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Posts Tagged ‘Pastured chickens’

The severe weather is taking its toll on our laying hens. Cold has not been the problem. It’s the confinement. The deep snow has blocked their access to their yard. Even though they have double the recommended space per bird inside the greenhouse, some of them have taken to pecking the others.

This is a common problem when chickens are confined. Some theories blame it on parasites, nutritional deficiency, or genetics. We believe the most plausible theory is “misdirected foraging behavior,” and the only ultimate cure will be running around outside when the snow clears. However, we are covering all the bases with a buckshot approach: Diatomaceous earth dustbaths for mites, extra protein,  novel stimuli to distract them, and scratch feed in their bedding to keep them busy foraging.

The one thing we will not try is the standard industrial chicken farm cure: slicing off their beaks.

We are hoping March goes out like a lamb as usual, so we can get them outside soon. We will be working on some adjustments for next year, so we can be better prepared for this much snow.

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After a succesful trial period last year with pasture raised chickens for meat and eggs, we will be offering both chicken and eggs  again for this year.   Click here  for more information on how to order for the upcoming season and for more detailed information about our pastured poultry operations.

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This weekend we moved the chickens into the hoophouse, where they will spend the winter. They are only laying about a dozen eggs a day, but that should improve a lot when we add lighting to their house. They will still have an open door to roam outside during the day all winter long. However, bugs are getting scarce and green grass won’t last much longer. If you would like to experience the deep orange yolks of pastured-raised eggs, stop by soon. When the green grass is gone, the yolks will look like “regular” eggs.

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Dog Days of Summer

After eleven weeks of raising our chicks without incident, we just lost a number of chickens to a night-time predator. At first, we were baffled. The modus operandi did not fit an owl or a weasel or a fox. It turns out, the culprit is a local dog. We think the dog scared the chickens into fleeing the safety of the poultry net fence. We found several killed outside the fence, and a neighbor reported seeing a dog trotting down the street with a chicken in its mouth.

We have enlarged the protective ring around the shelter, and we plan to add roosting poles inside the shelter to encourage the chickens to stay there. It is a bit frustrating that our system has worked against wild predators, but failed against a domesticated pet. Maybe we will have to get our own dog and train it to guard the chickens.

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Chicken Shelter 2.0

Thank you to everyone who attended our Field Day yesterday. I hope you enjoyed it as much as Omar and I did. We got many nice comments, suggestions, and even some offers of volunteer help!

There is never a shortage of need for help. A group of students from High Mowing School has recentely helped us build a second pasture shelter for our second batch of chicks. The new shelter has an innovative feature: a door for the farmer! (D’oh! We forgot that on the first one.)

The chicks in this batch are all Redbros—the same genetics used in the Label Rouge program in France. Like our New Hampshire Reds, the Redbros are slow-growing and good at foraging for their own food (i.e. well-suited to our pasture day-ranging system).

Our first batch is already spoken for, but we have started taking orders for this second batch, which should be ready at the end of August. Please see our to-order page for prices and ordering details.

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New Digs

Today we moved the chicks out of the brooding house and into their new movable pasture shelter. From now on they will get a good percentage of their nutrition from grass, bugs, and worms.

Unfortunately, not all the chicks are clear on the concept of staying inside the poultry net electric fence to be protected from predators. And there is a family of foxes living nearby. We did a test run with a small group of chicks over the weekend, and they all learned pretty quickly, so I have my fingers crossed.

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Chicks are Here!

Our first batch of chicks arrived this morning. They are New Hampshire Reds—a “dual purpose” breed. We will keep some to start our laying flock. The rest will be processed as meat birds in late July.

Before the 1960’s, most broilers were breeds like the New Hampshire Red. Nowadays, the only breed you will find in the supermarket is that freakish franken-bird known as the “Cornish Cross.” The Cornish cross is bred to grow as much breast meat as fast as possible. They grow so fast that their legs don’t work properly, so they can barely stand up.

Although New Hampshire Reds grow slower, they are far more suited to our holistic approach to farming. What remains to be seen is whether the market here will forgo the “breast meat” bird for the more sustainable, smaller, 1950’s-style broiler chicken.

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The National Organic Standards Board is reviewing requirements for livestock living conditions. They are thinking about requiring organic livestock (including  beef cattle, dairy cattle and poultry) to be given access to pasture during the growing season.

Many consumers are not even aware that “organic” livestock are not already required to live outside on pasture in the summertime.

Many organic producers (especially poultry producers) are concerned that such a radical change in the standard will destroy the businesses they have struggled so many years to build.

The problem is that our labeling system is outdated. We have one catch-all standard, “organic,” that is pulled in different directions by different interest groups. The French are thirty years ahead of us in standards. They now have four major labeling programs that complement each other, reducing consumer confusion and allowing each producer to find its place on a spectrum of philosophies.

I think we should follow the French example. It is time we added a second label with teeth like the French “Label Rouge.” I’d love to hear what you think.

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Help!

Our plans for adding free-range (pastured) chickens to the farm are firming up. We have our sights set on a system that lets hens themselves hatch and raise the chicks instead of incubating the chicks in an indoor brooder. Does this sound simple? Well, it’s not! It’s like trying to learn to juggle with five balls instead of starting with three. But we are determined to try.

We will be starting slowly with VERY small numbers at first. But we will need help. That is why we are now hoping to find an intern for the summer. As soon as we iron out the internship details, I’ll post them.

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Thinking About Chicken

Many customers have asked me if I have thought about adding pastured chickens to the farm. Yes, I have thought about it in the past. But this week, I took advantage of the cold weather to think more seriously. I have not worked out all the details yet, but I do plan to begin raising broiler chickens on a small scale next spring.

I will probably experiment with a number of breeds in order to find one that works well on our pastures and in our climate (possibly starting with the New Hampshire Red, if only to show a little home-state pride). The goal, as always, is sustainability.

To make the planning managable this first year, I will probably raise only the amount of chickens I can presell. So pretty soon, I will be looking for a few hardy customers to sign up for a few hardy chickens. Let me know if you are interested.

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