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Winter Poultry Care

The answer to the poet’s ques­tion of, “What is so rare as a day in June?” was, until recently, a farm fresh egg in the middle of winter. Egg laying was essentially a seasonal activity and was greatest only when the hours of daylight lengthened.

Egg output increased as producer experi­ence and skills increased and were motivated by the demand for eggs in the cooler months when baking is increased and appetites are heartier. Take stock of your flock facilities and management techniques for successful winters to come.

Lighting 

Earlier egg producers learned to make the most of what nature of­fered them. Poultry houses were built with larger southern-facing walls, of­ten with large numbers of windows to catch as much of the thin winter sunlight as possible. They were white­washed inside each fall as both a sani­tary measure and to further amplify the light factor inside the building.

When electricity became more available many began to light their laying houses to stimulate egg produc­tion in the darker, gray months. It is a practice that continues with good effect though not always done well. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature

By Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. Copyright 2006, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00. SALE PRICE: $17.50.

Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature by Charles Walters

What Is a Protective Food?

It is well known that grazing animals can live on grass alone, and pretty poor grass at that. It has been assumed that herbivorous animals could live on any of the common leafy green crops, but this is not the case. A guinea pig is herbivorous, and yet it will die in 8 to 12 weeks on a diet of head lettuce, cabbage or carrots, and will grow at only half its normal rate on a sole diet of spinach. But a guinea pig thrives on a solid diet of grass. A super race of guinea pigs was developed in five generations on a sole diet of 20 percent protein dehydrated grass.

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Flock Management for Increased Production

Decades ago the worth of a well-bred adult chicken or clutch of hatching eggs was believed to hold the same value as a working man’s wages for a day, highlighting the importance of proper flock management. The literature well into the 20th century carries accounts of breeding males regularly selling for three figures, a good many for low four figures, and top producing females were valued more highly than gold. And why not, for in a single year she could produce scores of her own kind.

What do the names B. Ketcham of Illinois, T. Perrine of Ohio, S. Conger of Indiana, F. McElheney of New York, T. Ludlow of Yonkers in New York, and W. Dakin of Ohio have in common?

A bit of an unfair question, but one I raise to make a point. All of the above were independent poultry breeders advertising in the November 1885 issue of a magazine called The Poultry Keeper. They raised, respectively, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Dark Brahmas, Wyandottes (the first was the Silver Laced variety), Brown Leghorns, Houdans and Black Langshans. Continue Reading →

How to Build a Portable Chicken Tractor

DIY Chicken Tractor

A modified chicken tractor at 37 Acres Farm in Camden, Ohio.

When building a chicken tractor, keep in mind that in any type of poultry containment the old rule of thumb is to provide at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, although up to 6 square feet might prove beneficial for some of the larger breeds. There should also be plenty of head space to allow for free movement and natural activity.

Chickens have been used frequently to follow cattle across pasture; utilizing some of the lower, finer stemmed plant materials left behind by the true grazers; feeding on some insect life; and even helping to break down manure pats. They will still need to be offered a full feeding of a good laying ration to maintain desired levels of egg laying performance, however.

The challenges will be how to best tend the birds so contained and to protect them from predation. One- x 2-inch or 1- x 1-inch patterned, welded wire is a strong, durable choice, although it will add to the initial cost of construction. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober

 

Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2014. 216 pages. Softcover. $24.00, regularly priced.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from pages 12-15 of the book, Beyond the Chicken, which was published by Acres U.S.A. Copyright 2014. #7309. Softcover. 216 pages. $24.00 regularly priced.

By Kelly Klober

The first question raised about bantam chickens is, “Of what good is a little chicken?” Certainly they are ornamental and have been taken up by many exhibition breeders for the challenge some of the colors and feathering patterns in bantams represent. And, for some, there is the challenge to produce a perfect large fowl in miniature. For the backyard poultry folks the little birds take up less space, there is a reduced noise level, some of the breeds are exceptionally docile, they are easier to contain, they are bred in great variety, and they eat much less. Three bantam eggs will replace two large fowl eggs in most recipes and as a serving size.

Our barn banties would begin taking to the nest in early spring, and we once had one small hen emerge from the hayloft with five little peeps on Christmas Eve. A few times each year we would make a late-night safari to the barn with burlap bag and flashlight in hand. There we would pluck surplus birds—mostly roosters—from rafters, gate tops, stall walls, and other roosting places. My grandparents would then dress the contents of two or three cackling, wriggling, and occasionally even crowing tow sacks. Mostly they went into big pots of winter day vegetable soup or chicken and dumplings. The latter was a favorite of Dad’s and one time, unbeknownst to us, she added a tray of store-bought chicken necks to a couple of the little roosters going into a big pot of dumplings. The second day into that particular pot Dad began his table grace by asking to be spared, in the future, from little banty roosters that were all neck.

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Farm Smarter: Time Management Tips

Even if we don’t expect to get paid for all the hours we work on the farm, tracking how we spend our time, in order to employ smart time management strategies, provides incredibly valuable information on the viability and efficiency of our production models and helps us and other sustainable farmers innovate the methods and infrastructure that will be needed to bring about a new and sustainable food system.

Sustainable farming is by definition a model that can continue for the long-term and that stewards finite resources that are often neglected or taken for granted.

There’s a myth that permeates the community of sustainable farmers, especially among those that are new, young and passionate. It started innocuously, but it has the potential to jeopardize the long-term viability of the new sustainable food system.

The myth is that sustainable farming is above all a way of life characterized by a devotion to the land, and that those who are focused on making money are missing the point and bound to be disappointed.

This sort of thinking is dangerous because the stories we tell ourselves matter. When we half-jokingly remark after having a tough year or working an 18-hour day that we “aren’t in it for the money” or when we let another season go by without seriously tracking the time we spend working on the farm because it would “be depressing” or because “everything is going to turn around anyway next year,” it undermines the future of sustainable farming by perpetuating the deleterious myth that as farmers, where we put our time doesn’t matter so long as we’re busy.

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