:

  • Swap rice for bulgur, quinoa, lentils, or split peas.
  • Try goat or duck as a beef substitute.
  • Use buckwheat and amaranth flour instead of wheat.
  • Substitute sunflower seed meat for almonds.

Study your shopping list, identify the things you buy regularly, and then seek substitutes that can be grown in your community. You may be surprised at how much variety is available when you make the effort to look for it.

#2. Reintegrating Local Farming into our Communities

peak-chicken-peak-eggs-fullThe expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never had more relevance than it does right now.

Checking Into Chicken

Chickens are fairly easy to raise at the home scale and they add fun and beauty to a landscape, so if you are seriously thinking about raising a backyard flock, now might be a good time to start. Make sure you know your LORE (laws, ordinances, rights, and entitlements) before taking the plunge. Also, talk to chicken owners you trust or do research to determine best practices in buying and keeping chickens in your area.

If it’s against the “LORE” for you to keep backyard chickens or you don’t have the space, how about rallying your community to turn underutilized common areas onto vegetable gardens and raise egg chickens or egg ducks there? Not only does this concept make common space meaningful again by doing something productive with it, but it can create opportunities for new farmers to enter the profession, and opportunities for residential “lawnscapers” to become organic “foodscapers.”

baby-ducks-and-chickensLaying Off Lawns

And this leads us to another method for countering peak food—let’s overcome our lawn addiction. North Americans devote 40,000 square miles of prime growing land to lawns.8https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers That is more land than we use to grow wheat or corn, it requires half the American residential water supply to grow, and it uses heavy doses of post-peak nitrogen and chemical products that end up soiling our waterways.

In the era of peak food, we really need to kick our lawn habit to the curb.

If you are a DIY type and you already take care of your lawn and landscaping, swap your holly hedge for blueberry bushes, replace flowers with flowering herbs, grow veggies anywhere you currently grow annuals, or build raised beds right over your lawn. Fruit trees like paw paw, jujube, Asian pear, mulberry, and elderberry are less needy than many ornamental trees like dogwood or flowering cherry, so use those as your starting points for planting a “foodscape.”

Surround the trees with a living mulch of Russian comfrey and borage. As the trees grow, prune them for good airflow and a less dense shade profile so you can grow shade-tolerant spinach, lettuce, and peas under the trees. If you have good southern exposure in front of your trees, plant fruit bushes there, plus herbs like chives, lemon balm, and mint to attract beneficial insects. You can also vine grapes up the trunks, making use of that vertical space.

herb-spiral-for-microclimatesIf you are not the DIY type and you spend on lawnscaping, reallocate your budget toward foodscaping to support a new generation of growers.

Many professional farmers and landscapers are excellent machine operators, soil scientists, irrigation experts, and pesticide applicators. But they may not have the expertise to grow a variety of foods without the aid of heavy equipment or purchased fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

To beat peak food and take advantage of prime growing land located within our populated communities, we need more small-scale farmers and growers skilled in controlling pests without chemicals, adding fertility with organic inputs produced onsite, minimizing water usage through smart planting, and applying intensive planting methods to increase food production.

There are plenty of people who want to do this, but we need to create the economic opportunities for them to be able to make a living at it.

To get started, talk to your current landscaper about having them do the work for you. If they don’t have the skills and they aren’t willing to gain them, talk to your local agricultural or gardening extension office, farming schools, vendors at farmers markets, or nearby permaculture schools to find people who are able to help you.

To keep costs low, you can make agreements to let student farmers sell surplus crops and keep the profit in exchange for doing the work. There are also a lot of budding permaculturists who offer their consulting services at discounted rates to develop their resumes and client bases.

Finding ways to grow food in our homes and neighborhoods should be a priority for anyone concerned about peak food.

#3. Supporting Community Food Security

Planting food instead of lawns not only increases food production, but also raises awareness of the importance of doing so. A surprising number of people are not even aware of the issues surrounding peak food. An even more surprising number of people are aware of some of these issues but feel powerless to do anything about them.

By bringing food growing to the forefront of our daily lives, we create opportunities to share our knowledge and help others collaborate with us. Our window of opportunity to beat peak food gets smaller the longer we wait and as weather becomes more erratic and resources less available, so the sooner we spread the news and help others get involved, the more impact we can have.

If you have any doubts about the urgency of building food communities, look to China for guidance. The Chinese government has encouraged its food corporations, through loans and preferential economic policy, to purchase and accumulate companies from around the world that grow and process food products (e.g., Smithfield Foods). This is part of a concerted effort to ensure food security for China’s growing population. And, it might be a wise policy given the reality of peak industrial food.

Yet not all governments are this proactive, and even when food is stockpiled or production is secured, distribution systems may not be fully developed. Also, goods may be distributed with preference for specific populations, like wealthy cities and wealthy citizens.

Realistically, unlike the Chinese government, most of us here don’t have $5 billion to buy up 25% of the pork production in the U.S. “just in case.” But most of us do have some kind of grocery budget and/or a food-growing system in place. Instead of spending our money and resources to support a post-peak industrial food system, we need to redirect our efforts toward local and sustainable food-growing activities.

Home growers can set up food-swapping networks with other growers to exchange products and increase diversity. Non-growers can take their food budgets to the farmers’ market and buy direct from local producers, or pick up weekly baskets from a local CSA. Greater demand for local food means more local growers. More local growers means more food security when declining industrial farms can no longer meet the food needs of a growing population.

We can adapt our eating and growing habits, and make the paradigm shift required to overcome peak food, if we acknowledge the problem and meet the challenges individually, and in our home communities, through thoughtful effort.

We can reach critical mass and cause real change in our society.

But the clock is ticking….

 

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post originally published August 14, 2015.)

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/
2. http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/
3. https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf
4. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/
5. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm
6. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
7. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods
8. https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers

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Kids and Animals: Natural Explorers

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What Is Magical to a Child?

Kids and animals are a magical combination.

Nature holds a fascination for all people, but kids are especially entranced by the natural world. As adults, we are sometimes too busy to “stop and smell the roses,” but kids are always more than willing to explore and discover new things.

Animals, domestic and wild, are also natural explorers. Pairing a child up with a dog, cat, or other furry friend creates a lifelong bond between child and animal.

From plants to bugs to animals, the natural world provides a classroom perfect for learning.

Kids and Animals 1

Perfect Partners

Kids and animals are perfect partners. There are many studies that show the positive effects that pets have on kids, including the following:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Heightened sense of responsibility
  • More physical activity
  • Better social and emotional health

As with people, building trust is key to developing a healthy relationship with all animals. Kids are naturally geared toward succeeding at this. Their small size and soft voices calm and soothe, paving the way to a lasting relationship.

But that is only the beginning. Animals are also key to a healthy ecosystem and provide countless learning opportunities. How can we teach kids that animals are even more than our fluffy friends?

Can We Get a Puppy?

Whether it is a puppy, fish, or kitten, every kid has at some point asked for a pet. They swear they will take care of it, feed it, water it, and play with it … but they quickly lose interest once the novelty has worn off.

One way to ensure that they follow through and stay interested is by showing them how beneficial animals are to the home.

Dogs are normally the first type of pet a child will want.

With their furry faces and playful nature, it’s no wonder that they are a child’s dream pet. But dogs can be so much more than just a cuddly companion.

Dogs can help by guarding chickens and other livestock; by herding cattle and, in some cases, kids to safety; and by protecting their territory against predators and threats.

Most dogs have a natural instinct to protect.

Through proper training and good treatment, that instinct can be honed, making the dog more than just a pet.

Teaching kids that there are some tasks a dog could help with around the homestead and making children a part of the training process, if not responsible for it, will ensure that their interest and enthusiasm stays focused.

The Wow of Meow

Kids love cats. They are playful, soft, and oh-so-cute as kittens. They are also natural hunters and lethal tools for the homestead.

Having a few outdoor cats not only reduces any mice, mole, or vole problems you may have, but also teaches kids how every type of animal and pet has a different purpose.

Kids and Animals: Life Lessons

It is easy to get attached to an animal that you see and spend time with every day. However, it is important for kids to understand not only the purpose of animals, but also the role they play in the food chain.

It is our job to care for and treat well any animal in our care, but we must also remember that any animal we intend to eat is not our pet.

Chickens are a wonderful animal to have on the homestead. They keep weeds down and pests at bay, and they help spread seeds and fertilize the garden.

But, most importantly, they provide us with food.

We have kept chickens on our homestead for four years now, and our boys have been a part of every life stage from freshly hatched chicks to full-grown hens.

