We have had a week or so of totally gorgeous weather. Everything on the farm (including me) is really happy about it!
Strawberries are coming!
We had two hens go broody this year so we have two batches of little peepers running around being raised by mamas, with no work required on our parts. Hooray for mama hens.
One mama hen taught her babies how to sleep on the roost today
The other mama hen knows that her babies still need to be under a warm lamp
Last week we scored some free baby turkeys on Craigslist. Several were ill and a few had died, and their owner was sad and stressed about it, and just wanted to hand them off to someone else to take care of them. Two of ‘em didn’t make it after we brought them home, but the other nine have recovered and seem healthy. We moved them out to the coop this week.
Turkeys have also learned how to roost
And here is a video so you can enjoy their sweet little turkey sounds.
No pictures today because we spent the weekend — which turned out to be the nicest weekend of the year so far — holed up inside working on business plans and spreadsheets and other similarly boring things.
But I did go visit the goats, which I don’t do daily anymore since I stopped milking, and give them lots of skritches. So that was fun. They are feeling spring too, running and playing and headbutting and rubbing against trees to get their winter undercoat off.
We got out into the yard for several hours today. Here’s what we’ve been up to this week — minus the tiny and adorable Pacific Tree Frog who hopped away before I could get a picture.
Cut back the mint so the new shoots can grow
Added some compost to the rhubarb
This purple broccoli is 2 years old. I neglected to pull it out last fall but it turns out to be good because it's got awesome side-shoot production. I'm going to save seed.
Artichoke coming back from the root
Maple bacon in the smoker
Working on clearing out the strawberry patch ... it's a gradual process.
Edited to add: Also, we inherited a cat a while back, and since Fry puppy has gotten used to him, Max cat is out in the house in the daytime. Today we had the doors wide open and so Max had his first day going in and out at our place.
Oh also, we have a cat.
He’s in for the night again now, but I wanted to illustrate how cute he is. Yay! Kitty!
We’ve been raising chickens for five or six years now and, while we’re very much new at this, we have some knowledge that we’d like to share. In particular, I’d like to share some of the feeders and waterers that work for us. As regular readers know, our broilers are raised on rented and borrowed pasture, so we can’t invest in permanent infrastructure. Our laying hens are at home, so we can run hose and build permanent housing for them. Oh, and also let them run all over the yard. Because they’re fun to watch.
Also, as I wrote this up, I discovered the sinister fact that feeding and watering chickens involves an inordinate number of hats for these troubled and hatless times.
Note the complete lack of the iconic galvanized metal feeder and water that you see in every feed store in the country. That’s because I hate them. They’re expensive, they rust, they smell bad, the hats on the waterers bend out of shape, and they’re really hard to keep clean. The top-hat-shaped feeders are held together with flimsy metal rods that are far too easy to lose, resulting in the separation of the body of the hat-feeder from the brim. No fun.
Plastic, on the other hand, is easy to scrub out and can be readily sanitized. The downside is that it photodegrades, especially the hat bit, and thus has a shorter lifespan when exposed to the sun. This is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make.
Plasson Bell Waterer
Laying hens (permanent coop, running around all over the place)
At home, we have the laying hens on a Plasson waterer. The red bell is connected via a spring to a little hat, and when the water gets low, the lack of weight triggers it and it just fills right back up again. It’s been very successful for us in that I haven’t thought about them in about four years. We’ve tried other auto-refilling waterers and I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and fix or jury rig something way more often than I’d like.
The Plassons are on a pressure regulator that I also haven’t needed to think about since I bought it and hooked it up. Hooray!
Broilers (rented pasture, in tractors)
QuickClean 5-gal waterer
We don’t have water in the pastures where our broiler chickens forage, so we water them with the QuickClean Five Gallon Waterers. These are so great it’s not even funny. I use them at home when the water lines for the refillers freeze and I need to bring the birds hot water. They are simple, reliable, easy to handle, and easy to fill. I hope to never have to deal with a galvanized feed-store waterer again. Blech!
Against recommendations, I hang the QuickCleans by the handle instead of placing them on the ground, which is very hilly in our rented pastures. Hanging levels them naturally so we don’t have to carry around shims as we move the chickens through the pastures. Hanging them also deforms the handles slightly but I’ve had no serious problems so far. Putting the hat on before hanging the waterer reduces the deformation somewhat and makes it easier for that hat to fit.
Where I have seen these waterers fail is in two places. One is that the lids tend to break after being in the sun after a few years, as anything made of plastic will do. It’s important to replace the lids because, absent that little hat, overanxious chickens can jump in and drown. If that happens, it’s not your best day ever. If you don’t have a chance to order a replacement, the lid from a regular five-gallon bucket will work, though you’ll lose some water capacity.
