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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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 gain nutrients from its food. When you process your birds, the quality of the carcass and the condition 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.
There’s a Pastured Poultry class coming up July 19-21. We hope to see you there!
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 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!
In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:
Frequently Asked Question: What kind of chicken should I raise for meat?
There are a few options now:
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.
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:
Mark brought home the first installment of bunkbeds for the Bunkhouse. The guys set them up this morning and they look great! We are excited to have people come and stay with us.
Sam and Joe would like you to think that they worked so hard setting up the new bunkbeds that they had to nap. They report the beds are comfortable and those who stay in the Bunkhouse will appreciate them. Especially after a hard day of making biochar, working in soil, or building a chicken tractor. We still have room in the Biochar, Soils and Permaculture, and Pastured Poultry classes. The Hog Harvest classes are a ways off, but it can’t hurt to plan ahead as that’s a popular class. Sign up today to get your spot!
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 their 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!