Kids and Animals 2

Just like kids should be helpers in the garden from seed to harvest, they need to be a part of the raising and butchering of any livestock that will eventually end up on the table. They need to know and understand that the chicken they see in the grocery store was once a living, breathing bird that someone raised for egg or meat production.

When we butchered our first flock, our boys were a part of the process.

We talked to them about what the chickens had provided for us in life, and what they would be giving with their death.

Get the kids involved, but make sure to tell them why and how the butchering will happen. This will prepare them for the process and make it less scary to witness.

  • Talk about the purpose of the animal on the homestead.
  • Thank the animal for providing labor and food.
  • Tell the kids what will happen when the animal is butchered.

Animals are the messengers of the tree, and trees the gardens of animals. Life depends upon life. All forces, all elements, all life forms are the biomass of the tree. —Bill Mollison

Call of the Wild

Nature provides so much fodder for both the imagination and the mind. Even if you don’t live on a farm or in a remote area, you can likely find an animal to study.

Frogs and fish are a great way to introduce and study life cycles. The boys caught a frog in our swales one day and started asking questions:

  • Where do frogs come from?
  • How do they grow?
  • Why aren’t they bumpy?

Kids and Animals 3

So many great questions, and all stemming from simply capturing a little frog!

These moments of curiosity and wonder can quickly turn into a brief lesson on life cycles and biology that will make a lasting impression on an interested and engaged child.

Dangerous Animals

Talking to kids about animals can also help prepare them for potentially dangerous situations.

Predators are a part of life, and teaching kids how to react when faced with certain predators can prepare them for these situations.

Coyotes and foxes are common animals in our area, and with chickens it becomes even more likely that we will encounter them at some point. We don’t want our kids to fear nature, but we do want them to have a healthy respect for animals and events that are outside of our control.

  • Talk about what certain predators hunt.
  • Discuss ways to be safe around them.
  • Explain what to do when threatened.

Teaching kids about animals and the role they play in a vibrant and robust ecosystem will help ensure that children treat them with care and respect. Kids need to understand that their job is to help by working with these partners nature provides.

Understanding the role animals play in a healthy ecosystem will help kids see the world for what it is—a garden of endless possibility.

The health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible. —Sir William Howard

 

References

http://www.parents.com/parenting/pets/kids/pets-good-for-kids/

https://permaculturenews.org/category/animals/working-animals/

https://www.animalsandsociety.org/human-animal-studies/society-and-animals-journal/articles-on-children/animals-in-childrens-lives/

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/371765

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You Wouldn’t Recognize The Poultry Your Great-Great Grandparents Raised

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You Wouldn’t Recognize The Poultry Your Great-Great Grandparents Raised

For most homesteaders, having poultry is an important part of the lifestyle. We’ve all read the magazine articles about preserving our heritage poultry, and so we bring home flocks of gorgeous Rhode Island Reds and Welsh Harlequin ducks, trios of Royal Palm turkeys, and a pair or two of handsome Pilgrim Geese.

We enjoy our poultry flocks. After all, we are living like our forefathers, right? Well, maybe not.

What if I told you that most of the beautiful species of poultry we raise today weren’t even developed back when great-great granddaddy had his farm and worked the land?

For most of us, our great-great grandparents would have been living life in the 1800s. Whether your ancestors lived on farms or in town, pretty much everyone owned chickens. Dual-purpose chickens provided both eggs and meat, and for this reason most families of six had at least a dozen or more birds. Feeding your flock was mostly about free-ranging them in your yard and feeding them scraps. Occasionally, birds were supplemented with cracked corn, oats, barley or wheat.

Goose and duck flocks were managed in much the same way as chickens, and some breeds were developed to weed crops and orchards. Geese were raised for not only meat but also their feathers and down, which were used in pillows and mattresses. Duck owners enjoyed their meat as well as their eggs. Neither was widely raised until later in the century. In most areas of the country, ducks and geese were hunted rather than grown, most likely as a way to provide meat for the family without the time and expense of managing a flock. Duck meat has never really gained the popularity here that it has in Europe, due largely to the fact that chickens tend to be leaner and far more prolific.

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For the farmer with larger fowl such as turkeys, the birds were primarily allowed to forage. Flocks were raised not only for meat, but also because of their remarkably large appetite for bugs. For this reason, they were often raised in orchards and in woodlots, where the birds also had space to roost in trees. During the winter, birds were supplemented with corn, oats, barley or wheat, much like chickens. Some old-timey turkey-raising manuals even suggest that farmers slaughter a hog as feed for their turkey flocks during the winter months as a way to provide extra fats and protein.

With turkeys being native to over half of the United States, there were plenty of small farms that preferred to hunt them rather than raise them. However, events such as the Mexican-American War and the Civil War impacted the wild populations of the Gould’s, Rio Grande and the Eastern Wild along the Southern United States.

The Breeds of Great-Great Grandaddy’s Day

Chickens

In the early 1800s, chickens were strictly viewed as a utilitarian bird. This meant that flocks largely consisted of crosses of the birds available at the time. One of the more common purebred birds was the Dominique, a dual-purpose bird with barred markings and a very good foraging ability. These handsome birds were often depicted in paintings from that era and are credited as being the oldest breed in America.

Plymouth Rock

Immigrants to the New World brought along breeds such as the Hamburg and Polish, as well as crossed birds from their native countries. The Java also made its appearance in the early 1800s in the colors of black, white and mottled. From these birds of possible Asiatic descent, the Plymouth Rock was developed and made its first official appearance in 1835. English varieties such as the Dorking were imported into the United States around this same time, and by the 1850s “Hen Fever” had caught on to the point that even small farmers were venturing into new breeds. Some of these early imports included the Brahma, Cochin, Orpington, and later on, the Leghorn. By the end of the century many breeders, farmers and enthusiasts were tinkering with creating their own breeds, and we see the emergence of the Winnebago (modern-day Silver Laced Wyandotte), Jersey Giant, Buckeyes and Rhode Island Red.

For our ancestors, the importation and creation of new breeds created larger, often more robust animals that produced better meat and more eggs. Imports were expensive, and a common practice of those early days was to buy a rooster of imported blood and breed it into an established flock. Since hens were allowed to go broody and hatch their own chickens, it took a relatively short amount of time to completely change the landscape of chicken raising in the U.S.

Ducks

The first domesticated ducks in American are believed to have been the Aylesbury from England and the Huttegem from Belgium. While I could find very little about the Huttegem, the Aylesbury is still a very popular breed in England and is prized for its delicious meat and good egg laying ability. Both breeds were not uncommon in New England during the 1800s, and small farms throughout the Midwest usually had a combination of these breeds crossed with domesticated wild mallards.

In the early 1800s, several new duck breeds emerged, claiming to be bred from native species that were caught and domesticated. Most never gained popularity and they disappeared. One in particular endured — the Cayuga duck. The Cayuga’s wild beginnings are often disputed, however, with many believing it actually to be a descendant of the Lancashire Black, which was common on farms in Lancashire, England, into the 1860s. Regardless of its start, the Cayuga was named after the Cayuga region of New York, and the breed was popular in the North East due to its hardiness and its personable, easy nature.

As “Hen Fever” ramped up and chickens began to be imported, a few duck breeds also arrived. In 1850, the Rouen entered the U.S. by way of England, and small poultry keepers rushed to add these heavy weight ducks to their small flocks in an effort to increase meat yields.

The late 1800s saw the importation of the Blue Swedish Duck, and near the turn of the century the first Pekin (or Peking) White ducklings arrived. From here, the U.S. saw the development of many other duck breeds well into the 20th Century.

Geese

Domesticated geese came into America in the early days of the first European settlers. These birds were most likely descendants of the wild Greylag goose, and/or descendants of the domesticated Roman goose.

Beyond birds bred for the small farm or homestead, geese were being bred in large numbers to be used to weed the cotton fields of the South. Descended from unknown birds that arrived during colonial times, these birds became their own breed, the Cotton Patch. Regardless, in my research I could find no truly distinguished goose breeds listed until the arrival of the Bremens (the modern Embden) in the early 1800s. We do know that the Cotton Patch goose was already being utilized in the south by this time; they just hadn’t yet been developed into a true “breed.”

Toulouse Goose

Following the Bremens, Toulouse arrived during the mid-century and became widely popular in the Midwest due to their heat tolerance. In the later part of the century we see the arrival of both the African and Chinese goose, which descend from the wild swan goose of Asia. While the Toulouse flourished in America, the Africans and Chinese didn’t really catch on until much, much later.

