Chicken

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You CAN do it!

We made a video of how we process chickens today, just for fun.  July 25th is the date you can come and learn how to do this at home.  It really isn’t hard!  Raising chickens is an easy place to start in raising your own meats–and you CAN do it all yourself.  Check it out:

Minerals

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“Let food be your medicine”

Our 16 year old just discovered a fascinating truth: what you eat affects your body. Yep. Achy joints? Fuzzy head? Difficulty getting up in the morning? Lots of acne? The underlying cause and fix are often in your food and how your body interacts with it. Our chiropractor recommends eating up to 300 different foods daily to get the minerals and vitamins and other nutrients you need to maximally function. You can come a lot closer if you figure in all the spices and ingredients in things; however, the 20 ingredients in Fruit Loops don’t go far because they are “nutrient fluffy.” The goal is to eat “nutrient dense” foods, meaning that the carrots and lettuce and chicken on our dinner plates are as full of the tasty building blocks of life as we can get them.

How does one get nutrient dense food? One needs nutrient dense soil. This happens when you build your soil with complex fertilizers like compost and organic matter. However, there are things to know about assessing and targeting your soil’s needs. In this video, Dan Kitteredge will talk about why nutrient density is important and the first step in building your soil.

By the way, it’s February now and he recommends testing in the fall. Not to worry. That’s an optimal time, but there’s no time like the present (well, maybe the present in a couple of months) to start. Do your soil test when you can. Dan will look at sample tests in the workshop coming up and teach you how to look at your test and feed your specific soil. Sign up today: Bionutrient Food Association workshop & registration!

High Bionutrient Crop Production

“How can I become a farmer?” someone recently asked us.  Well, if you have dirt and can put a lettuce or tomato or carrot seed in it, you can become a farmer.  It’s that easy.

However, growing food is also a science and art that can be learned and honed.  That’s what this course is about: learning the science and art of growing food that truly nourishes body, soul, and soil.  Here’s what the Bionutrient Food Association says about the course:

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They do have scholarships, so don’t let the money deter you.  We have hostel type housing on-site, so don’t let that  deter you.  This is a great course for beginners and seasoned growers alike as Dan Kitteredge is a wealth of information and a down to earth communicator.  If you can’t attend our class, look for one near you.  It’s an opportunity that’s not to be missed!

Watering chickens

Mark talks about watering your chickens, whether on pasture or in the brooder, and other pastured poultry issues.

A vision

Sam shows Matt the intricacies of processing a chicken.

Sam shows Matt the intricacies of processing a chicken.

Matt is a young man with a vision.  He sees himself revitalizing the dormant family farm using regenerative agriculture practices.  He wants to, ultimately, offer pork, beef, and chicken to local customers.  Where to start, he asked himself.  “Chickens,” was his decision.  So, he attended our recent Pastured Poultry class to get a jump on the learning curve.

Not only did he get an intensive weekend on everything chicken so that his first 150 broiler chicks would go well, he got to see how the whole farm works together and gathered ideas for his own farm of the future.  We walked the fields, watched the pigs tilling up the gardens,

A pig breaks up a clump of "quack grass" to get at the juicy roots.  They did a great job of rooting out this persistent weed!

A pig breaks up a clump of “quack grass” to get at the juicy roots. They did a great job of rooting out this persistent weed!

milked the cows, and talked politics while learning about chickens.  We also talked about marketing and the importance of sound (rather than haphazard) business practices.

Chickens are a great place to start in raising livestock.  You can have a few hens in your backyard, or let the kids have a small start-up business supplying eggs to friends, or raise broiler chickens to build a market base  and learn farming (like Matt is doing) before jumping in with both feet.

The next class is May 23-25.  We hope to see you there!

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Piggin’

In the last week we’ve had an explosion of our pig population.  Through the recent yucky, springish wintery snowy rain weather the sows decided it was time for piggin’, or farrowing.  Here are a couple videos Mark made talking about this process in a pasture system:

 

 

Yesterday the little ones were following their mothers around, napping in the sun, and just enjoying being alive.  You’ll be able to see them, plus everything else we do, when you come for a class.  You get a whole farm experience with a focused learning topic.  They’ll still be little and cute for the April Pastured Poultry class!

