Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

New Chicks!


David’s original hens are approaching 2 years old and starting to slow down in production, and a skunk took out the eggs our broody hen was sitting on that were planned to be replacement layers.

So David used some of his profits to buy more chicks.  This morning, just after 6, the nice woman who runs the local post office called to tell us they had arrived.  So we hopped into the car and drove down the hill.

IMG_4835

The early boy gets the birds

You may think the post office is only open from 9-5, but the work starts a lot earlier.

Lots of peeping going on in that box!

Time to go home!

David ordered 25 barred rock hens, plus 2 roosters.  We also added an additional free chick the hatchery calls a “meal-maker” – in return, David promises to give the eggs she produces to needy people.  Then, as a surprise for David, we added 3 “hatchery choice” mystery hens (the brown ones in the photo).  The kids are trying to figure out what kind they are.  The hatchery also added a couple extras just in case there were losses.

All of them made it safely!

Transfering the chicks to the brooder… please excuse the messy garage – I just finished making the brooder, and I tend to make a mess when I work.

Chicks in the their new home. The brooder is 4×4, but I put in a smaller divider for the first few weeks to keep them warmer.

The family spent a few minutes monitoring the chicks to make sure they were happy and not indicating any distress.

They should be laying by May!

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New Life at the Flying T


Spring is the season of new life.  After the long harsh winter (well, not this year!), the ground thaws, the trees bud, and most animals begin to raise their new young.  This week, a bit late in the spring, brought the first births from the livestock at the Flying T, courtesy of our flock of Muscovy Ducks. Midnight was the first of our flock to begin sitting on a clutch of about 20 eggs in the second week of April.  It is quite likely that those eggs are not just hers, but those of some of the other hens, as the ducks will lay an egg over the course of a week or so before sitting on them.  Other ducks often are stimulated by the sight of those eggs to lay their own in the same place.  In this case, they chose to lay in one of the nesting boxes I made out of recycled pallets. The eggs don’t begin to develop until she sits on them for an extended period of time.  Once she does so, she will stay on the nest for the next ~35 days straight, leaving only for a short time each day for food and water before returning to incubate and guard her clutch.  Our kids often helped her to minimize this time by offering food and water to her in the nest. Anticipation grew at the Flying T as the time neared, and early this week the kids ran in from their morning chores to announce excitedly that the hatch had begun.  “We can hear the eggs peeping!” one of our daughters exclaimed. The hatch took a while – duck eggs are thick and it is quite an athletic feat to break out from one – but in a bit more than a day we were rewarded by the sight of new yellow fuzz: Doc, our drake, was wise enough to observe from a distance while remaining wary of Midnight’s wrath and warning hisses when he got too close.  Zip the quarter horse would also lean over from time to time to see what was going on. Muscovy Ducks are the best mothers of the domestic varieties, but after a bit over two days, Midnight decided that no more time could be spent hatching – the ducklings needed food and water.  Two ducklings were still slowly pushing their way out, but life is not always fair.  Midnight very purposely smashed the remaining two hatching ducklings, then pushed her brood down to the stable floor, maintaining a protective umbrella over them as they adapted to the new world.

Soon, the young ducklings braved the light and began moving a short distance away to eat and drink, and we were finally able to count them all – 17 birds in a variety of patterns.  We’re very excited to see what colors they develop!

 And… in a few weeks, we’re expecting the next brood from Mocha, who earlier in the month chose one of the quartered poly drums I salvaged as the site for her nest.

The Egg Business – Progress Report


Our 7-year-old son runs the egg business on our farm.  We paid the startup costs – buying the chicks, converting an emu hut to a coop, and buying feed and supplies.  Once the first group started laying, he took over the rest.  He now buys the food, cares for the chickens and eggs, markets the eggs, and keeps records of his production, income, and expenses.

Small-scale farming is not a big money maker, and as we’ve put together our 5-year plan, we can see that we’ll have to get a bit bigger before we can realize any significant profits.  However, based on just the past few months, eggs are a good place to start.

With proper care, we’re finding that our original flock of Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas (10 pullets, one cockerel total) produces an average of about 8 eggs a day.  That’s about 20 dozen per month.  The young flock consists of 12 Barred Rock pullets and their cockerel, and up till now, they’ve been eating and not producing.  Supplemental feed for the combined flock runs him about $25/mo…  less in the growing season and  more in the Winter due to availability of forage.  So the rough cost of production is about $1.25 per dozen.

You just can't get fresher eggs than these!