Turkeys 

Domesticated turkeys in the Americas have an interesting history. The original turkey breed in America (domesticated) and most widely raised is the Bronze. These birds are descended from varieties brought by the first Europeans, crossed with the wild Eastern Turkeys. The resulting animals displayed Hybrid Vigor — being hardier, taller and much heavier than either. Stock from these crosses was retained and resulted in the breed we know today as the Heritage Bronze.

Sometime during the 1700s, the ancestors of the Norfolk Black (also called the Black Spanish) arrived. These birds descended from turkeys taken from Mexico to Europe in the 1500s and brought back to American with the early European Settlers. The birds were then crossed into wild Eastern Turkeys to make it what it is today. While they enjoyed popularity for a time, the breed had more or less fallen out of favor by the mid-1800s.

The Black was used in developing what some consider to be the first truly American turkey, the Narragansett. Developed in Rhode Island from wild Easterns and Blacks, they were considered THE turkey of choice from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic from the 1700s until their decline around 1900. They were the first breed to be bred and standardized for commercial production, and were popular on small farms and homesteads for their mild dispositions, large size and prolific breeding. Farmers raising these birds during the early 1800s claimed that a flock of a dozen hens could produce a flock of 100-200 birds in a single year!

Sometime right before the 1800s, the Chocolate turkey arrived from France. These birds were not quite as large or as cold-tolerant as the Northeastern breeds, but they became very popular in the Southern United States prior to the Civil War. They were a popular sight on small holdings and plantations alike, but with the desperate times of the war flocks were devastated to such a degree that they never really made a comeback.

About the same time that the Chocolate was arriving, a new breed was finding favor in the Northeast — the Holland White. It’s interesting to note that the Holland is not a Dutch bird as the name suggests, and is actually a mutant strain of the Heritage Bronze. They quickly found favor for being a bit smaller than the other breeds available at the time, and with their white pin feathers they quickly developed into a commercial breed. They were not as popular with small farmers and homesteaders as the other breeds.

In the late 1800s, the Bourbon Red (or “Bourbon Butternut,” as it was originally known) was developed, and if your ancestors lived in Kentucky or Ohio as mine did, this was the breed they raised. The striking red birds with white tail and wing feathers became very popular for their good growth and large size. They have remained popular into the 21st Century.

It’s worth mentioning that the Jersey Buff was also available during the 1800s, though its exact emergence is difficult to pin down. We do know that it was used in the development of the Bourbon Red, but truly never gained popularity and was considered to be extinct by 1915.

What is plain when researching these breeds is that our forefathers relied on poultry that could withstand the climate they were being raised in and reproduce effectively there. Birds that could serve multiple purposes were far more preferred than anything that was just merely pretty, and efficient foragers with good growth rates were a must. Our great-great grandparents simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to expend on stock that didn’t offer a good return.

What would you add? Do you know what types of breeds your ancestors raised? Share your thoughts in the section below:

5 DIY Chicken Tractors That Will Revolutionize Your Homestead

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5 DIY Chicken Tractors That Will Revolutionize Your Homestead

When it comes to housing poultry, your options are truly limited only by your imagination. Most poultry, chickens especially, are hardy and readily adapt to a variety of housing setups.

All coops will fall into two major categories: the permanent structure or the tractor. By definition, a chicken tractor is any bottomless pen or cage that can be moved from one area to another. This allows the poultry to eat things on the ground, such as vegetation and bugs, while still keeping them contained. Chicken tractors may have wheels or skids to be pulled along the ground, and are an excellent alternative to free-ranging if you live in an urban/suburban setting or an area with a large number of predators.

There are several good reasons to think about adding a chicken tractor to your homestead. Here are a few of the best reasons:

  • Allowing the birds ground access cuts feed costs. Every blade of grass and every grasshopper is just that much less feed you must provide.
  • Droppings fertilize the ground. Just remember to move your pen often enough to prevent manure build-up.
  • Saves on gas for the mower. We spent an entire summer moving bird pens around one one-acre section of lawn at our last house. We used three tractors and mowed the whole thing twice in six months.
  • Tractors can be moved to new property or sold if you don’t need it anymore. This is not always the case with a permanent structure.
  • No ugly, bare chicken run.

Tractors can be made of just about anything. On our homestead, we have used five different styles, and all of them were made from recycled/upcycled materials. To inspire your own chicken tractor ideas, let’s look at the ones we have used.

The Cattle Panel Hoop

This was our first design for tractors, and is the one we still prefer. We’ve made them in 8-foot and 12-foot lengths, with an 8-foot width. We have housed everything in them, from chickens to ducks, geese, turkeys and yes, even a goat or two. The premise is fairly simple. It’s just a framework with cattle panels bent from one side to the other to create a tunnel, ends finished with plywood or netting, and a tarp over the top for a roof.

Discover More Than 1,000 Off-Grid-Living Tricks!

Hoops are fairly quick and easy to create, and I have built quite a few in just a couple of hours. They are lightweight enough that one person, attaching a rope from one skid to the other, can move it. They also can be moved quite easily with a quad or even a riding lawnmower.

There are a few things to consider before using this style of pen. Strong winds can move or even flip them over. Additionally, because of the raised cross pieces, small predators such as skunks, weasels and even smaller raccoons are more likely to try and get into the pen.

The Upcycled Dog House

We had an acquaintance contact us about a doghouse they needed to get rid of as they were planning a move. It was a cute little thing, and had actually been used as a house for ducks. We built a skid framework, added a floor and mounted the house on skids, then added a simple run along the front. I did a little work to the roof, added a nest box and perch, plus built a new closing door and cut a smaller door to the run. I had the whole project done in just a few hours, and we’ve used it successfully for two years.

My biggest regret with this one is simply that I didn’t put a door into the run for us! This has been inconvenient on the two occasions that the birds have managed to get their feed bowls outside. Fortunately, it is lightweight enough to be lifted fairly easily.

The Little Red Coop and The White Hen House

The next two tractors we built were made from a couple of small hen houses we picked up off of Craigslist for next to nothing. The Red Coop had a detachable yard made left over interior house trim and covered with rusty pieces of assorted wire. The White Hen House had a lovely set of yard panels that were only two-feet tall so the chickens kept hopping over the panels and destroying the owner’s garden! Both of these little coops were made to be permanent structures.

Essentially, we did the same thing as with the Dog House. We built a skid system and just mounted the houses on the skids, then built a yard. I was fortunate with the White Hen House that when arranged carefully, the yard pieces actually made a contained box! With some hinges added to the top panels and a hook to close it, the yard is accessible if we need to open it up for any reason. With the Red Coop, I made the same mistake as with the Dog House and didn’t add a door to the run for us to be able to access it. Again, the pen is very light and can be lifted up if we need in it.

The Shipping Crate House

This is by far the heaviest of the houses we’ve built, and it’s the only chicken tractor that cannot be moved by hand.

The house frame itself is made of a shipping crate that was used to send in a special order tub surround. Basically, we just added some OSB scrap to make a floor, sided it with leftover plywood siding, built a roof and a nest box and cut in a couple doors. The whole thing is mounted on skids, and the yard is made of PVC pipe with some used plastic chicken netting attached to it via zip ties.

The roof doesn’t have much pitch, but was built to be strong. We’ve had a foot of snow on it and never a problem!

The faults with this pen are pretty minimal, the biggest being the weight. As with some of the other pens, I do wish I had added a door to the run. I’m also not sure I would use the plastic netting again, as it does rip after three summers in the sun, and will most likely need to be redone in the next year.

Final Thoughts

The options for building tractors really are endless. I have seen some very ingenious ideas on Google and other sites using old swing-set frames, units made entirely of PVC and wire, and even out of an old lawn cart. With the versatility of these great pens and the benefits they provide to the small homestead, we are sure you’ll want to add one or two of these to your own setup.

Do you have any unique chicken tractor ideas? Share your tips in the section below:

Completely, 100 Percent Off-Grid: 9 Essential Foods You Should Grow

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Completely, 100 Percent Off-Grid: 9 Essential Foods You Should Grow

Image source: Pixabay.com

Are you ready to feed your family by what you grow and raise? If you want to reduce your dependency on the commercial food supply, you better start now. It is important to develop a functional homestead capable of producing enough food to live on before you need it.

Establishing crops, building infrastructure, raising animals and working out the kinks all takes time, and you may have a few less successful years before you can really eat off the grid.