Chix on pasture, with feeders and waterers: Waterers in front, feeders in back (NOT the recommended feeders! These ones aren't nearly as good). Note that the waterer on the right has not got its hat, and is sporting a hat that belongs to the back left feeder instead. This illustrates the slight loss of volume that happens when you wear the wrong season's fashion.
The second problem I’ve seen with these waterers is that the little hole that lets the water flow from the reservoir to the trough can get clogged. They come with a little hat (of course) over the hole to prevent this but, well, generalized farm entropy being what it is, they get lost. When the hole clogs, I just clean it out using a stalk of grass and life is good. It’s my tiny hat trick.
By no means let these minor problems dissuade you. These waterers are hat-head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve used. And cheaper to boot!
I’ve found what looks like an identical waterer at my local feed store under the “4-H” brand. The only difference I can see is that it’s green instead of red. Oh, also they cost more money. The “H,” presumably, stands for hats. Four of them.
The biggest problem with feeders is spillage. In a stationary application, this isn’t a huge problem because chickens eat off the ground naturally. It’s kind of what makes them chickens. However, our broilers are confined to a tractor and moved every 24 hours and any filled that’s spilled is just lost. Well, mostly lost. The geese and the crows like it. Our grain mill evidently includes some sort of brassica because I can follow the path of the tractors by the freshly sprouted brassicas.
Broilers (in tractors) and laying hens (permanent coop)
22-lb Lancaster feeder
For both broilers and laying hens, I’ve had good luck with the Lancaster feeder from (again) Premier 1. It’s important to buy and use the optional grill which snaps in place like a skirt to prevent the chickens from knocking the feed out as they bury their faces in it. And when filling the feeder, it’s important to pour kind of slowly, or inertia will carry the feed will splash out through the skirt in iconic Marilyn Monroe style. Oops.
Also, hanging the feeder makes it harder for the birds to spill feed. If at all possible, try to hang the feeders. As the old saw goes, wherever you hang your chicken feeder is home.
There’s a little hat-lid that comes with the feeder that I usually lose within days. I’m pretty sure the only reason it’s there is to set off the skirt. Sometimes I use them as frisbees because I’m weird like that. I have found no drawbacks to the absence of hat other than occasionally finding a very happy and very ambitious little peeper *inside* the feeder when they’re still in the brooder. They grow out of this feeder invasion technique. The lack of hat isn’t a problem because this style of feeder is really only suitable for use under cover or in dry weather. If you keep your chickens in pre-1950s America, you’ll want to keep the hat because it was an important accessory for the well-dressed chicken feeder of the time. And for feeding outdoors in inclement weather, something with a more robust cover over the actual feeding areas is needed.
You see my point about the hats? Where did that come from? What manner of haberdashery is this?
This past season was our fourth year of raising broiler chickens in chicken tractors on rented pasture. In that time, we’ve refined our chicken tractor style to suit our needs, but the tractor design could be used in lots of different farm setups and environments.
Important! Please note that this tractor style is NOT predator-proof. You should make sure to have some electric mesh fence to surround the tractor, or some other predator prevention method. I’ve seen folks mount a single strand around the base of the tractor, and put a solar charger on the tractor itself, but we haven’t tried that yet.
Why this style?
We rent pasture, which happens to be hilly, so our tractors are designed to be lightweight and easy to dismantle to take home at the end of the season — as well as easy to rebuild the next spring. They are also relatively inexpensive, while at the same time using some storebought parts (a metal-framed carport) to cut down on our preparation time.
A key feature of our tractors is that they are tall enough for us to walk in. This is a matter of personal preference — it’s easier to get in there to feed and water, to say nothing of catching them for slaughter day — but also of animal welfare. Our first year, we had a Joel Salatin-style tractor, which is just a couple of feet tall, alongside a walk-in-height one, similar to the ones we now use. They had the same footprint (10×12 if I recall correctly) and the same number of birds in them, give or take a few. When we processed, we found that the birds in the Salatin (short) tractor showed more signs of physical stress, such as feather picking, and they were also smaller than the birds in the tall tractor.
I am sure that folks can make the Salatin tractors be successful, but since the tall tractor isn’t really any more expensive than a short one, we find it to be preferable.
Our model is 10×10 and we can fit 60 Freedom Rangers very comfortably, or up to 75 with some crowding.
Here is how we build chicken tractors for under $300 that are lightweight, easy to move, secure (with electric fence surrounding), and easy to disassemble at the end of the season and reassemble next year.