Out of that 20 dozen, our family uses about 8 a month and gives away another 2.  We pay him at production cost for those.  The remaining 10 dozen have sold pretty easily at $3/dozen, so combined with the ~$12 we pay him for the eggs we use, he’s been clearing a bit under $20 a month.  Of this, he puts a good portion in his “giving” jar (currently he’s giving that to missions in Haiti, but he’s looking at other places for the future), and splits the rest between his “saving” and “spending” jars.

Well, this week, the Barred Rocks started dropping an egg or two, which means pretty soon our production will double.  His first thought was, “that’s OK, it won’t be too hard to sell twice as many eggs.”  However, we had to explain to him that although his production is doubling, the number of eggs he’ll have to sell will actually triple (because we don’t plan on upping our family consumption to 20 dozen a month!).

So, it’s on to more marketing.  He’s already made a deal with the local feed store to buy his eggs, but they only pay $1.50.  That’s enough to make a small profit, especially since his cost per dozen should drop significantly now that he doesn’t have so many unproductive mouths to feed, but it’s not nearly as nice as $3.

This whole process has become a supplement to our homeschool curriculum, as he’s not just learning animal science, but  math, accounting, business skills, marketing, and communications also.  And of course, he’s learning a lot about both personal and social responsibility, lessons that will be even more important throughout his life than the “three R’s.”  Regardless of what some might say, that kind of agricultural education certainly doesn’t seem useless to us!

If he can manage to sell 30 dozen a month at the going rate, that’s about $75 a month profit.  That might bump up a little if he’s successful in raising chicks this Spring.  That’s too bad for a backyard business, especially if you’re a Cub Scout.

Do you raise chickens or other livestock on a small scale, and if so, do you do it for profit, as a hobby, or both?  How do you market your products?  I’d also love to hear other ideas for getting kids involved in business and financial planning at an early age.  Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

Organic?


When we first started dreaming about our farm, “organic” was high in our priorities.  This flows out of our family mission, to glorify God in all ways, and to live that out on our farm by raising, managing, and using His creation in a healthy, sustainable, humane, and respectful manner.  Since we planned to produce food for others, organic certification seemed like the way to pursue this mission.

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

However, as we started researching exactly what organic certification involved, our dream crumbled a little.  This crumbling was due to two primary factors:

1. A realization that “organic” just wasn’t the utopia we’d imagined, and…

2. The unrealistic requirements for a very small farm to maintain both organic certification and solvency .

At the risk of making ourselves vulnerable to claims of “sour grapes,” I’ll say that the first reason was the most disheartening to us.  Previous to our research, we had held special reverence for the word “organic.”  We’d paid extra for organic produce, animal and vegetable, and assumed a lot about organic certification.

Organic certification requirements are pretty complicated – not as bad as the US tax code, but it’s obvious that the authors went to the same law schools.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it helps make sure that folks that stamp their goods with “USDA Certified Organic” have met certain standards.  For animals, those standards in a nutshell are:

1. Appropriate housing that permits natural behavior, including outdoor access.  Depending on the animal, this may include a minimum number of days on pasture.

2. Certified organic feed, including pasture.  Again, some types of animals require a certain amount of their feed to come from pasture (I believe Dairy cows are now above 30% of total Digestible Dry Matter, which is a good thing).

3. No antibiotics, drugs, or synthetic parasiticides unless they are published on the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) list.

4. Organic processing of meat, milk, and eggs.

5. Record keeping in accordance with the regulations.

6. An “Organic system plan,” a lot like a business plan that shows how the farmer plans to maintain organic practices.

7. Measures to prevent contamination of soil and water from production (such as manure runoff).

8. Absence of genetic modification, ionizing radiation, or other such interventions/contaminations.

This sounds pretty good, and it is.  But any time you get a bunch of lawyers to write rules for folks to follow, those folks are going to hire lawyers to make sure that those rules don’t get too much in the way.  Let’s use the organic chicken industry’s lawyers as an example, and to keep this from becoming a book, let’s focus on rules 1, 2, and 8:

Rule #1:  When the lawyers get here, they run square into the 2010 Access to Pasture rule, requiring that any bird raised indoors must have free access to pasture except in certain circumstances.  What this has been interpreted to mean is that a factory organic farm can raise 2,000 chickens in a 100′ x 40′ pen (2 sqft per bird) as long as those birds have free access to outside “pasture.”  This pasture can be enclosed and covered, and doesn’t have to have anything growing on it.  Access can be satisfied with some small openings leading to a few 30 sqft outdoor “porches.”  All the food and water is inside the big room, but if the birds want to leave that behind to go see the reflection of the sun, they’re free to do so.