Assuming you have a house on cleared land, with at least one usable outbuilding already constructed, then you will be able to focus on growing food. With long working days, attention to seasonal change and weather, efficient work practices, and regular routines, two adults can work the land for food within a few years. Figuring in planting time, growing time, daily chores, pest and weed control, soil maintenance and construction, it would be reasonable to expect a partially self-sufficient homestead within three years, and a fully sustaining one in around five years. In addition to a milk source (cows or goats), you should plan on having:

Protein

1. Beans – Reliable and easy to grow, beans are a nutritional staple for the homesteading family. Prepare the soil early, and plan on 2-3 months of growing before harvest to get a yield in your first year, and you can expect more in year two.

Just 30 Grams Of This Survival Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

2. Poultry – If starting with chicks, expect 2-3 years of successful rearing, selection, brooding and culling before you will have your flock established. In the meantime, you will collect eggs and eat birds you choose not to keep in the flock. Start with 10-12 chicks, and plan for them to be around 3-4 months old before butchering.

3. Rabbits – Rabbits are quick producers of meat for your family. It is not unreasonable to expect 20 or more rabbits per year from a single breeding pair. Allow for 1-2 years for your rabbits to become established. Select for breeding performance, health and size, and introduce new genetics regularly.

Grains

4. Corn – Corn is a prolific grain crop needing much nutrition from the soil and up to four months of heat for production. In your first year of growing corn, it is not unusual to have a lot of losses due to weather, pests or soil issues. However, once you have worked out the issues corn can be an important staple grain. Plan on about two years of learning before cultivating a substantial harvest.

5. Wheat – One of the most common grains in the American diet, wheat is reasonably easy to grow and hard to harvest. Wheat is ready after around two months of hot weather. When planning to start wheat, figure in threshing and grinding time.

Fruits & Vegetables

6. Winter Squash – Grow winter squash to supply your family with important vitamins and provide you with an easy keeper crop. Winter squash takes up to 4 months to mature, but you should be able to get a good yield in your first year with appropriate pest management and watering.

Completely, 100 Percent Off-Grid: 9 Essential Foods You Should Grow

Image source: Pixabay.com

7. Apples – Although apples can be extremely useful, you need to plan on 6 – 10 years with your trees before they will bear fruit. Your patience will pay off, however, and planting apple trees is well worth the wait.

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8. Potatoes – Potatoes are easy to start. You can expect a good yield in your first year of potatoes. Short season varieties will grow in as little as 2 months, but longer season varieties can take 3 months or more.

Extras

9. Honey – Honey is a fantastic sweetener on the homestead and comes with lots of nutritional benefit. Plus, bees pollinate your crops. However, bees take a while to get production ramped up. Your first year harvest will be very small, but in the second year you can harvest up to 30 pounds of surplus honey from one hive (leaving the bees something to eat over the winter).

If self-sufficiency is your goal, then don’t wait to start on projects like these. Even if you’re still buying most of your food, developing your homestead so you can begin slowly weaning yourself away from doing so, means you won’t have to spend your early years of self-sufficiency struggling to find food.

What advice would you add? What would you add to this list? Share it in the section below:

Discover The Secret To Saving Thousands At The Grocery Store. Read More Here.

Dirt-Cheap, Nutritious Chicken Feed You Can Grow In Your Garden

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Dirt-Cheap, Nutritious Chicken Feed You Can Grow In Your Garden

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Keeping your backyard flock happy is pretty simple and is the best way to ensure a plentiful supply of nutrient-rich eggs and plump meat chickens.

Some homesteaders are choosing to grow their own poultry feed in order to cut down on the unnecessary chemicals and fillers added to the commercial feed consumed by their flocks. They also may grow their own livestock feed as a way to become more self-sufficient and as a way to minimize the financial burden of maintaining their chickens. Whether this feed is used to supplement the foraging diet of a free-range flock or as the exclusive diet for a fenced flock, homegrown poultry feed is worth investigating.

Chickens need protein, calcium and carbohydrates in their diet. In most commercial poultry feeds, grains account for the largest percentage of carbohydrates in the feed. Grains, however, take up a lot of land, making them unsuitable for today’s smaller acreage homesteads. Corn is, of course, the most popular of grains for chicken feed, but barley, rye, and hulless oats all work well.

Diatomaceous Earth: The All-Natural Livestock De-Wormer

On the homestead you will have several options to choose from if limiting or avoiding grains. Give your chickens the carbohydrates they need through root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes. After harvesting the root vegetables for the flock, add the greens to the mix as well for added nutrition. These root vegetables are easy additions to the garden. Whether grown in a separate area or as a part of your family’s garden, beets and other colorful vegetables provide an array of macro and micronutrients that also will promote good health in your flock.

Take, for example, the Mangel beet. Mangel beets are fairly hardy, reaching 10-12 pounds apiece and providing plenty of nutrition. Homesteaders in ages past used Mangel beets to feed the livestock through long winters, and these beets are slowly becoming a popular feed option for today’s homesteaders.

Dirt-Cheap, Nutritious Chicken Feed You Can Grow In Your Garden

Image source: Pixabay.com

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, work well for chickens. Hung in the coop or in another accessible area, chickens will pick and peck at them and not at each other. These vegetables can be planted earlier in the season than most and provide quality nutrition, including some calcium.

Keep your flock cool while in the summer heat by indulging them with a cool treat. Cucumbers provide adequate nutrition, but most importantly help to hydrate individuals due to their high water content. Cucumbers, sliced in half lengthwise, are the perfect treat to keep them cool and hydrated on a hot day.

A few leafy plants provide a small amount of protein as well as other essential nutrients. In addition to beans, which are higher in protein, but must be cooked before feeding to your flock, kale provides a small amount of protein with large amounts of necessary vitamins and minerals. Kale is easily grown in the cooler spring and fall months and can even withstand frosts.

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A lesser known plant, called duckweed, is also higher in protein than most greens and makes a nice addition to homegrown poultry feed. Duckweed has a higher protein content than the soybeans used liberally in commercially produced feeds. It also provides some additional nutrients. It can be cultivated in small ponds or even in shallow tanks or pools, and although poultry can eat it fresh, most will consume it better when dried. Duckweed needs a nutrient base to thrive, so adding small feeder fish will provide a sufficient base for growth. Some have recommended using graywater from the house or even using some manure from the homestead to feed the duckweed.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, the above mentioned vegetables and greens are worthy of incorporating into any plans for growing poultry feed on your homestead. Add grains if space allows, but don’t allow a lack of space keep you from trying to feed your flock.

What advice would you add on growing chicken feed? Share your tips in the section below:

If You Like All-Natural Home Remedies, You Need To Read Everything That Hydrogen Peroxide Can Do. Find Out More Here.

How To Make A Super-Durable Chick Brooder That Will Last For Years

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How To Make A Super-Durable Chick Brooder That Will Last For Years

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The ancient Egyptians and Chinese are credited with inventing the first egg incubators, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the first commercial incubators were used.

Thus began the earnest attempt by poultry breeders to reduce the hen’s instinct to hatch her eggs.

Today, many laying breeds of poultry have almost no instinct to set on, and then hatch their eggs. So for the most part, you’ll have to resort to purchasing day-old chicks from a hatchery, or incubating the eggs and hatching them yourself.

The first thing you’ll need when your chicks hatch or arrive from the hatchery is a brooder to keep them in until they are old enough to regulate their own body heat without an outside source.

For a small number of chicks, brooders can be made from just about type of container. I’ve seen everything from cardboard boxes and baby pools, to large watering troughs.

Diatomaceous Earth: The All-Natural Livestock De-Wormer

What I’ll show you can easily be used to brood up to 50 chicks until they are ready for the coop or pasture pen. Plus, it’s durable.

The materials you will need to make the brooder hover are:

  • 1 – 4×8 sheet of plywood
  • 4 – 2x4x8
  • A box of 1 1/2 inch screws

Start with placing two of the 2x4s about four feet apart and laying the sheet of plywood on top of them. Slide the 2x4s out to the edge of the plywood and screw them tight. Flip the plywood over and get a measurement for the ends. Cut two pieces for the ends and screw them on. At this point, you will have a sheet of plywood that is framed around the edges with a 2×4.

How To Make A Super-Durable Chick Brooder That Will Last For Years

Image source: Pixabay.com

Next, take the remaining 2×4 and cut it into two-foot pieces. These will be the four legs of the brooder. Screw the four legs on each corner. You now have basically a two-foot-high plywood table. You will brood the chicks under the table. The heat is regulated by moving the lamps up or down and covering the sides with fabric.

Measure approximately 12 inches from the end and 24 inches from the side on each end. Drill or saw a hole at these locations big enough for an electric cord. This will be for using two heat lamps to regulate the temperature.