On being a hen

Broiler chicks

Broiler chicksWe got our first batch of chicks last week.  The weather isn’t ideal, but there are ways to work around it.  We used to raise these birds through the winter.  We’ve worked toward being strictly seasonal for many reasons, so now we start them sometime in March and end sometime in October.  This year we’ve held off a bit, but now we’re rolling.

Here are a few brooding principles we use:

1) Heat.  Heat lamps work good–the standard shield and high amp variety.  You have to monitor these because they can create hot and cold areas in the brooder and can start fires (that’s really exciting!) with the bedding.  They are effective to do the job, though, for brooding small groups of chicks once or twice a year.  We use a gas brooder now.  They are bigger and more efficient for brooding large numbers of chicks.  They also help maintain a healthy moisture level and heat more evenly.  We have some DSCN3145friends who have an outdoor boiler for their house heat and have the same radiant heat for their brooder.  That works wonderfully on all counts (even heating, dry bedding, safety) but is a higher input if you don’t already have the set-up.  The bottom line, though, is simply heat.  The ideal temperature for the first week is 90 degrees, tapering off to “room” temperature by the end of week two in July, week three in March and April.

2) Container.  The first few days the chicks like to be in a small area–like all newborns who are used to the cramped space pre-birth.  Then broiler chicks grow at an almost exponential rate.  Layer breeds grow slower, but like more space under any circumstance.  Folks start chicks in all sorts of containers: Rubbermaid boxes, kiddie pools, cow hay bale feeders, plywood boxes, etc.

Brooder set-up from the outside.One of the considerations in your container is to round out any square corners.  Chicks like to pile on each other when stressed in any way (hot, cold, damp, thunderstorm, crowded, too much space, bad mood) and corners are their place of choice.  If there isn’t a corner they are less likely to pile and the collateral damage is less.  We’ve actually stopped piling simply by rounding the corners, which had the net effect of changing the stressor, which was too much space.

Brooder interior: note the round edges, red feeders and waterers.  The other consideration with your container is flexibility.  Because they like to be tight at first and need more space exponentially, you need to be able to expand the initial space.  Dividers that can be removed as they grow is an easy way to do that.  We have expandable brooders and have panels that allow the chicks to eventually come and go out of the heated area.  We place their food and water in the cooler area to encourage them to go in those areas.

3) Feeders and waterers.  Most chick feeders and waterers have small edges and are red.  You want to be sure the little ones can get their sustenance without having to climb into the container.  Pans of water are a bad idea as a wet chick (and they will get in it!) is a potentially dead chick.  We’ve learned the hard way that if they can climb into a feeder they may get stuck in it and that’s not a nice discovery at chore time.   The red color helps them figure the process out quicker.  Chickens peck at red anyway, so it’s a natural step to play the hen’s part and teach them to eat and drink with the coloration.  The chick feeders and waterers are a worthwhile investment.

That’s today’s wisdom.  We’re taking applications for the April Pastured Poultry class, where you can learn all about chickens from start to finish.

Chicken Tractors

helperPasture raised chickens are tasty, healthy, and easy to clean up after.  Layer chickens like to run around the yard and go home at night.  The broiler chickens prefer a little more structure.  A “chicken tractor” is the thing for them.  Essentially, it’s a mobile pen that you move every day.  That encourages them to seek out new grass and bugs every day while protecting them from predators.  We have an e-book that will give you the directions for the summer weight tractors we use.  Here is the link to purchase your copy: Chicken Tractor e-book.  Happy chicken raising!

Tips on chickens

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Multi-modal learning means leaning with all your senses.  That’s what an on-farm class is all about.  Here are a few snapshots from our last class and the tips being the students learned with their eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.:

Joe showing Remi how to pluck a chicken.  The scalding water (to loosen the feathers) is about 140 degrees.  The bird is completely dunked for about 20 seconds, then checked.  Ideally the feathers pull out easily and leave the skin intact.

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Jadwiga picked up quickly on cutting the back side of the bird open prior to gutting.  We start about halfway between the vent and the breast cartilage, cut a slit down and around the bottom of the vent.  You should have an opening big enough to stretch and allow your hand in to pull out guts, but not so large that the rear end looks skinned.  The vent should come out with the guts.  The tricky part is in not nicking the intestines.  If you do, rinse with clear water quickly.

