I made a huge mistake……

Well I have made many mistakes since I started farming, but last week I made the largest blunder EVER!!  As many of you know I raise poultry, small scale (less than 2000 per year), for the local Asian market.  My good friend asked me to raise chickens for him and his friends a few years ago, and I have been doing it ever since.

At the same time all of this began many cities in my area approved backyard chickens.  The only catch was NO ROOSTERS.  For the past 2 years I have been a popular drop off for unwanted roosters.  Occasionally I get the person who loves to hatch chickens and then finds themselves with 20 roosters.  I am always careful to quarantine the chickens for at least 2 weeks.  I also don’t let them walk back into the chicken pastures.  I always sanitize everything. Because I also raise purebred stock to sell I maintain strict bio security between chicks and the pasture flock.  Also, all the chicks I purchase from hatcheries are kept separate for a minimum of 6 weeks.  I know this is not something to get lazy over.  It seems like overkill, but I assure you it is necessary.

Last week a woman asked if she could drop off some roosters.  They were all around 3 months old.  I agreed,  and then she dropped them off.   Well my holding pen was full because processing day was in 2 days, and I had already taken in 4 roosters the day before.  Without thinking I took the 10 roosters out to pasture.  Processing day came and went, and everything seemed to be fine.  Then Sunday morning I noticed a sick chicken.  I immediately separated him, and went about my day.  In the afternoon I noticed 3 more sick birds.  This morning there were 4 more.  All of these birds eventually died.

The thing about chickens is they don’t show signs of illness until it is too late.  At least that’s the case most of the time.  I realized that 2 of the “new” roosters were the first to get sick.  I have since moved all the birds off that paddock and limed it.  I also had to administer antibiotics through their watering system.  Hopefully I will not lose the entire flock . For a small producer a quick mistake like this can be DEVESTATING.  If the illness spreads tp my brooding shed I will lose 300 chicks.  If it then spreads to my small layer flock I will lose all my pure breed French Copper Marans and Lavender Orpingtons.

The bottom line is that bio-security is crucial even on a small urban farm.  You can not cut corners.  If you do it can set you back months.  Have foot baths, hand sanitizing (especially with chicks), and don’t let the public around your flock if that is possible.  I wont know the extent of the damage to my flock for a few days.  Hopefully, I stopped whatever it was.  Since the start of the illness I have had two birds hang on.  I thought they would die, but they seem to be recovering.  That is most definitely a hopeful sign.

So, will I continue to take roosters form the public??  Probably.  However, they will be quarantined for 2 weeks before moving anywhere near the birds I sell.  That was my practice up until this past week, and it will be the practice going forward without exception.

I hope you continue to enjoy and learn from my blog.  If so please hit the “LIKE” button.

Happy Homesteading!!

 

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GMO Free and Organic Chicken Feed…Is it worth???

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NO.  Maybe. I don’t know????

I should stop and leave it there, but that wouldn’t be fair.  In an attempt to clear up my opinion I will offer the following information.  After reading everything and doing your own research, you can make the choice for your farm or backyard flock.

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Starting with GMO FREE.

This is an easy choice for me.  I don’t think there is such a thing as GMO free corn or soy in the US.  Something over 90% of all corn and soy in this country tested as being GMO.  The bottom line is that you cant escape cross-pollination.  It is everywhere.  Unless your feed comes from corn grown indoors that was hand pollinated it most likely isn’t GMO FREE.  A better label would be “Round-UP Free”.  I think the real issue is that nobody really wants to eat food that is soaked in weed killer.  As far as I know this label does not exist. Until then I personally think “GMO FREE” is a marketing ploy.  At $50-$60 per 50lb bag  somebody is getting rich.

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Now for “Organic”.

This is much more of a gray area for me.  If I had a small backyard flock that could not free range I would probably feed organic feed.  However, I raise thousands of “free range” chickens every year.  They are not in pasture pens.  I have large coops and they are free to come and go as they please all year.  In summer they have multiple fenced pastures that move.  In winter they have one smaller pasture (max 200 chickens) to roam. Since I cant prove the grasshoppers they eat are organic I cant sell organic poultry.  The bottom line for me is that I don’t know what my neighbors are growing on their farms.  In summer bugs and grass equals 50% of my chickens’ diet.  I only know for certain where half of what they eat comes from. For this reason I don’t spend the extra money on Organic feed.  I will admit I can see where it could come into play.  It just doesn’t work for my specific operation.  At $25-$35 per 50lb bag it isn’t cheap either.  However, if you can get organic certification you can make more as well.  In that case it is a trade.