You can use any type of fabric to hang from the sides of the brooder to hold in the heat. I’ve used everything from feed sacks to old T-shirts. If you place the brooder in a corner, you’ll only need to cover the two sides that are open.

All The Answers To Every Chicken Question And Quandary …

Once you have the brooder in place where you want it, simply pull the heat lamp cords up through the holes you drilled and place the lamps as high as they will go. You can adjust them later once you check the temperature.

Place a thermometer on the floor under the heat lamps and turn on the lamps. You will want the temperature to be around 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first few days. Adjust the height of the lamps to obtain the right temperature.

If your brooder is in the barn or other unheated area, be aware of temperature changes. A 30-degree night might need the lamps adjusted compared to a 60-degree day. The key is to watch the chicks. If they are huddled under the lamps, it’s too cold. If they are wandering around throughout the brooder, it is a good sign.

Once the birds are feathered out, they are ready to move to another location.

This is a simple and easy brooder to make, and when you’re done you can store it easily for the next batch of chicks.

What advice would add for making a brooder? Share your tips in the section below:

If You Like All-Natural Home Remedies, You Need To Read Everything That Hydrogen Peroxide Can Do. Find Out More Here.

hydrogen peroxide report

Overheated Ducks? No Problem!

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The Problem is the Solution

The permaculture motto is turn the problem into a solution.  In this case a quadruple solution.

Lois M. in Oklahoma inherited several ducks this spring, and she’s worried that they won’t make it through the hot OK summer outdoors.  There are very few trees on the property, so there isn’t much shade – and it gets very dry during the summer.

So the original problem here is that there isn’t enough shade and water for the ducks.  That’s one problem. Now let’s apply permaculture to the problem.

A Permaculture Solution for Overheated Ducks

Ducks like water.  And they turn that water into fertilizer soup.  Well, vining melons and squash like water too – and they love fertilizer.

Ducks also like shade.  Well, vining melons and squash love the sun – and they have big leaves that make lots of shade wherever they’re planted.

If you plant vining melons and squash in an open field, bugs and slugs may be drawn to the plants and the moisture.  Well, ducks love to eat bugs and slugs.

And you love to eat melons and squash all summer long.

So, those Oklahoma ducks can be either one problem, or four solutions – depending on how you look at it.

The first principle of permaculture is observation: Getting to Know Your New Permaculture Site

You’ll Need a Trellis and an Enclosure

You may want to build a trellis to hold the vines, and an enclosure to hold the ducks.  Let us combine those two things.

There is a type of fencing called a cattle panel.  You can find many examples on the internet of these being formed into an arch and used to trellis vines.  Simply put a fence across the open ends, and you have an enclosure.

Place a water trough on each side, so that it can easily be emptied onto the roots of the vines each morning.  Let the ducks out to patrol for pests in the morning while you dump and refill their water troughs.  They will return to the troughs for water, and you can shut them in for the heat of the day.

Repeat this in the evening, shutting them in to protect from predators.

Another option is to build your duck enclosure under a grape trellis.  This was done a long time ago on this farm, but I can’t show it because a heavy winter snow collapsed the trellises – so it is a mess that I have to try to solve this year.  There were two trellises – a long narrow one around the perimeter of the garden for the ducks, and a high square one for the chickens.

paul-wheaton-6-ways-to-keep-chickens


Thanks to Qberry Farm for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

The post Overheated Ducks? No Problem! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Animal Communications: It’s Not Magic

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Communicating with Your Animals

He was running at me full on.  I stopped him at arms length by grabbing his neck.  This was true one on one animal communications.

I then shook him; not hard enough to hurt him, but firm enough that he knew I could break his neck if I wanted to.

My two eyes looked into his one for a long moment and then I slowly released my hand.  The communication between us was absolutely clear and he understood.

Training Male Geese

I have a new young flock of geese and it is almost a rite of passage that the leading male would someday challenge me.  He was almost full grown and the biggest of the flock.  And now he was testing his boundaries and wondering just how much authority he had in the world.

I feed, water, and protect them and I am very clear about our relationship.  And now he and the rest of the flock were clear too.

I will sometimes sit very still and let the geese come and look me over very closely, and even do some exploratory nibbles.  Is that grass on her head edible?  What do her changing feathers feel like?  How does she make the long snake spit water?  They are very curious, but never aggressive.  Especially now that we’ve ‘talked’.

Another reason to raise geese: The Barefoot Friendly Project; Transforming Harsh Land

Animal Communications – More than Just Talking

There are many different levels of communication between species.  And in fact you are communicating with all of the plants and creatures around you all the time.  Although you are probably not as aware of your message as they are.

The phrase “inter species communication” normally conjures up images of specially gifted mystics.  Maybe some one who can hear something we can’t – it’s just out of our frequency range.  Or perhaps it is a magical ability like the psychics who can also conduct seances to talk with loved ones now past into the world of the dead.

But communicating with plants and animals doesn’t have to be supernatural.

I am not discounting the direct ‘knowing’ levels of communication.  And yes, if you were to focus on developing that ability over time, those intuitive levels of communication may very well open to you.  In fact, I think it happens quite naturally for anyone who spends enough time in their garden or working with their livestock.

But most inter species communication is much more practical and easy to understand.

It’s Not Magic, It’s Physical

Have you ever heard the saying “your actions speak louder than words”?  The physical level of communication is extremely effective and is within reach of anyone, without any training.  Not to mention, it is something you are doing all the time anyway.

There are estimates that some 90% of communication is non-verbal. These are studies referring to human to human communications, but it applies to plants and animals too.  Your body posture, the quality or cleanliness of your clothes, your hand gestures, and the expression on your face, the smell your body is emitting – all of this communicates your mood and intentions.

There is also some degree of reality to that “vibe” you put out that others pick up on.

Different Ways of Communication

There really are many ways of communicating.  And this is quite useful since most of the other life forms on this planet don’t quite vocalize the way we do.

For example, once I had shaken that goose, he stepped back quickly with his head slightly tilted expressing a bit of shock.  When he was a few feet away, at a safe distance away from me, he began to compose himself by preening his feathers.

Watching him made me laugh at the recognition of an almost universal response after an altercation; that of grooming.  Embarrass a cat and it will almost immediately start licking its fur.  And humans once separated will start straightening their clothes and smoothing their disheveled hair.  A hen getting up from the rooster’s rough attentions indignantly ruffles her feathers back into shape.

My laugh was not derogatory, but served as a peace offering sound and let everyone know all was well in the world.  The rest of the flock who had been watching this with interest now cackled back in response, and everyone started moving off to find something else to do like nibble at some nearby grass.

Learning from Your Animals

I had learned about the power of laughter between species from two ferrets.

Don’t ask me why we have two ferrets.  We certainly don’t need any ferrets.  And we don’t really want two ferrets.  I can’t honestly think of any good reason to have ferrets.  But I have a young daughter who gets money for working, and she was convinced that buying ferrets was the best use of her hard earned funds.  Sigh.

Since we have the ferrets (ah, the relentless pressure of children), I can’t help but be fascinated by them.  One thing that interests me is that when I let the ferrets run free in a new area where they aren’t normally allowed in, they get so excited.  They jump around and make a funny sound sort of like a cross between a grunt and a gurgle.  That sound is so captivating (I’ve been trying to catch it on video and when I do, I’ll get it to you).  But what was it they were doing?

Then one day it occurred to me they were laughing with joy!  The ferrets definitely share the playfulness of their cousins the otters.  They are amazingly good-natured creatures and love having fun.  “Mommy they exude cuteness,” my daughter explains.  (They exude a few other things too but I won’t go into that here.)

But the ferrets were so happy they would laugh out load as they ran and played.

Sometimes they playfully come up and nip my feet and then bound away – chuckling the whole time.  I stand there dumb founded at the audacity of these eight ounce bundles of silliness daring themselves to play with a giant.  It’s completely disarming.

My daughter is right, they do exude cuteness.

Read about my daughter’s other pet: The Perfect Natural Camouflage

Pay Attention to Signals from Your Animals

The ferrets got me in trouble with the chickens.  One morning I decided to let the ferrets run about with me while I was working in the garden.  And as the ferrets did their jumping and playing and investigating they naturally came across the flock of chickens I keep for eggs.  Although these ferrets are pets and probably would never consider eating anything but the store bought supplies my daughter gives them, they were recognized by the chickens for what they are; carnivores.  And the chickens were upset.