We start with a metal-framed portable carport. These can be had at Costco or similar, but we get ours from Amazon, where they are $97-140 (depending on sales). We use the Caravan Canopy 10×20 Carport.
Here is a diagram of what the carport is designed to look like, if you use all the pieces:
When we assemble it, we omit two 5-foot (purple) sections, so that it looks like this:
Next we create the bottom half of the frame, which is just made of regular storebought PVC pipe, some regular storebought fittings, and some specially purchased fittings from Peaceful Valley. In the following diagram, the three-way corners (blue) are from Peaceful Valley and the Ts are just regular PVC joints (grey).
Note that the Peaceful Valley fittings, like most, come in different sizes. Make sure you get them in the same size as your storebought stuff.
Important! When you put the lid onto the bottom, you will drop the metal (orange, in my diagrams) fittings of the carport over the 3-foot PVC uprights, rather than gluing or screwing them. So make sure, also, that your storebought PVC is small enough to fit inside the metal corners. Your metal fitting size will depend on which carport you get, so I can’t say for sure which size PVC you’ll need.
The uprights here are 3 feet tall because we use 3-foot-tall snow fence as the fencing material, and this way we don’t have to try to patchwork it or have extra flopping around.
In all, for storebought PVC you should need:
Four 10′ lengths (one for each side)
Two 10′ lengths cut into 3′ lengths (for the uprights)
One 10′ length for the long sides of the door
Scrap, or another 10′ length for the short ends of the door (to be discussed later)
So, seven or eight 10′ lengths, depending on whether you’ve already got scrap or have another plan for your door.
The joints in the bottom part of the frame will be subject to stress when dragging the tractor. We screw them together with long screws, going through the corner fitting and into the PVC pipe, from various angles as needed.
Now get a couple folks to help you, and lift the lid up and drop it down onto the base!
You’ve got a chicken tractor!
There are any number of ways to construct a door. We generally use the leftover legs from the carport as the door jamb, and some more PVC to make a rectangle for the door. A post on that is forthcoming; I got tired of making diagrams.
Now you just need to put your chosen fence material all around the tractor. You’ll want lots of zip ties. Again, we use snow/safety fence, like this, but 3 feet tall. It’s pretty easy to work with. You can do a whole tractor with one 100′ roll — nearly two tractors, if you use a tarp for your whole roof.
Oh yeah, you’ll also want a tarp roof to provide shade and cover from precipitation. Depending on the size of your tarp, you can do the whole roof, or just half. If you do half, obviously you need to put snow fence on the other half. Make sure you snug the tarp down well so chickens don’t escape. We usually cut new holes in addition to the existing grommets, and zip tie it down really well.
You can see in the picture above that we’re currently using brown tarps. I think ideally we’d have white, to deflect sun rather than absorbing it. Also, the carport comes with a white tarp, which we could modify (read: cut in half) to suit, for even cheaper construction. However, our pasture is in view of the home of the folks we rent the pasture from, and they requested brown, so brown it is. Compromise is important.
You need a tow rope so you can move the tractor. Tie a rope to two corners, based on which direction you want to move it. For extra awesomeness, slide a couple of spare short lengths of PCV over the rope, so you can grab those rather than having the rope cutting into your hands as you move it.
You do NOT need wheels, or a dolly, or anything else to move it. We move ours up a steep hill by hand, solo.
If your ground is particularly uneven, or you have particularly wily chickens, you might want to put an apron (skirt?) around the tractor — to do this, just get 4-foot snow fence (or whatever) and have the extra flare out around the bottom of the tractor, to obstruct any gaps that may exist between the base of the tractor and the uneven ground.
The main issue with these tractors is that they are *too* lightweight in some ways. Because our pasture is hilly, we would prefer to hang our waterers from the tractor so they can naturally level themselves, but these metal carport frames are too flimsy. It could handle one waterer if it’s hung at one of the joints, but we bent a pipe on our first tractor by hanging a full waterer in the middle of the pipe.
When we raised turkeys, they were on pasture until well after the stormy season started. Their specific location got pretty windy, and the tractors tended to take off. Occasionally they sailed away a bit, or tipped over, but even when they were just hopping up and down a bit, it spooked the turkeys enough that they broke out (adult turkeys are STRONG!) and flew away and got eaten. (That year we lost 50%+ of our turkeys, most as adults. $$$$, also :( :( :(. That was our last year doing turkeys.)
The cost breakdown
We don’t have exact numbers on this because we tend to have random PVC lengths, fittings, screws, rope, etc. laying around to be scavenged, but here’s an estimate:
Four Peaceful Valley PVC three-way fittings: $12 + shipping
PVC from your local hardware store, eight 10-foot lengths (to be sure to have enough) at ~$5 each: $40
Two T-shaped PVC fittings: ?? Maybe $6 total?