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How to brood a brand new chick is not too hard, but requires a bit of know-how.  They need 90 degrees and dry bedding for the first several days, and the temperature can back down from there.  Brooding in July and August is, of course, much easier that in early spring or winter, but proper equipment and a well set up brooder can make all the difference.  People can brood chicks in almost anything (and do!), but the key is to be able to expand it as the small day old chicks grow exponentially.  Another trick is to shape the brooder, or add wedges, to make it have rounded corners.  Chicks “pile” in sharp corners and simply rounding those corners discourages that tendency.

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Assessing the health of your birds is important.  Examining the manure for rusty or red spots is an easy way to catch coccidia before it overwhelms the bird.  Coccidia is a protozoa that burrows into the intestinal lining, causing bleeding and scarring.  It impairs the intestines ability to function and, therefore, the bird’s ability to gIMG_1432-001ain nutrients from its food.  When you process your birds, the quality of the carcass and the conditioIMG_1613n of the internal organs can also tell you about the health of your birds.  Here the class looks at a not-so-healthy liver and a vibrant liver.  This was the only poor liver we saw, so likely the bird was just not as constitutionally strong as the other birds and its liver had to work harder.  Because it was the only one in the bunch, the birds were a healthy bunch overall.

Everyone’s favorite part of a class is dinner!  You are invited to eat with our family for the weekend, enjoying lots of chicken and learning how you can utilize the whole bird at home.

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There’s a Pastured Poultry class coming up July 19-21.  We hope to see you there!

 

Pastured Poultry

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens in last year's class.

 

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Our Pastured Poultry class in June featured an international flare.  Two of the students had come all the way from Poland to learn how to raise animals on Pasture.  Remi and his wife Jadwiga have worked with SAND International  to learn vegetable production for many years.  Now Remi wants to expand his hilly 9 acres on the edge of a small Polish town to include pastured chickens and sheep.  They chose to attend an Anyone Can Farm class because we are located on about the same latitude so farming conditions will be similar.  Remi faces other challenges that make sustainable farming appealing: his land is pretty much all fairly steep hillside, and gas is about $8/gal. so gas powered implements aren’t an economical option.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi soaked in everything about chickens he could.  A lot of the lessons were firsts for him!  He had never slaughtered an animal before, never handled many of the power tools used to build the chicken tractor in class, and has never seen a diversified farm that strives to make everything compliment the whole.  Remi already composts vegetable matter on his farm, so the compost piles and how we use the animal wastes to build compost that then makes better animal feed was of interest to him.  He also made a point of discussing the pigs and the rotationally grazed cows with Mark.  He even helped Mark move the cows on Saturday.  He felt he carried enough information away from the weekend to start at home with his large plan for his small acres.  The weekend was a success!

Hosting folks from Poland, as well as their American hosts who had experience in India, Liberia, and Poland made the class an educational experience for us, as well!

We hope to meet YOU at the next class, July 19-21.  You can still sign up!  The next weekend class is Hog Harvest Days,

In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:

Fun with chickens

Chickens are fun!  Not only can you watch them chase bugs, scratch in the dirt, dust bathe, and fight over a juicy worm, you can “hypnotize” your chicken.  The boys’ preferred method is to put the hen’s head under her wing and then swing her in as large a circle as your arms permit (don’t spin your body, just turn your arms in a circle in front of you), the bigger the better.  After about 15 circles you can set her gently down and she’ll stay there.  The length of time varies, but she’ll be there a few minutes at the least.  Once the hen sat overnight on a fence post!

Here’s a funny article I came across on the same topic.  It’s a fun read and might help you occupy those long, lazy summer evenings with your birds.

How to Hypnotize a Chicken

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Chickens

“How to raise an animal” isn’t just for the people who want to raise them.  The class is also for people who eat them and just want to know more about the meat they eat.  A Pastured Poultry class coming up!  You can find out how to raise a few little ladies in your own yard, or you can figure out how to ask intelligent questions of your farmer and know something about the answers.  One of our Hog Harvest attendees shared that that was the advantage to her: she could tell the processor how to cut her hog (purchased from someone else) and really know the cuts and what she wanted.