The flock is free range so they moved off to another part of the yard.  But later that day when I saw the chickens again the rooster rushed me.  I easily kicked him back.  But from the way he looked sort of satisfied and did not come at me again, I became ashamed of my earlier annoyance.  The rooster had been trying to get my attention in about the only way a rooster knows how.  I was mystified what he was trying to communicate.  And then it dawned on me, he was letting me know how upset the chickens were at the ferrets being loosed in their space.

Read more: Channel Your Mama-Energy for Healthy Homestead Animals

Tell Pests to Leave Before You Kill Them

Before we built our home, our little family lived in a 20×20 room above the barn.  Mice also had quite an attachment to that room.  My husband whom I don’t normally think much of a big communicator totally shocked me with his solution to the problem.  He started by stomping around growling at the top of his lungs in the meanest bad-ass animal sounds I’ve ever heard come from a man.  He did this for quite a few minutes making sure to visit each corner to insure his message was being received.

Then he set out some traps.  But I think the mice got the message from his growls for we didn’t trap many and generally weren’t bothered by them again.  From then on, if an occasional new mouse showed up my husband would repeat the warning and that usually took care of the problem.

We aren’t always successful with communications.  I’ve tried communicating with fire ants for many years without success.

Dealing with Predators – Livestock Guardian Dogs

As you start to develop systems for producing your own food, you’ll notice that lots of other creatures like your food too.  After years of losses of both livestock and plants I came to the see how extremely useful a pair of good dogs could be.  In no way am I a professional animal trainer, and I had never been a “dog person,” but using dogs to protect your food supply made so much sense I had to learn.

The dogs live to chase off deer, raccoons, squirrels, and other dogs.  They will harass snakes, bark at hawks, and hold off a pack of coyotes until I can get there to help.  They don’t mind working all night while I sleep.  And they consider themselves well rewarded by a bit of praise and the scraps I toss them.

In the Grow Your Own Groceries video set, I have a section that goes into detail of how to work with dogs – and of course, you can pick up a copy at this link: http://growyourowngroceries.com/.

Embracing New Relationships

Opening up my relationships with other living beings beyond humans is one of the many pleasures of growing my own food.  Let me know your interest level and I’ll write more about inter-species communication.  Talking with plants is not quite as direct and requires more sensitivity, but can definitely be developed.  As with animals, learning to communicate on the physical level with plants is the easiest way to get started.

Drop me a note in the comments section below to let me know if you’re interested in communicating with plants.  I’m sure you have some interesting stories to tell…

I am also intrigued with communication on even more subtle levels; working with energetics or nature spirits as was reputably done at Findhorn, for example.

And then there is that other topic to deal with; how can I love the creatures I am raising knowing their fate is that I will kill them and eat them?  It is a difficult question that I struggle with and would be delighted to discuss with you.  Again, let me know your interest by putting a quick comment down below.

3 Part Series about Ethical Meat: Have You Ever Been to a Hog Killin’?

marjory-wildcraft-how-much-land-do-you-need

The post Animal Communications: It’s Not Magic appeared first on The Grow Network.

A Good Solution for Pastured Poultry Predators

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Stop Dogs, Raccoons, Coyotes, and More

So, the verdict is in, and pastured poultry is the preferred method for raising healthy chickens… and eggs. So if you can pasture your chickens, you should! Your chickens (and your pasture) will probably thank you for it.

One thing that stops many people from unlocking the coop or run is the threat of predators. It can be intimidating to release your chickens from their little fortress if you’ve never let them roam before.

Dogs, raccoons, coyotes – there are chicken predators everywhere! I’ve heard many people say, “just get dogs.” Livestock guardian dogs are a great choice for some – but they’re not an option for many people.

This electric poultry netting is Marjory’s favorite fix for a flock without guardians. It only takes one person to move it around, and you can run it on solar power – simple and effective. In this video, Marjory chats with Joe Putnam from Premier 1 about how the netting works and some of the options:

Win a Free Roll of Electric Poultry Netting

There’s obviously a big demand for chicken protection, based on the discussion we had about raccoons last summer here at the [Grow] Network. If you recall, people from all over the U.S. (and all over the world) chimed in with their favorite solutions for raccoons. If you missed it, you can find an overview of the whole thing here: A Whole Litter of Raccoon Solutions.

Electrifying the perimeter was a popular solution that people talked about. Premier 1 lets you do it at an affordable cost. You can electrify a small perimeter and move it around within a bigger field or pasture. So it’s a nice option for people who don’t want to protect the entire property.

Premier 1 is a sponsor for our upcoming Home Grown Food Summit. And one lucky customer is going to get a complimentary roll of Premier 1 poultry netting to try out in their own yard or pasture.

Read More: Is this really the best way to raise a small flock of chickens?


You can learn more about Premier 1’s product line here: Premier 1 Electric Fencing

 

Top 6 Poultry Picks for Preppers

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Top 6 Poultry Picks for Preppers If you are prepping for the end of the world or about to start a homestead, poultry should be top on your list of animals to get. It isn’t just limited to chickens either. There are plenty of other poultry you should seriously consider adding to your home and in …

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The post Top 6 Poultry Picks for Preppers appeared first on SHTF & Prepping Central.

Raise Chickens Easily and Naturally with These Free Videos

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Justin Rhodes is a permaculture homesteader in North Carolina who focuses his work on finding the best, most sustainable, most natural way to raise chickens. He studied under Geoff Lawton and Pat Foreman, and he soaked up every bit of chicken knowledge he could find.

Last year he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie about keeping chickens on a permaculture homestead – and it was a huge success. His project was fully funded, and it was picked as a “Staff Favorite” by the employees at Kickstarter. Justin’s full-length feature movie Permaculture Chickens made its public debut in December.

Now he’s offering a series of four educational videos for free, along with some great free bonus resources. You can watch these informative videos for free – they tell Justin’s personal story, and they’re full of good information about how to keep a flock of chickens using natural, sustainable practices that are consistent with the ideas of permaculture.

justin-rhodes-permaculture-chickens-bootstrapping-chickens

Here’s an overview of what’s included in the free videos:

• Putting Chickens to Work for You (hint, hint… they can give you much more than eggs and meat)
• How to Get Started Quickly and Easily (in just one weekend)
• DIY Mobile Chicken Coops
• How to Cut Your Feed Costs (by 100%)
• How to Learn Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens in One Evening

And here’s an overview of the free Bonus Resources that are included when you sign up for the free videos:

• Why Chickens – a micro-documentary featuring Joel Salatin, Pat Foreman, and Lisa Steele
• DIY mobile chicken coop plans for Justin’s “Chickshaw” and Chicken Tractor
• Access to the “Getting Started” chapter of the movie Permaculture Chickens
• PDF action plan for cutting feed costs 100%

You can sign up to get free access to Justin’s four free videos below. When you sign up, you will receive an email with a link to watch the first video. Then you’ll get links to the other videos over the next few days. Enjoy the free videos!

Click Here to Sign Up for Four Free Videos (and Bonus Resources)

After you watch the four free videos, you’ll have the opportunity to buy the entire Permaculture Chickens video. As Justin’s affiliate, the Grow Network will receive a percentage of any sales made as a result of this promotion.

 

Are You Prepared? Do the Obvious!

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Here in Oklahoma, and many parts of the Midwest, we had a glorious warm fall. Temperatures reached into the 70s each week and dipped only to lows in the mid 30s for the most part.

We celebrated Christmas on Monday the 27th, waiting for my grandson to come be with us. It was a delightful family gathering, presents aplenty. I made ham, mac and cheese, and scalloped corn, each in separate crock pots. My daughter brought a salad and a pecan pie. We feasted and enjoyed the day. We were too tired (or lazy) to wash the crock pots and do the final kitchen cleanup.

It was raining as it had been for a couple of days. The basement was doing its usual leak from the east wall. The wind was picking up and really whipped up in the night as the temps began to drop. It turned to sleet, ice, and then snow. The wind was really putting up some strong gales. The electricity was still on and the heater was running. All was good.

This morning, my husband noted that we were out of dry dog food for our dogs. So, bundling up, we planned to go to the grocery store. We went out to start the car; the car doors were frozen shut. The gate to the chicken pen was frozen shut. I had to hammer the door on the coop it to loosen it up and let the chickens out. Their water was slushy, but drinkable. There was snow on the ground, only about 2 inches, but the roads looked questionably icy. Within the hour I saw 2 tow trucks pass by. Well, maybe we will postpone the trip to the store. We usually mix wet food in with the dry food, and we have some canned dog food the dogs can eat for now.

The point of this article is this: Do the obvious! Stay organized and prepared!