Snow fence: ~$40
Tarp: $20-50, depending on sales (hint: buy tarps when they’re on sale, whether you think you need them or not.)
Rope, screws, zip ties, etc.: incidental
Fittings for door: < $10
Sorry we’ve been incommunicado lately; there’s been a conference or other out-of-town event nearly every weekend since the beginning of the year. It’s learning-and-networking-event time for farmers from about November to about March, so the craziness should be wrapping up soon, for which I am thankful.
Saturday, February 23 (the next day): Me at the Women in Ag conference.
Monday, February 25 (two days later): Both of us at meat-cutting school at the Island-Grown Meat Cooperative butcher shop. There are several more sessions, so if you’re interested in learning how to process meat, let me know and I can forward the email. (There’s no web-based info to speak of.)
In the meantime we are taking online classes in farm accounting, organic certification, and farm business planning, as well as trying to get our business plan and general finances in order.
But we planted some sugar snap pea starts on Sunday!
Scientists monitored antibiotic residues in manure from three different pig farms. They found plenty, but not at exceptionally high levels.
Tiedje then tested those manure samples, looking for genes that make bacteria resistant to particular antibiotics. That’s when he hit the jackpot: He found more than 100 different resistance genes. The concentration of resistance genes was almost 200 times higher in these samples, compared to manure from a pig farm that had never used antibiotics.
Interestingly, composting appears to reduce the microbe population:
The study indicates that treating the manure after it leaves the farm can significantly reduce the potential for this manure to spread antibiotic resistance to other bacteria in the surrounding environment. Composting it, for instance, cuts the total population of microbes in manure – which means fewer microbes carrying antibiotic resistance genes.
I wonder if the study shows that the resistant microbes are reduced at the same rate as the susceptible, or if compost reduces them at a different rate. Haven’t read the original study yet. Have you? Let’s discuss!
In the past months, there have been several troubling research reports, from different parts of the world, exploring aspects of the same problem: Multi-drug resistant bacteria are present in chicken, apparently because of the use of antibiotics in poultry production, and are passing to people who work with, prepare or eat chicken, at some risk to their health.
A full 25,000 individual animals defecate in the same enclosed space for 45 days. They get a lot bigger, rapidly growing from the size of your fist to the size of a soccer ball in that short period. They crowd that space as they grow, with each individual only having space equivalent to less than a piece of 8”x11” paper. It is a sea of chickens from wall to wall, sitting in their own feces, struggling to move, in large part because of their genetics. The modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at a fast rate. This selective breeding produces as side effects serious welfare consequences including leg disorders: skeletal, developmental and degenerative diseases, heart and lung problems, breathing difficulty, and premature death.
Our three-week-old chickens moved to pasture
We have made directly opposite choices in every respect. We generally run our chickens at 60-75 birds in a 10×12 chicken tractor, which is moved daily to fresh grass and has mesh sides so they get fresh air and sunshine. We choose a breed that doesn’t grow as quickly and that we’re happy to spend time with. We feed Organic grain and the pasture is untreated (though not certified Organic).
But — or maybe “and” — we medicate them when they need it.
In four years, and around 1000 broiler chickens and turkeys, we’ve only had to give antibiotics once, when the alternative was potentially losing a whole batch of 60 chicks. We didn’t love doing it, but we were really glad that we had the option. The chicks were all healthy within a few days and we didn’t see any further problems.
The other key aspect of this, to us, was customer communication. We made sure everyone was informed about the antibiotic delivery. Although it happened very early in the chicks’ lives and presented no harm to the consumers of the meat (at least according to the pharmaceutical manufacturer), we let customers know we’d cancel their pre-orders or honor them later in the season if they wanted to opt out of the medicated batch.
We weren’t perfect; in the future I would try to get an official diagnosis before medicating, if time permits. (It didn’t in the previous case.) I would also plan to remove from rotation the pasture the chicks were on when medicated, and let it rest for … a while. Another time, we gave baby vitamins (the kind for baby humans) to a flock of young turkeys to treat a riboflavin deficiency that was causing paralysis and death, and completely forgot to mention it to customers. (Oooops. They were human-grade vitamins, though, so everything should be fine.)
We’ve been fortunate to have no serious health issues with our birds. A lot of that has to do with the way we raise them, but we’ve also been lucky. We feel that medicating sick animals can be the correct thing to do from an animal welfare standpoint*, but that relies on the medication still being effective when it’s time to deliver it.