Here’s the skinny (411) on the Pastured Poultry class:

Pastured Poultry

Frequently Asked Question: What kind of chicken should I raise for meat?

There are a few options now:

1)

Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broilers.  These are a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed (Vantress, White Mountain Rock, etc.).  They grow quickly, 6-9 weeks depending on how big you want them and how you raise them.  They are not as hardy and need more careful brooding than the other types of birds.  They are messier and smellier.  They are not as efficient on pasture and do require grain feeding.  That’s the downside.  The up side is that they grow quickly so they are come and gone in just a couple of months.  They do produce a nice, meaty carcass.  They can be pastured (we have ours out), and do best in the contained “chicken tractor” because they are babies their whole lives.

2)

This is a Buff Orpington rooster;  Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

This is a Buff Orpington rooster; Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

Layer chickens/heritage birds.  Roosters make great eating.  There are “heavy” breeds and “light” breeds.  You want a “heavy” breed like a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Black Sex Link, Black Australorp, or Rhode Island Red.  Down side: roosters take about 24 or more weeks to reach a nice butchering weight and are not usually as fat or meaty as a Cornish cross.  They don’t make the boneless, skinless breast type of cuts.  They can be chewier or tougher than the Cornish cross birds and need a little different cooking technique.  Up side: They have more flavor in the meat.  The meat can be fairly tender if cooked correctly.   They are better foragers and can grow well on alternative feeds and grasses/bugs/etc.  The rooster chicks are often cheaper than the broiler chicks.  These fellows

like to “free range” and can be contained in a tractor but prefer an open house situation.

3) Freedom Rangers.  This is a new hybrid.  They look like a layer rooster but grow quicker like the Cornish cross.  Most people we know who have raised them have done so in about 12 weeks.  They forage well and can grow on forage and also need some grain.  They don’t get as heavy as the Cornish cross, but still have a nice double breast.  They are a little more difficult to find as chicks but are becoming more available.

That’s the quick answer.  We do have a Pastured Poultry class coming up soon: June 28 – 30.  Some scholarships are available, so let us know if that would help you be able to come.  Here’s Mark’s intro to the class:

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w.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AaiYGjqmMNs

Nature

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Here is anDSC03160other example of how the first permaculture principle can play out with animals:

Anyone who’s raised animals very long can tell you that sometimes things go wrong.  They aren’t really “Acts of God.”  Things were designed to work a certain way and when it goes wrong it usually involves nature, as in “the nature of the beast” (literally).  Animals have a way of looking at the world, and when they become difficult it’s usually because we aren’t understanding their viewpoint and meeting their needs. (Temple Grandin is a proponent of this if you want to read about it elsewhere.)

Last night was a case in point.  Our youngest group of chicks is about 3 weeks old now.  They needed to transition out of the brooder, but Joe didn’t have space until Monday and needed to let the next pen dry off before he moved them.  They had sustained a couple of losses, but were generally doing well.  Then, Tuesday morning, Keith came rushing in: “I have a BIG problem!”  Apparently the thunderstorm the night before, or the humidity of the storm, or something caused these easily stressed birds to panic and they “piled.”  They climbed on top of each other seeking comfort, suffocating the ones on the bottom.  It can be ugly, but it’s their nature.

This started out as a group of 600 chicks.  By the time Joe and Keith got it sorted out and various ones had revived once rescued from the pile, Keith counted 169 dead.  Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

They cleaned up and Joe moved the chicks into the next pen.  The chicks had been very stressed by now—big storm, moving, new and unfamiliar surroundings.  Then dark descended.  By their nature, they wanted the comfort of their big, solid walls and low ceiling.  This big, open pen scared them.  So they started to do what they do when looking for comfort.  They started to pile again.  The “Act of God” was that Joe, contrary to his nature, decided to check on them again after he was nearly in bed for the night, and came back over at 11:30.  We lost about 10 or so birds, but that’s all.  We gave them walls and a ceiling and rigged a heater.  That was all they wanted, after all.  We put more wood shavings over top of them once they settled in, shut the lights off, spread the last few who were determined to pile out to the edges, and said goodnight.  By their nature, they don’t move much during the night.  We’d provided the security they desired, with a little extra warmth to boot.  That was all we could do.

