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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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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Using Game Cameras To Protect Your Backyard Chickens

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Hi, this is Marjory Wildcraft. In this edition of Homesteading Basics, we answer the question, “Are game cameras useful to homesteaders?”

The short answer is yes. Game cameras are a set of eyes and ears working for you in the middle of the night, and they can be really useful for identifying threats to your backyard chickens. They help you troubleshoot issues and show you exactly what’s been happening.

For example, here’s game-camera footage of my chicken coop when I was having some really bad problems with losses.

Isn’t that some amazing footage? Look at those raccoons and what they do!!!

Birds Do It… Bees Do It…

Now, my brother in North Florida sent over some footage that he had taken—we’ve included it in the video above. Actually, this answered a question I didn’t even know I had: “If turtles move so slowly most of the time, at what speed do they have sex?”

(Don’t you just love that male turtle moving his head quickly like that? It’s so funny.)

Help Protect Your Chickens And Livestock With Game Cameras

I use a lot of different game cameras to protect my livestock, and I especially use game cameras to help me protect my chickens. I’ve got to tell you, there are zillions of them out there, and a lot of them, quite frankly, don’t work.

We recently did a trial on four different ones. . . . Stay tuned for the results!

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(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on January 26, 2017.)

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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…

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(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.

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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Raising Livestock: What You Should Raise and Why

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Written by Guest Contributor on The Prepper Journal.

No ratings yet. Editor’s Note: This post has been generously contributed by Hank Lawrence and he discusses some livestock options that are worthy grid-down insurance items. When the supermarkets no longer provide a source of easy food, will you have alternative sources of sustenance for your family? Raising livestock can be easy, fun and rewarding and […]

The post Raising Livestock: What You Should Raise and Why appeared first on The Prepper Journal.