Organic chicken farm, from http://www.myessentia.com

Rule #2:  Now if you’re running that many birds in that little space, there is no way they can support a majority of their dietary needs on forage.  Any vegetation that might exist at the beginning will be gone in a matter of days, and with it will go all insect life.  So 100% of their feed will have to be what the farmer provides.  Rule #2 requires that this feed also be certified organic, and most of this will come in the form of processed grains from organic farms, the various components of which were grown, harvested, and transported to the mill with fossil fuels, processed using more energy, and then trucked through the distributing train, again with fossil fuels.  Of course, it is possible that this farmer lives next to a grain mill that in turn has local access to organic corn, soybeans, alfalfa, limestone, monocalcium phosphate, kelp, diatomaceous earth, clay, salt, DL methionine, vitamin & mineral premix, garlic, horseradish, anise, and juniper berry (all ingredients of one brand of certified organic chicken feed).

Sadly, the Toyota Prius Combine release date has been pushed back again

Rule #8:  What can the lawyers do with this rule?  They can ensure Cornish Rock Cross hybrid chickens, most likely the organic or non-organic chicken you buy at the supermarket or farmers market, qualify as organic.  They’re not genetically modified, just specifically bred to grow extremely quick (usually harvested from 8-12 weeks of age), with sparse white feathers (easier plucking with no pigment left on the skin), and broad, tender, white breasts.  They also can exhibit extreme mortality rates past around 4 months of age due to heart failure, exhaustion, or skeletal problems.  They taste great, by the way, and I don’t have any problem with folks that raise them.  They just don’t fit into our plan right now.

Cornish Rock Hybrids - from tinyfarmblog.com - notice they're growing faster than their feathers

These principles, of course, also apply to other areas of agriculture, whether producing fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, or other products.

This isn’t to say that organic practices or certification are bad.  We are not to the point yet where we can produce even the majority of our food on our farm, and though we patronize several farms in the area as well as farmers market, we still do a lot of shopping at the grocery store.  When making food choices for our family there, we lean heavily on certified organic produce.  The National Organic Program (NOP) rules and regulations are far from perfect, and subject to a bit of controversy, but by and large, they provide guidance under which which healthier and more wholesome food can be produced.

Not certified organic, by the way...

That’s where the strength of the NOP lies.  Though it’s obviously not perfect, in a world where the vast majority live in densely-populated cities far removed from farms, the NOP provides a framework for consumers to make smarter decisions about the composition and quality of their food.  It does this by holding larger producers accountable to these better (again, not perfect) practices.

Why do I say “larger producers?”

That gets us to point #2.  Besides the fees involved in organic certification, maintaining organic practices obviously carry some expenses that can be difficult for a small operation to bear and still present a price consumers are willing to pay  (Slowmoneyfarm has several excellent posts on this topic, particularly this one).  Much of this is because of competition with larger producers both able and willing to take advantage of the loopholes in the system such as discussed above.

Ability is one obstacle.  A volume producer will always have advantages that come with being able to purchase in larger lots and lower prices while combining and reducing other production expenses.  Still, if small farmers can find a supportive market, it may be possible to approach competitiveness here if they are willing to take advantage of some high-volume practices, though again Slowmoneyfarm does a good job explaining how this is extremely difficult.

That willingness to do this is the second obstacle.  Profitability (or perhaps even solvency) requires taking advantage of practices such as use of non-heritage breeds, stocking stables/pastures/pens at much higher rates, using higher levels of confinement to minimize labor costs, culling rather than treating many sick/struggling animals, and stockpiling feed.

Willingness is the obstacle that stopped us.  We have the facilities that with a bit of modification would make this work with organic chickens and ducks.  It would mean confining them and stocking both our laying and meat flocks at what to us seems an absurd density.  We would need to use non-heritage high-production hybrids for both operations.  Besides the problems these present to our values, such confinement would eliminate the benefits of free-range poultry.

Do you really want to put us in a pen?

We could do this also with meat goats.  Again, we would stock at much higher rates, and manage both the confinement systems and available pasture to ensure they maintained a 100% organic diet.  This would include separation from our poultry, horses, visitors (and probably our kids) to make sure that they didn’t end up eating something improper.

For all of our livestock, this would drive us to breed for size and speed of production, not non-production values such as temperment.

So what is a small farmer to do?

Photo by John Vachon.Oct. 1938. From the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. America From the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration-OWI, 1935-1945.

I believe the solution is an old one.  In lieu of third-party state-managed certification processes, farmers and customers need to know each other and talk face-to-face.  The farmer needs to know what the customer values and desires, in product, quality, and methods.  The customer needs to be able to trust that the farmer will produce according to those values and desires.  Both need to come to an understanding of what this will cost.

The only way this can happen is through local consumption… and that is a subject for another post.