I’m happy to report that we lost zero chicks during the night.  At 6:30 this morning they were running around, chirping happily, drinking and eating and dust bathing.  They were in and out of their security area and generally looked very happy with life.  It doesn’t take much to be happy when your brainstem is bigger than your brain.  Those of us with the cognitive capacity just need to slow down sometimes and consider the nature of things, and go with it.

Now, Kimi the bull-who-climbs-through-small-holes-in-the-wall is a story for another day.

Intro to Permaculture and Soils, this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  Come learn a new way to look at your “farm.”

Chickens (and more)

Wondering what the Pastured Poultry Course is all about?  Mark tells you here:

 

Sign up today! Share the word with your friends and food conscious groups.  Classes are coming up soon and we want to make sure we get everyone in.

Pastured Poultry Course Intro

Wondering what you’ll learn about Pastured Poultry?  Check this video out:

Eggs

A hard boiled egg from a pasture fed chicken.  Note the green edge, due to overheating the egg.

I got a question on facebook a week or so ago: how do you avoid that green edge on a hard boiled egg yolk?

A hard boiled egg from a pasture fed chicken.  Note the green edge, due to overheating the egg.

A hard boiled egg from a pasture fed chicken. Note the green edge, due to overheating the egg.

That green ring is the result of a chemical interaction between the sulfur in the egg white and the iron in the egg yolk.  It doesn’t look pretty but is harmless.  The reaction occurs when the egg is overheated.  Some common suggestions to get nice yellow (or orange if your hens get green in their feed) yolks follow:

  • Put the eggs in ice water, or under running cold water, immediately when done.
  • Don’t overcook the eggs.  Most common method suggested is to put cold eggs in cold salted water.  Cover. Bring the water to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let sit for about 15 minutes.  Immediately run under cold water.  This method prevents overcooking and keeps the eggs from “popping” if there are hairline cracks.
  • Salting the water helps with peeling farm-fresh eggs.
  • I usually bring the salted water to a boil, shut the heat off, then add the eggs.  Let set for 10-12 minutes.  Rinse in cold water.  This seems quicker, but the eggs do sometimes pop.
  • Cook the eggs in a single layer in the pan.

If you are cooking eggs from a local farmer you trust, and especially if the hens are on pasture, don’t be afraid to undercook the eggs just a bit.  Heat kills the enzymes in food.  Cooking things till “thoroughly done” isn’t always advantageous–you are just killing it twice.  Eggs are one of those things.  The white should be thoroughly cooked  if you have allergies because the proteins in it are harder to digest.  The yolk is the part with all the good stuff–the fatty acids and enzymes as well as protein.   It’s a package deal, to my mind.  Nature gave us both parts to eat and so we should, as a rule.  But if you leave the yolk soft, even runny, you preserve the proteins and enzymes for your body to make the most of.  Plus, you won’t get that green ring around the yolk.

 

Part of the 2%

I just realized how we, with our bitty bank acount, can become part of the “2%” in the U.S.  Here’s some fun history on chickens, with the answer at the bottom:

* For centuries, cock fighting was one of the main reasons for keeping poultry.

*Prior to about 1910, chicken was served primarily on special occasions or Sunday dinner. Poultry was shipped live or killed, plucked, and packed on ice (but not eviscerated). The “whole, ready-to-cook broiler” wasn’t popular until the 1950s, when end-to-end refrigeration and sanitary practices gave consumers more confidence. Before this, poultry were often cleaned by the neighborhood butcher, though cleaning poultry at home was a commonplace kitchen skill.

*In the 1930′s to 1950′s, 1500 hens was considered a full time job for a farm family.  In the 1950’s egg prices plummeted, so farmers began multiplying the numbers of birds in the same space to maintain profits.  They put 3 hens in cages where there used to be one, then they started stacking them. Chicken meat and egg prices dropped making them common rather than luxury items.  Many family farms left the chicken business.  This began the transition away from family farms to the modern corporate farm.