What if the electricity had gone off? I don’t want those icky sticky crock pots sitting in the kitchen, or a dishwasher full of dirty dishes. I have a small kitchen and the counters were cluttered and full. What about the laundry? It was thankfully caught up. The house is still cluttered from all of the Christmas wrappings and festivities. The garage is so cluttered that we cannot get the cars in out of the weather. The chicken waterer is not heated. My freezers are way too full. Again, what if the electricity had gone off? Things would turn out very differently, very quickly. We don’t have back up heat, or a generator. I have been wanting to make one of those cute clay pots you heat with tea lights, and a rocket stove, and a solar oven.

canned-foods

I have my freezers full of food and my shelves are lined with canned foods. I review my food storage log every couple of months and make sure it is up to date. Besides I can look at my shelves and see what is getting low. I watch for bargains at the grocery store. Right now, 12 oz. bags of fresh cranberries are 50 cents each. I bought 10 and I will can some cranberry juice.

But what if the power did not come back on for a couple of days or even weeks? I would not want to lose the food in the freezer. I need to start canning more of the freezer items. I have several canning jars holding non-food items and none more available for canning. I need to make sure canning supplies are available. I wish I had a supply of food for my pets – but I have neglected to incorporate pet food and supplies in my storage inventory.

This scenario is relatively minor. But, I can’t help but wonder, what if…

I am retired, so there’s no excuse not to get these things in order. I have the time and skills. Meanwhile, this served as a good practice run for a bigger storm, calamity, or misfortune. There would be plenty of gaps in my preparedness if a real catastrophe were to occur. Why not take care of the obvious ones that I know about?

Oh, and that leaky basement wall… Better check the gutters. And the cartridges need to be replaced on my printer, I am out of black, so I am printing this in red.

My #1 resolution for 2016: No more putting off the obvious tasks to keep my house in order.


Thanks to “Connie’s Musings” for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Eggsposing Some Basic Facts About Eggs

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fresh-eggs-in-a-basketEggs have gotten some bad press over the last few decades, but today they’re more popular around the world than ever. The infographic below shows some interesting statistics. The numbers on global egg production came from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. As you can see, egg production worldwide has more than quadrupled in the past 50 years.

And we all know why eggs are so popular. They’re healthy and nutritious, and they’re one of the most versatile ingredients you could wish for. If you have fresh eggs on hand, you have a good start on a healthy home-cooked meal – whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Fried, scrambled, or used in a quiche, omelet, souffle, or frittata – eggs are always useful.

Take a look and see if there’s anything here you didn’t know…

eggsposing-eggs-infographic

Hopefully most of us have access to fresh, local, organically grown eggs through our own flocks, our neighbors’ flocks, or through a relationship with a local farmer. But if not, the explanation about labeling above may be of some help. While the labels “Cage Free, Free Range, and Free Roaming” are enticing – they probably don’t mean what you think they mean. If you do have access to fresh local eggs, check out this article from Joe Urbach about several different methods to put up fresh eggs: 5 Easy Ways to Preserve Your Fresh Eggs.

And the nutrition information in this graphic might be useful for general planning purposes. If you want more detailed information about egg nutrition, or if you’re concerned about cholesterol, read this article: The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg; and Why You Should Eat Them.


Thanks to Fix.com for the infographic. You can see the original posting here: Eggsposing Eggs.

 

Channel Your Mama-Energy for Healthy Homestead Animals

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feeding-a-baby-goatBeing a retired Veterinary Technician, having practiced more than 30 years, there are a few things I have learned. One of them is that when you catch a problem early, before it becomes a major problem, it is easier to remedy and less expensive. Also, don’t underestimate the benefit of feeding good food and clean water to your animals be they livestock or pets.

In my opinion, there is no substitute for daily interaction with your animals. I feed my goats and chickens twice a day, during the warmer months I am likely to walk past their enclosure several times a day. I enjoy spending time with them, watching the chickens do the amusing things they do, or grabbing a brush to rub up the goat girls. This type of interaction gives me what I call, “Mama-energy”.

Have you ever been at a cookout or on a beach and seen a mother’s head snap to attention and start searching for her kid, even when you didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary? Then you see said kid running toward mama with a cut finger or bruised knee. She knew something was wrong almost instantly.

It is much the same with animals. You learn the essence of them, how they sound when they are “normal,” how they act and react within the flock or herd. Did they eat with gusto today as they usually do? Is the water disappearing faster than usual? You can learn to intuit so much from your animals. This info can tip you off to something that is amiss, giving you a jump on treating it before it is a full-blown problem.

For example, we have 2 cats. One is a young male who often stays out at night but usually arrives back for breakfast by 8:00 AM. One day this past summer, he was late. He didn’t get home until nearly noon and upon arriving home, rather than demanding his breakfast, he stretched out on the porch and went to sleep. My Mama-energy alarm sounded. I picked him up and he seemed a bit depressed to me, although still alert and purring. I felt his ear tips and the pads of his feet – two sites you can check quickly and easily for general temperature and if you aren’t sure, then you can get a thermometer for confirmation. Well, my little friend was hot, not just warm. I looked at his eyes and his 3rd eyelid was slightly visible. A sign in cats that signals something amiss. I offered some food and he ate… some, but not like the teenage boy he typically resembles. Bingo – we just hit “red alert!” I knew something was wrong, but what? The 3 things that came to mind immediately were: 1) internal parasites, 2) ingestion of poison, 3) abscess.

I placed him in the bedroom where he immediately went to sleep. I gave him a litter box so I could get a stool sample to test for parasites. I checked him all over for any break in his skin which might indicate the source of the abscess. You can also feel for tenderness, swelling or a “mushy” spot under the skin which will turn into an abscess and break open to drain. Initially I felt nothing. To speed the story along, my buddy got lethargic and was eating less and less, and in 2 days had an open and draining abscess on his back. If he had been sick for more than 4 days, with a fever and refusing food totally, I would have had him to a veterinarian. But I use homeopathic remedies and one of the remedies I used on him will speed up the exit of anything that needs to exit body. I spent the next few days cleaning the abscess, keeping it open and draining, and force feeding water and food when I needed to. Some of his tissue sloughed away and he was left with an impressive gaping hole which eventually filled in and closed and you can’t even find a hint of a scar today. The body is an amazing thing.

The point I want to stress is: because I knew the normal actions and reactions of this cat, I knew something was going on and needed attention. Now if you are one who uses antibiotics, you could have gone that route, and begun to treat him with those. If my buddy had not been responding to the homeopathics, I would have taken him to a vet who probably would have prescribed antibiotics and a blood test to look for bodily function like liver and kidney. But I could see that each day he was moving through a new level of healing, showing me his body was doing its thing and moving toward health. Another thing, had he been an elderly or sickly animal to begin with, I would have taken him for testing and treatment earlier because such animals have less life and spirit with which to fight disease.

To summarize: Feed your animals as well as you can afford to feed them. Especially if they are feeding you (milking animals, chickens for eggs or meat, or meat animals). The product they produce will be more nutritious and healthier for the humans who ingest it.

Provide fresh (unfrozen) water in clean containers. None of us can live without water, and dehydration – especially in a dairy animal – can lead to swift and grave problems. Also be aware of new trends in water consumption. Excessive thirst can indicate infection and fever. Diarrhea can cause dehydration.

Spend time with your animals. Be attentive to them and their needs. Don’t go through the routine of feeding like a robot and miss information that might alert you to a problem. If you have to feed after dark, take a flashlight, count heads, be aware of appetites – who is eating, who is hiding, who is getting picked on. Pay attention to what comes out of them – hard stool, diarrhea, or bloody stool can be a signal of problems that could turn serious if not addressed. Learn to assess body condition – is your animal too fat or too thin? How is her hair coat – thin, coarse, full of dandruff, or thick and shiny?

Use all of your senses. Run your hand over your livestock and get the general feel of them. Watch how they behave and pay attention if you or one of your family casually remarks, “That’s odd…” or “I never saw her do that before….” It is most likely the start of something. It could be as minute as one of your goats going into heat, but could also be something serious. Just pay attention.

Don’t omit listening as one of your tools. One time I averted a crisis (young goat caught in a hay feeder) just by hearing her vocalization and thinking that it simply didn’t sound right. Enlist the help of your spouse and kids. Kids are often great observers and will notice something you may have missed.