In my case I sell my broilers and fryers as “pasture raised poultry.”  I can get feed in bulk for around $8.50 per 50lb bag.  It takes me about 1600lbs of feed to raise 250 chickens to size in the summer. My feed cost per chicken in summer is around $1.10 or less.  In winter months it doubles.  There is no way I could make any money with GMO FREE feed, and I would have mighty thin margins using organic feed. Remember,  feed is only a small portion of the overall cost of a chicken from hatch to processing.

In closing I would say for backyard flocks or small homesteads “organic” feed is worth it.  If you are raising chickens for personal use eggs and meat then go for it.  If you plan on marketing your poultry to others it isn’t so simple.  As with everything else in farming it all comes down to the over all cost.  However, one thing to remember is that all of these options are far better than factory farming options.  The key in the end is to know where your food comes from!!!

 

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Urban Farm from Hobby to Profession…

 

So many people ask me if my small urban farm is my hobby, or do I actually make money?  The answer isn’t so cut and dry.  I mean in the beginning it was totally for fun.  We wanted to raise our own food.  We had a garden, some chickens, a few sheep, and our dairy goats.  At some point over the years it became a job.  It all started when one customer wanted to buy chickens from me.  At first he wanted just a few every month.  As time went on he needed more and more.  Now I consider myself a farmer.  All be it on a small scale urban farm.

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We now operate a small scale poultry farm.  We have pasture raised poultry we sell for meat, and we also hatch pure breed chickens to sell for layers.  Currently we offer Black Copper Marans and Lavender Orpingtons locally for all the backyard chicken enthusiasts.  Soon our layer flock will also be back up and laying, and we will be able to offer over 50 dozen eggs per month.

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Along the way we have learned some valuable lessons.  Two of which I feel need to be shared with everyone just starting out with an urban farm.  They are the most important things we have learned over the past 5 years.  We learned the hard way, but hopefully you wont have the same path.

The first thing you need to do is become educated on your local, state, and federal laws regarding farming.  When it comes to poultry on a small scale it is important to learn all the exemptions allowed small producers.  If you are selling chicks is there a minimum?  Can you sell processed birds?  Do eggs need to be labeled with your farm info?  All of these things come into play with your bottom line.  On a federal level learn the tax codes.  Know what tax credits and deductions are allowed.  Some localities and states offer credits if you raise certain livestock, or grow certain veggies.  All of this info helps add to your profits, and keeps the dream alive

The second thing is even more important.  In fact we learned the hard way just how important it is.  DO NOT OVER DIVERSIFY!!!  Do one thing and do it really well.  This will ultimately make you a better farmer, and it will also make you a better business.  We started with layers.  Then we added sheep.  We would raise lambs for meat.  Then we added dairy goats, turkeys, and quail.  Feed costs skyrocketed, and profits dwindled.  We eventually went back to our farming roots (you know our 3 year old roots at the time).  We sold the quail, sheep, and most of the goats.  We sold off our laying flock as well, and after Christmas that year we had no turkeys left.  All we had remaining were some meat birds on pasture.  We bought 400 chicks to raise for meat.  Now we raise chickens and turkeys for meat.   We only raise a few turkeys (less than 30) every year.  We are slowly building our layer flock back up to 30 or 40 hens. We will have 2 breeding flocks for the sale of local chicks.  Basically we will sell CHICKENS.  With the focus on one type of animal we can track our profits and loss much closer.  We have found that the farm is flourishing now that we made it simple again.

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The bottom line is that you can make money urban farming.  Do your homework, and remained focused to be successful.  Last but no least…don’t be afraid to ask questions. Usually other small producers in your area will be willing to help!!

Hopefully this blog helps you become a successful urban farmer.  Happy Homesteading!!!

 

 

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Farm Animals and Winter Weather

So I see a lot of questions about what to do when it gets cold outside.  A lot of “homesteaders” get concerned when temps fall below freezing and/or snow is on the way to their farm.  I must admit that when we first moved out of the “neighborhood” to our farm I asked the exact same questions.  Here is what I know and what I have learned.

First of all our farm is in the Mid Atlantic so it doesn’t get extremely cold.  Our first farming winter we were lucky to have my grandfather living with us.  He grew up in rural WV in the country.  If you didn’t grow your food you went hungry.  Needless to say he was a wealth of knowledge.  You can also get a lot of valuable information from You Tube, the library, and don’t forget those cool Facebook groups.