*A back yard hen can lay eggs for up to 3 years.  A commercial hen house hen lays for only one year before slaughter. In 1900 a hen produced about 85 eggs/yr.  Since then hens have been bred intensively for egg production, nutrition has been scientifically formulated, and living conditions tightly controlled.  In 2000 she laid about 300 eggs.

*There used to be two kinds of chickens available: roasting or “spring” chickens (young roosters) and stewing hens.  They were byproducts of the egg industry and gave value to the full spectrum of production.  Roasting chickens are now a whole breed of chicken (the cornish crosses) and stewing hens are only occasionally available from small farms.

*In 1900 the U.S. population was about 76 million.  33 million (44%) were involved in agriculture, with about 5 million farms producing eggs.  In 2000 the U.S. population was about 280 million.  5.6 million (2%) were involved in agriculture.  In 1900 90% of the eggs were from flocks with 100-300 hens who foraged for most of their food.  In 2000 90% of the eggs produced in the U.S. were from commercial “battery” hen houses.

You can be part of the 2%!  Raise a few hens in your own backyard, or buy eggs from someone with a small, well tended flock.  Come see how!

 

Thanks to Wikipedia, United Egg Producers,  and The Chicken Handbook for these tidbits.

Natural “Easter eggs”

Around our house, coloring eggs is a different experience.  We only use our own eggs, so our “canvas” comes in all shades of brown, with a few blueish ones thrown in for good measure.  The kids hunt through and find the lightest colored eggs they can, but sometimes it’s fun to see how the colors look on the darker eggs, too.  This year I learned a bit about food dyes, so I was inclined to go with more natural methods of dying. The thought of infusing that nasty dye into the eggs after we so carefully kept the hens didn’t set well.  I may still try it–just for fun–but we were busy with other things and didn’t end up doing it yet.  Here are a couple of links if you want to try natural egg dying:  Chai Tea Infused Marble Easter Eggs and Onion-Skin Easter Eggs.

We like all the color in the egg basket.  Each breed of layer has it’s own shade of egg.  We always have a handful of Araucana hens in the flock because they lay the distinctive blue, rosy, or green eggs.  I learned in researching thisNatural "Easter eggs": eggs come in many colors. that we actually have Ameraucana or Easter Egger chickens.  The distinctions are important to breeders who maintain specific characteristics to keep their breed distinct.  For my purposes, though, I just want pretty eggs.  Plus, most of the hens I’ve gotten have been a lovely paisley pattern in various color schemes.  The hens are as pretty as the eggs.  They are hybridized for their pretty eggs, so they don’t lay as consistently as the other breeds.  They just make a nice presentation.

A Buff Orpington hen searching for lunch.For good layers we have Isa Browns and Buff Orpingtons.  Isa Browns are light, spindly birds, but they lay a lot of brown eggs!  They are bred to convert feed into eggs very well.  Because they are light they can fly over fences niftily.  To stop that we clip the feathers of one wing.  We’ve also found that hens that free range don’t bother the fence so much in the winter.  They aren’t in the habit, so they don’t tend to be as bad about it.  The Buff Orpingtons are a quiet, gentle bird.   They are a “heavy” breed, so they develop more body than the Isas.  They do lay light brown eggs well and have more tendancy to “go broody” (want to hatch eggs).  We got them to experiment with letting them hatch out chicks.  We’ve had other breeds, but only have these two at the moment.

The Pastured Poultry classes will focus more on the broiler chickens, but we’ll talk about layers and you’ll be able to see how we run them.  Layer hens are a great addition to any back yard.  Come and see how you can have your own “Easter eggs” year round!

Chicken facts

A broiler chicken in a chicken tractor: happy and healthy!The chickens are in full production mode right now.  Our twenty or so hens are laying about 20+ eggs a day, and I know the Araucanas are not pulling their weight.  Chickens are a great place to start with livestock.  They are easy to acquire, easy to keep, and are generally accepted in most urban situations.  There are two basic types: broilers and layers.

Broilers are cornish hens crossed with another breed to produce the double breasted, fast growing meat bird.  They are not genetically modified, just very hybridized (specialized through breeding).  Every now and then we’ll get a genetic throw-back–either one that favors the cornish and stays small or (less often) one that favors the other breed crossed in with less breast meat and a touch of color in the feathers.  If you see “cornish hen” in the store, it is no longer a true cornish hen.  It is merely these cornish crossed broilers processed at 3-4 weeks of age instead of the 7-9 weeks it takes for a full grown bird.

