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!!!

 

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!!!