So there I was with 20 chickens and a snow storm coming.  My coop was an open air coop, and looking back it was a great coop design.  We had lambs and goats, so we also had lots of square bales of hay.  I was worried my poor chickens would freeze, so I decided to stack hay bales around the coop to block 3 sides.  As I started to work my grandfather was watching me.  He then started laughing.  I walked over and rather quizzically asked him why he was laughing at me.  He said, “Chris it is only going to be 15 degrees tonight with a little snow.  Those chickens will be just fine as long as they can get out of the weather and wind.  The cold wont bother them one bit.”  I informed him that 15 was cold.  He then shared with me that growing up it got well below 0 and he never saw a chicken freeze to death.  As long is it stayed dry and out of the wind it would be fine.  I decided to save the hay and take a chance.  The next day all the chickens were outside in the snow, and I even had 12 eggs in the nesting boxes.  Lesson learned!!  Today my chickens (over 300) live in pasture, and I never have issues.  As I type this it is 23 degrees with 6 or 7 inches of snow on the ground.

The next obvious direction to take this is simple: What about 4 legged animals?

Well the same general principle applies.  If they can get out of the wind and wet they will be fine here in the Mid Atlantic.  For the goats and dogs I add extra bedding before a cold snap.  I try to keep the bedding at least 8-10″ deep.  The goats pretty much stay inside their sheds unless they get thirsty.  All the watering troughs have deicers, so no worries there.  One general rule about goats for me is that the does will always kid during the worst weather.  Kidding season on our farm starts mid February, and if there is any snow (and cold) in the forecast that’s the when the goats will kid.  At they usually do it at 3am. LOL.  One year I freaked out and build a kid proof heating barrel I saw on You Tube.  It was 8 degrees and snowing.  The kids were born at 11pm, and never went near the heater.  Mom cleaned them up and they started nursing.  They slept curled up next to Mama.  The next day I put them back on pasture, and those little jokers played in the snow all day.  You have to remember at one point goats were wild animals.  They survived the winters without little goat houses.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Livestock Guardian Dogs.  I get it.  To most people dogs are pets that snuggle with them on the couch or in their bed.  I got some concerned private messages after posted I video on Social Media showing me adding dry bedding to our LGD’s shed in the field.  At first I was concerned about it too.  Maybe I have become desensitized to things like this.  Then I remembered all my research and I found an inner peace.  These dogs (Great Pyrenees) originated from the Mountains of France and Spain.  They can handle temperatures far below zero, and their double coat allows them to endure all types of weather.  It was mid 20’s with snow all day today, and they were out running (and rolling) around all day.  Now they are curled up in their shed sleeping with 2 of the goats.  It is concerning when you see these dogs with 3″ of ice hanging off them.  It looks crazy and you think it must be cold.  However, their is no need to be worried at all.  In fact you only need to worry if the ice melts.  Their coat is designed to retain body heat.  If they were out in snow all day and didn’t ice up then too much body heat is escaping.  Needless to say they survived their first blizzard, and probably wont see another one for 6 or 7 years.  As I finish this blog post they are barking at something in the back of the pasture.  I am sure it is deer. They love to bed down in the pines when it gets windy.

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So as you can see worry is normal, but your animals will be just fine.  It is more dangerous to use heaters and heat lamps than leaving them in the cold.  That being said you need to make sure they have good shelter from wind and wet.  I also like giving them a little extra treat at feeding time.  They probably don’t need it , but it sure brings me some added peace of mind.

 

-Until next time ..Happy Homesteading!!

 

 

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Guardians of our Galaxy

So our guardians are growing up fast.  Today Willow is 5mos. old, and Misha will be the same in 2 weeks.  Ironically, Misha is now the larger of the two at least in weight.  They both are coming along very well, but I can tell that their training will be ongoing for probably another year or so.  Since we got them both our original plans have changed and evolved which seems to be status quo for our little farm.

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Misha on the left and Willow on the right.

So originally the dogs were going to live in the chicken run.  We were going to expand the chicken run from 82’x82′ to 152’x 176′.  We then had a few minor set backs that changed all of that.  First, the pups love to roam.  They are far happier roaming the entire 4 acre pasture than being confined. Second, they actually killed a few chickens.  Noticed I said killed and not ate.  They are pups and they love to play with the flighty chickens. Eventually a wing seems to get ripped off, and you end up with a dead chicken.  Initially we didn’t think this would be a problem, since 4 or 5 chickens actually took up residence in the dog house.  However, puppies will be puppies.  They now get almost daily collar training in and around the chickens.  We also modified our original plans to accommodate them better.  The run will stay the same 82’x82′(we do rotate it around the pasture BTW).  The dogs are now free to roam the pasture.  This includes patrolling the perimeter of the chicken run.