A Buff Orpington hen searching for lunch.

Laying breeds of chickens have a lighter breast and more dark meat.  They grow slower but are meant for egg production, not so much meat production.  They make fantastic tasting, super healthy meat, but don’t pack it on like the broilers.  They are more aggressive (not necessarily mean, just active) and can forage effectively for food.  They can thrive on what they forage, especially if you get an older “heavy” breed (good for eggs and meat).

Here are a few “fun facts” about chickens:

The average hen lays 300 eggs a year.

The record for multiple egg yolks in one egg is nine.

A chicken needs to eat approximately four pounds of feed to make a dozen eggs.

If a chicken has red ear lobes, it will lay brown eggs if it has white earlobes it will lay white eggs.

Chickens will lay fewer and fewer but larger and larger eggs as they grow older.

Newly laying hens and menopausal hens will sometimes lay shell-less eggs and misshapen eggs.

Chickens will lay more, larger, and stronger eggs… if they think the day is 28 hours.

The largest recorded chicken egg weighed 12 ounces and had two yolks.

The record for egglaying belongs to a white leghorn that laid 371 eggs in 364 days.

Natural "Easter eggs": eggs come in many colors.The world record for the most eggs laid in one day is seven.

Americans eat 80 pounds of chicken per capita, which is more than beef at 63 pounds per capita. That translates to about 8 billion chickens a year.

The longest recorded chicken flight was 13 seconds and a total distance of 301. 5 feet.

A Chicken can run about 9 miles per hour, a human can usually manage 12-15 miles per hour.

Chickens have a different alarm cluck for different predators.  They have about 200 different vocalizations all told.

A chicken’s heart beats 300 times a minute (about 4-5 times more than a human).

The chicken has been domesticated for 8,000 years.

Hens are very protective of their young.  Being called a “Mother Hen” is a good thing!

Hens lay eggs just fine without a rooster.  Secure hens lay more eggs.  A rooster provides protection in a pasture/forage situation.

A laying hen is called a pullet for about the first year of life.  Hens typically begin laying eggs at about 20 weeks of age.

Most hens lay for about two years, but can continue at a lesser rate until 3-4 years old.  They can live for a couple of years after that.

Hens require light to lay eggs.  Decreased winter daylight, as well as temperature extremes, stress, seasonal molting, or lack of proper nutrition can affect how many eggs a hen lays.

A broiler chicken’s brainstem is larger than its brain, and its brain and brainstem are smaller than its eyeball.

Come check out how you can have chickens in your backyard from start to finish! The Courses page describes the classes and the Calendar page tells you when we offer the course and has a button to sign up.  We hope to see you here!

Growing farmers

More in a garden grows than what the gardener sows.~Spanish proverb

Picture 081 Picking produceOur children like to help us in the garden.  Really.  When they are about 2-4 years old.  That’s the age when they plant corn seeds in the green bean bed, hoe up the fledgling lettuce, and weed out the carrots by the handful.  They aren’t exactly helpful, but as they tend my garden I am planting seeds that I plan to cultivate over the seasons.  These little starts will bear fruit eventually.

I know this because I see it when I look at their healthy little bodies.  I know it when they proudly serve their Dad the carrots or zucchini they helped pick for supper.  I know it when they distinguish between cucumbers and pickles.  I know it when the older children team up to make sure the green beans get picked and ready to can so we can eat them in the winter.

Mark helping 3 year old Jim pet a baby pig.  Yes, kids do love the little piglets.We’ve found that some of our most enthusiastic visiting helpers are kids.  They are curious about life.  They are able to really do things and understand that what they are handling–plant or animal–is life, is food, is a part of things.  Kids love life.  They like to help with the baby animals.  They enjoy learning where the food on their plate comes from.  They even often like the processing, seeing how an animal is put together, how it works, why it does what it does.