It is also very helpful to record the normals of your species: average heart rate (an animal in pain will have a higher HR), average respirations per minute, average temperature. Learn to check mucus membrane color, the gum above the teeth should be pink, like bubblegum. White or gray gums indicate possible blood loss or compromised blood flow, and blue gums indicate poor oxygenation. If you have horses or ruminants, a stethoscope is helpful for hearing bowel sounds – learn how many “gurglings” per minute is normal for your species. Practice taking your animals’ temperature. Make a record of what the normal reading is so you know what is not normal. Find out where to feel for a pulse and get proficient at it so that you can check in an emergency. A strong steady pulse is normal, a weak or thready pulse could point to shock.

Even if you end up working with a veterinarian, the information you collect and share with the doc will help in your animal friend’s treatment. Get your Mama-enery mojo working and spend some quality time with your pets and livestock.


Thanks to Mama Megan for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Growing My Groceries’ Groceries

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sprouted-grains-close-upI want to eat wholesome food. I think anyone who wants it ought to be able to eat wholesome food, but cost is a barrier for too many people. Like me. I wanted to eat the kind of food I could not afford to buy, so I started to grow my own. Sustainable gardening was an obvious first step, but raising a cow to be my source of organic dairy products, and chickens for eggs and meat meant buying expensive organic animal feed or growing their food, too. That’s how I started to grow their food too, or at least as much as I can.

I have dabbled and tweaked my technique for years now, and last year I finally raised my first crop of non-GMO, pasture-penned chickens for less than the ones labelled “natural” in the store. I want to be clear, I still buy non-GMO chicken feed from a local supplier and I buy organic fishmeal. Sprouted barley doesn’t quite supply adequate protein for layers, so I bump the overall dietary protein by putting 1 part fishmeal into 13 parts chicken feed. The birds get 10 pounds of sprouts and 3 pounds of the feed every day.

I don’t just grow food for chickens, though. I use less than half the hay to winter my cows than the local average. My cows still get hay, just a lot less. My system is still tiny, for cows. If I had room for the racks I would be feeding the 3 cows about 150 pounds of fodder a day. This is an ever evolving project, but one that has given me much better control over what all the animals eat.

The key is barley. Once sprouted, it becomes a nearly perfect chicken food. Indeed, it becomes an excellent feed for almost any grazing animal. There are many valid reasons not to feed cows grain, but sprouts and fodder are a very different story. With just a soak, anti-nutrients are converted to nutrients. All the good reasons you would sprout your own food apply to your grazing animals, too. Grain is generally cheap compared to hay, and if you grow it into fodder the savings can be quite significant. You can sprout many grains, but barley is uniquely well suited for my needs, nutritionally.

My first system was set up all over my kitchen. I had soaking/sprouting buckets under cupboards and fodder trays on top of counters, fish tanks, anything horizontal and water resistant. I was thrilled with my experiment, and so dedicated a spare bathroom to the effort. That set up had my soak buckets under the racks, had my fodder trays on wire shelving with sprout bags hanging off the corners. Watering was as easy as turning on the shower. It worked very well. At that point, I had 18 chickens and 2 calves. By the time I had 2 cows, I needed a much bigger system.

fresh-pastureCurrently, I use blue 55 gallon barrels to soak and sprout, with fodder trays below. This is set up in a semi-earth-sheltered greenhouse, so my climate control is not as good as when it was indoors. When I was better able to keep the temperature and humidity stable, I averaged 7 pounds of fodder per pound of grain. My current set up only gives me about 5 pounds of fodder per pound of grain but I am able to sprout up to 40 pounds of grain at a time. Five pounds had been the most I could do in my other set ups. This system will be getting upgraded soon, but it has served me well and hopefully is adequate to illustrate the concept.

Normally, I put 20 pounds of locally sourced barley in the barrel. So far barley is still non-GMO (to the best of my knowledge). You want to know your farmer though, because many use a “Round Up knock down” to make the barley all ripen at the same time. Locally, our conditions are so dry it is not needed and even farmers who love Monsanto won’t spend money they do not have to. I cover the grain with about 3 inches of water and give it about a tablespoon of bleach. I know that sounds scary, but it is worth it. First, bleach dissipates within 24 hours, so by the time I feed this to my animals the bleach is long gone. Furthermore, I buy animal grade barley. There is debris in there, sometimes mouse poop. That debris comes with microbes who will love the moist, dark, humid conditions I am about to give my sprouts. If my sprouts get mildewed or moldy, I do not feed them to anyone. I have tried several things to avoid the bleach, but at this point the bleach is far preferable to risking feeding my animals molded feed or throwing away 25 pound racks of fodder. Also, if I were getting my water from a municipal source it would have bleach in it, too.

barrel-drainageAfter 18 to 24 hours, I drain the barrel. The barrels have slits on one side and not the other, so they have “drain” and “soak” positions. For the next 3 days, I will water the barrel 4 times a day, stirring the sprouts well each time. On the fourth day, I fill a fodder tray and feed the rest to the chickens 5 pounds at a time (we have over 40 chickens now). The chickens would eat the fodder also, but I have limited tray space so they get sprouts for now. The trays are also watered 4 times a day for 4 more days, then fed to the cows, half a tray morning and night.

If you decide to try this for grazing animals, let me help you avoid some aggravation. Do not try this in the spring. My cows run to get their fodder, they race each other to the trough. They love, love, love their fodder! Then one lovely spring day, 3 years in a row now, I will show up with my bucket of fodder and Bessie will look at me, look at the bucket, look at the pasture busting out in vibrant, fresh grass, then look at me again and with those big cow eyes she says “You’re kidding, right?” When that day hits, I shut down the fodder trays and double my sprouting, and the cows get sprouts until fall when the pasture is dry again.

sprout-guardA few other tips to help you get you started: First of all, this is not a recipe to follow. This is gardening. When I say “20 pounds” I mean somewhere between 15 and 40, depending on weather and pasture conditions. There are seed quality issues, weather issues, water quality issues, every different type of tray I tried had different pluses and minuses. If you see something here and think “Hey, this would work better than that for me,” then by all means, customize your system. You will note I am not supplying technical details or parts suppliers because I have used just about everything under the sun at this point and if you give it enough “farmer’s shadow,” it will probably work. If you neglect it, you will probably grow mold.

The best way to sprout small scale that I have found is to use paint strainer bags and 5 gallon buckets. You soak the bag of grain in a bucket, then pull out the strainer to drain. I hung the bags on the corners of my grow racks in my shower system until they were ready to put on trays. The sprouts respond well to darkness and pressure. I used to put skillets and such on top of my sprouts, the hanging bags provided the pressure naturally. My current system does not use pressure application and I suspect that is one reason why my volume is down.

Do not let the grain cook itself. If you do not keep it well stirred it will clump up, making it harder to spread onto trays. Worse, it starts to generate heat. Not just a little, a ridiculous amount, adequate to make your grains spoil. Spoiled grain needs to be discarded. Fermented grain is fine, and in the heat of summer I often serve fermented sprouts. There are additional health benefits when sprouts are fermented, actually. If it smells like salad, bread, or beer, you are good to go. If it smells unpleasant, something is wrong.

The best material for fodder trays that I have found so far is a very fine mesh, food grade, black plastic. The roots like a little darkness, so black is better. The roots will grow aggressively through wide holes and become a nightmare to harvest, so stick to very fine mesh size. There must be excellent drainage, so I like net more than solid trays with drain holes. I use only food grade because these are my groceries’ groceries!


Thanks to Claire Cox for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Chicken Statistics for the Nerds Among You

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Another great one by Chaya Foedus:

Okay, this is the world’s shortest blog post; I just had to divulge my nerdity with someone so that I might feel less alone in this forever-fascinating world.  Do any of you just get curious?  I mean, to the point of spending 2 hours online searching out the answer for your own mental satiation?   I…

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Summer Grilling

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Summer Grilling

There are times when the weather is right and the time is available for summer grilling. Hopefully you have had time to get some grill action in. We have not done nearly enough, but are grateful for the times when we can.

Picture Of Grilled Drumstick and Thighs for Summer GrillingCan you tell how the chicken was grilled in the picture above? We made the switch back to charcoal and wood chips from propane and can not be happier. Reluctantly we bought a mid priced faux barrel grill so we at least had a charcoal grill for summer grilling.

It was not something we expected much from, however the grill has done a great job. It is labeled a smoker, but there is no indirect way unless you stagger where the briquettes are. You can tell by the depth of color that had some heavy smoke and indirect heat.

We like to smoke a lot and in this case we used some old Mesquite chunks to deliver the flavor. I like to sear my chicken for 10 minutes before moving it to indirect heat. That helps crisp the skin and then we stuff it full of flavor.

I certainly hope that you get some summer grilling in and hopefully if you have not had the experience of using wood chips or chunks you can give it a try. It will take your summer grilling and kick it up a notch.