The other thing that has changed is our plan to breed them.  We will breed both of them next August.  Probably breeding them about 1 month apart.  This way all puppies can be whelped on pasture with the goats, turkeys, and chickens.  One or 2 of the pups will be heading to family friend’s farm in WV.  She (or they) will be protecting young calves and goats on 185 acres.  In case you were not aware coyotes are everywhere.  In the mountains they are hunting in small packs, and are taking down calves when other food isn’t available.

Well with one more processing date remaining in 2016 it is almost time for a end of year run down post.  As usual….Happy Homesteading!!

 

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Fall is here and winter is coming!!

So with everything that was going on this week I decided I needed a break.  I am sick of politics for sure.  Winterizing the farm is a pretty large undertaking, and work has begun.  For only the 2nd winter we decided to keep raising chickens without taking a break.  It is harder (and a little more expensive) to raise little chicks in the winter.  We add heat sources to the brooders, and they eat a little more feed.  We currently have 200 chickens on pasture, 100 chicks in the brooder, and 100 more coming on Dec. 7th.

All of this is made possible because of our LGDs.  They are still puppies, but they have taken well to the chickens.  They do chase and play, but have never even come close to hurting one.  The mainly protect against 4 legged predators, but they are also a huge deterrent to the flying predators a swell.  During the 1st week of December they will be permanently residing with the entire flock.  Currently chickens come and go thru the goat pasture, so they get plenty of chicken time already.  They are growing like weeds and eating like small horses as well.  Here is a picture from a few days ago.  Willow on the left and Misha on the right.

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Lastly, we soon will be launching our newest venture.  McClung’s Microgreens….a very original name.  We have had requests in the past, but finally decided it was time to start growing.  We will have an indoor grow for the winter months, and continue to grow in the warmer months outside.  All of this means I will probably have to build another greenhouse similar to the one I built a few years ago.

All of this and it is hunting season too.  Busy, busy, busy. Just like we like it.  Soon it will be the Holidays!!!  Until next time…..Happy Homesteading.

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Winds of Change @ McClung Farm

So as the story goes my wife brought home a goat (well 2).  That was over 5 years ago, and we have had dairy goats ever since.  Well to a certain extent that will be changing.  After years of waiting for the legalization of raw milk sales we decided to sell off the herd.  We just don’t believe that in VA the sale of raw milk will ever be legal.  As such we just cant make any money with out dairy goat herd.  We love goats, but the are time consuming.  We give up vacations and camping trips because of the milking schedule, and it is all for no cash return.  All of this years kids were sold, and today finalized the sale of Chewie our herd sire.  Chewie will be leaving with Skip his pasture mate on October 15th for a life in MD.  For now we are keeping Mocha and Gidget,  although a farm in Northern VA wants both of them if we sell.  We are keeping them to help train the new LGD puppies.

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So these are 2 of what will be many of our new interests.  We will be raising at least 2 specific breeds of chickens. Chicks and hatching eggs will be available in the spring.  These are 2 of our Lavender Orpingtons.  The 2ns breed we are still undecided about.  We will hatch these birds and any cockerels hatched will go into our meat bird grow.  We are excited to start this new venture.  I am keeping the 2nd breed hush hush until we nail it down for certain, but I am very excited.  Stay tuned for more updates over the next month.

With all the chickens running around you can see why we decided to get Willow and Misha.  Speaking of which…Misha is fitting right in now.  She was not happy about sleeping outside.  It seems her original owner brought her in every night.  That wont work here.  Owls are one of our main problem, so the girls will be staying with the flock 24/7.  After less than 1 week these 2 are now getting it done.  I noticed they already take turns patrolling the fences.  It is pretty cool to watch these pups.  Yes they still play and act like puppies, but then they will work for a bit.  Truly a smart breed.  They currently live with the goats and about 4 or 5 chickens.  The chickens actually have taken up resident in their dog house, so I guess I don’t need to worry bout them harming the chickens.  Needless to say they are getting more and more unsupervised time with the poultry.  Good thing too since 220 6 week old chicks are headed to pasture this weekend.  Wonder if they will look like friends of little chicken nuggets??  We shall see.  Here is the latest pic of Tweedle Dee and Dumb.

Enjoy!! and Happy homesteading!!

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