Picking beans Some of the lessons in Nature’s garden aren’t so enjoyable.  Perseverance when you face of a row of weeds.  Gentleness when you’re in a hurry to move the chicks.  Patience when the calf won’t suck off the bottle right and butts you in the stomach and slobbers all over your back.  Courage when the chickens you tended twice a day for two months have to be slaughtered.  Compassion when the family dog is old and sick and suffering and needs to be let go.  Self-control when the pigs get out for the third time and won’t go back in.  These are the hard lessons.

030Our children are our future and the investments we make in them by connecting them to their food is beyond measure.  Even if it’s just a planter or two, or only for a season, the experience of growing and eating real food plants seeds beyond lettuce and tomatoes.  We feel strongly about this and invite kids who are capable to attend Anyone Can Farm classes.  We want to grow farmers!

Contact us if you are interested in bringing your children along with you.  Help make this available to the next generation by sponsoring someone on this website or through our Indiegogo Challenge.  Thank-you in advance for investing in the next generation of food producers!

Energy

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Even zuchinni looks good in March!

Even zuchinni looks good in March!

I was walking the other day: the sun was shining but the wind was blowing cold.  I could feel everything starting to move like a sleeping person about to wake up.  What was sleeping is ready to spring up and get going!  But now, on the 21st of March, it’s still under snow.  So it waits, building energy, getting more restless, until we get some warmer weather and it can explode.  Spring is coming, no matter what it looks like outside yet!

That makes me think of dirt, garden seeds, compost, cleaning animal areas (to start composting), and seeing familiar faces come up the driveway again to buy chicks or deliver chickens for processing or purchase some rich, biochar laced compost.  I’m ready to see the farm bustling.  In the last year we’ve met so many more people who are raising their own food for the first time.  Folks looking for compost for a garden.  Young moms and dads bringing 10 chickens for processing because they wanted to try thhelpereir hand at healthy meat for their under-5 aged children.  It’s exciting.  They have “spring energy” about them.  They are ready and willing to get up and do something, and often all they need to really run with it is a little help.

If help is what you need: ideas, where to start, how to build something, we are here!  In May we have two pastured poultry classes, a biochar class (you get to make a retort), and a soils and permaculture course (you can grow vegetables anywhere).  The Courses tab contains descriptions of the classes.  The Calendar tab tells you when the class will be and has a button to help you sign up for the class you want.  There are “free” classes available as perks on our Indiegogo challenge. Check it out, donate, share it so your friends can come with you, and let us know which class you want.

Spring is coming.  Let’s go!

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On chickens

Last week I ordered chicks.  That got me to thinking about broilers and layer and what we wanted to do this summer.  I thought I’d share some information about the two classes of chickens (broilers/meat birds vs. heritage/layer birds).

A broiler chicken in a chicken tractor: happy and healthy!The double breasted broiler chicken is the centerpiece of our farm.  This chicken is a hybrid chicken that became popular in the 1960’s, coinciding with the blossoming of Concentrated  Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and industrial agriculture.  Besides being bred for ease of raising in concentrated barns, these birds were bred for their heavy breast.  The industrial health system mantra at that time was to eat low fat.  Chicken breast was promoted as healthy.  Dark meat was vilified.  Science knew better than your taste buds.  These chickens were bred for the needs of profit driven industrial agriculture and the new science of healthy

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Anyone Can Farm – Why Anyone Can Farm Video

ACF Video on IGG

Welcome to Anyone Can Farm.  Listen as we discuss why and how you can learn to farm and grow your own food.

Chicken Processing

Welcome to this mini-class on how to process your own chickens.  This class is designed as a quick introduction for those who want to feed themselves and maybe some family and friends.

Objectives:  By the end of this mini-course you will have had opportunity to:

*Pick up chickens to prep for processing.

*Look at the stars and enjoy the crisp night air while discussing various topics about raising chickens for meat and why we do it the way we do.

*Learn how to properly kill a chicken.

*Learn the ins and outs of scalding, plucking, and eviscerating a chicken.

*Discover the joys of using the whole chicken and making full productive use of everything a chicken has to offer.  (Even the squawk can be fun!)

 

We are conducting the hands-on class starting this Sunday evening, October 29 through Monday the 30th.  If you are available and interested, please let us know and we can fit you in.

More importantly, we will be video taping this class and making it available as an on-line mini-course.  Let us know if you are interested and we’ll alert you as soon as it’s posted.