Blanket applications of antibiotics, as in the commercial chicken houses, are a crutch that allows the producers to raise the animals in unhealthy conditions, which then require more antibiotics, setting up a sad, scary vicious circle. We’re committed to finding a better way.
Whew. On a lighter note, here’s another post from the same author about a Georgia initiative by chefs to support small-scale chicken farming by promoting the birds’ quality and flavor, as a way to “advocate for change in chicken raising.” Yum!
And I’m off to take a chicken out of the freezer for dinner tomorrow …
* We’re not certified Organic (though our purchased feed is) and we’re largely unfamiliar with the regulations simply because we’re so small that it wouldn’t be cost-effective even a little. The question of being able to deliver medication when needed would be a key decision point when we do look at getting certification.
We make a lot of our own sausage, bacon, and other charcuterie. We also try to cook by weight when baking, and the daily goat milk yield is measured by weight too. And when we are packing our freshly-processed chickens and turkeys, we use the scale to estimate weights to track the growth rates for our own records and for ballparking the prices of the birds. So we use our kitchen scale a lot.
But for years, we could only find scales that went up to 11 lbs. (Insert Spinal Tap joke here.) This is fine for most of our needs, but on turkey packing day we REALLY need something bigger, and when we’re making bacon or sausage or ham, we’re also usually dealing with larger quantities of meat. Every once in a while we’d do another search for a bigger-capacity scale, and not find anything, and just get the $50 one from the grocery store again, and use it until it fell apart again.
Then, via Michael Ruhlman, we found the My Weight KD-8000* scale, and we rejoiced! Not only is it cheaper than everything else we’d seen, at under $40, it also has a capacity of up to 17 pounds. The metal weighing platform is removable for cleaning, and there’s a plastic shield over the buttons for wet or messy uses too (like chicken processing day, which is very wet). It switches between ounces in decimals (used for weighing the milk yield), pounds and ounces, pounds in decimals (used for weighing chickens and turkeys), and grams. It has percentage feature that it touts for baking — I haven’t figured it out yet, but I think the gist is it makes it easy for you to say 1 part x to .5 parts y. I was a bit worried because we have killed all previous scales within a year or so, but this one also has a 30-year warranty.
Maybe someday we’ll have a 50-lb capacity price-calculating one like you see at the grocery store, but that’ll have to wait until we have a spare $300. In the meantime, this one is the only thing we’ve seen on the market that’s at or under $50 with a capacity greater than 11 lbs. The fact that we haven’t been able to break it so far makes it even more awesome.
If you’re in the market for an inexpensive kitchen scale, especially if you’ll be using it for meat or baking, we highly recommend the KD-8000.
* This is an affiliate link, which means that if you click the link and make a purchase, we might get a commission.
Dropstone Farms, with Erik Lindbergh and Laurel Powell of Wardwell Farm, has a limited amount of pork available, which will be ready in the next few days. The pigs have been happily pastured at Wardwell Farm, and fed organic grains, kitchen scraps, cider- and beer-making leftovers, and garden residue.
We are selling by the whole or half only, with custom butchering (and sausage and smoked meats too) done by Heritage Meats.
The cost is $5/lb hanging weight (carcass weight before butchering). We estimate that they will be about 90 pounds per side hanging weight, which would equate to about 65-75 lbs of meat to take home. The $5/lb is paid to us. You will also pay the butcher directly for the butchering, smoking, or sausage-making you choose. This will be 55¢ per lb for butchering (aka cut and wrap) and 75¢/lb for smoking (like bacon and ham). I’m told that some sausage flavors are included with the cut & wrap fee, and some are extra.
For more info on what a side of pork entails, here’s some info about the breakdown of a whole hog. Of course divide everything in half for the totals for a side (a half carcass).
And scroll down on this page to get an idea of the volume of a side all cut and wrapped
If you’re interested, please get in touch via email as soon as possible for further details on getting your order in to the butcher!
And as always, please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions or concerns. You can contact us at email@example.com or at 206-855-5493.
We are doing just one batch of chicken this year, and here it is!
Most of the details are as in previous years. It’s all explained here.
The most pressingly relevant is that processing day(s) are August 25 and 26, and September 1 and 2. You can pick up on the 26th (Sunday) or the 2nd (Sunday) at Day Road Farm, same location as last year, starting in the afternoon. The price is $6/lb this year, and no deposit is required. We will be taking orders for ~75 birds in order to budget for losses and birds damaged in processing. If you’re interested in helping out, please let us know.
As always, we’ll be in touch soon with more details for volunteers and/or a reminder for customers. And please feel free to get in touch with us for any reason! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-855-5493 with any questions, concerns, ideas, feedback, etc.