Friday, June 16, 2017

Is Smell Free, Fly Free Pig Farming Possible?

I have to find out more!

I thought farms and flies/smell were synonymous, but Hawaii being the paradise it is, I heard it just might be possible. I needed to find out how we can do this. Fast.

Our farm, if we are 'allowed' to call it that, is a single acre in a semi-residential community of one acre lots that are zoned Ag. It's actually a 135' x 330' lot of wavy undulating lava rock with a smattering of cinder soil that can support some grass, a few trees and some local Hawaiian plants. Our current placement of the chickens is in the far right hand corner away from the main house (NE corner) and takes up 20' x 20'. We have 30 chickens, 15 full grown and 15 adolescents and 10 young growing turkeys. They have plenty of wing room right now, but we are getting ready to move the poultry by enlarging their pen to one that is 120' x 20'. We are planning to fence in the entire rear of the property and let them roam in a large pen with both goats and pigs. We want to get three female goats and three female pigs to start our heard of sustainable stock. 
Pigs and goats, but no flies? The decisions for the new animals are set, but now that there may be a way to do this without the usual farm pests and stink, the way we set up the new pen is not.

Looking on line for fly free farming, I ran across two dominating methods so far. KNF and The Salatin Method.

KNF stands for Korean Natural Farming* who's main focus is a select few solutions made up of various concentrations of  micro-organisms gathered from the farm site or nearby. Add this initial solution to other elements and organisms gathered and fermented according to a regimented set of protocols, applied to the pen site in stringent rates claim to build a bedding litter that is indeed fly and smell free. This method takes a high investment of initial time in making and understanding the hows and whys of the beneficial organisms and their use. Once started, this method is supposed to take only an occasional input of additional solutions to correct or adjust issues seen.

The Salatin Method is the one started by the family farm owned by Joel Salatin. His Polyface Farm** uses Animal rotation by way of  'Portable Pens' and electric fencing to utilize the best grazing, foraging and pasturing of all their animals to their fullest potential. Carbon footprint, Land use, Pasture reclamation, water management, local topography and indigenous flora, and marketability of their animals are taken into consideration. Though they have a 650 acre farm, they believe their ideas are scale-able for the small backyard farmers. Time investment for this method revolves around an intensive rotational management of the pens and animals in their farm. Fly and smell free claims are not a major part of their stated benefits. More a potential side effect [my assessment] through the frequent movement of manure sources before it gets to be a problem.

JoAnn and I are taking classes in KNF, theory and will be aiming for a certification in level 1 solutions in anticipation of the Level 2 and advanced level certification. We want to be able to understand these better. We will also be reading and viewing more videos put out by Joel to further understand his method better, but will be reserving our decisions for which method or combination to use.

Next Post: Can fly free really be true?




* http://naturalfarminghawaii.net/tag/master-cho/
** http://polyface.com

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Our Turkeys

Up close and personal....

Well, I have been letting a lot of our friends know about our new turkeys and to the last person, everyone wants to remind me to be sure to bring them in during a rain storm since they are so stupid, they'll drown looking up in the sky totally befuddled as to where the water is coming from. Both Snopes and Cracked.com refute this old wives tale. No more stupid turkey talk. Well, I do think they are not the sharpest tool in the shed, but it's been a week and a half in the rainiest part of the Big Island (200-300" per year) and we have just as many as we started with. SO what does it say about the humans that are willing to believe this?
On to the Photos
The white ones with black spots are the Royal Palm breed, and the smaller (younger by a week) turkeys are the Bourbon Reds. We got these birds because we want to put more meat into or freezer and reduce our food monthly bill and secondly to start a breeding stock that will flood the island with turkeys! Well, not really, but it would be nice to supplement the egg sales from the chickens with the occasional turkey sale for luaus or Thanksgiving. I haven't been able to see any turkey products in the stores with any regularity, but up around Wiamea or Kohala area on the northern end of the island has a feral turkey problem akin to the hog problem else where. Maybe no one here likes turkeys. I guess we'll see.
Since we need  pairs of them for getting the breeding going, we have been watching them and it appears that we have at least three Royal Palm Toms and one Bourbon Red Tom, with the rest being hens. We base this on the fluffing, strutting and chest bumping that the same three do among themselves and the strutting that the lone Red is starting to try. The rest are un-impressed so we figure they are the hens. I have yet to catch them strutting but when I do, I'll post photos here.
You can see that though the chicken layers we have are larger they are just at a year old vs the month and a half that the turkeys are. Yes, the hens are doing the hen-pecking-to-set-the-natural-order-of-things, but very soon, these little turkeys won't be so little and will realize they will be able to rule the roost. The other thing that we have noticed is that except for a very little pecking the hens and Lightning the rooster leave them be. We were a bit worried about the hens bothering them because at $25 a head, these chicks are already more expensive than a full grown bird at the store. Even one or two losses would be a hit. So far, so good. I'll rest easier in a few weeks.
These guys walk around together, they eat and fly short distances to stretch their wings together, and lie down in the sun together. Definitely a pack mentality. They don't go out of their way to avoid the chicken poults, but they do not bother nor pester the 'adolescent' chicks either.
 Next time: Updates on the birds and news about the farm

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Has it been THAT long?

Lots have happened in the months that have gone by

Lightning has healed, grown and fathered his first two broods of chicks. 12 chicks total of straight run, meaning we are still a bit unsure which one is what yet, but they are getting bigger everyday and we have introduced them into the main flock already. 
The Marans.We purchased 6 Cuckoo Marans at the Pahoa feed store. We were in the area and dropped in to see what was up and there was their chick delivery- peeping away. We knew this breed laid a deeper shade of chocolate brown egg and bought the lot of 6. Turns out this breed isn't one of the "hardy" listed breeds and we lost one within a week. They are now feathering out nicely, and we were assured that all our chicks were hens. 
 
We have also gotten turkeys! Sadly, not the breed we wanted, but then the state of Hawaii is a bit militant as to what they will and won't allow on the island. We wanted the Oscillated  breed, but since we can't import ANY turkey at this time, we found a breeder that had some Heritage Breed (turkey breeder code for, "I'm going to charge you more and you can't do anything about it") Bourbon Reds and Royal Palms. These are one month old, straight run, purchased for 25$ each. We bought almost all they had- RP= 7 chicks (all but 2) and Reds=3 (all they had) for 10 turkey poults total. So far we have identified three of the Royals as Toms, and one of the Reds as a possible as the Reds were a week behind their Royal brethren in hatching. These are planned as brood stock, with all extra Toms going into the freezer. I want to keep only one male of each breed to avoid to much fuss. I am still looking for the standard Bronze. I know they are already on the Island, so it's just a matter of tracking them down. 

These birds are already as tall as the chicken hens, though you can still see their kindergarten mental states. Young though they are, the Toms are already fluffing and practicing their strutting. I have not been fast enough with the the camera yet. They don't hold it long. They also can FLY. Not the chicken flapping-getting-a-foot-off the-ground of the chickens, it's full fledged, Wilbur and Orville Wright flying. Word is, they can get airborne as young as two weeks. It's a good thing our poultry pen is covered in aviary netting.
We have integrated them into the flock as well, only the Marans being segregated. The Marans are n the coop Brooder right now and will be moved to the Chicken Condo today or tomorrow, since the turkeys and the first brood have gotten mixed into general population. 

Next post: more photos and news on the start of a bigger set of pens!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Expansion

Expansion

Lightning gets his own place

After the head and neck injury Lightning sustained we did segregate him in the octagonal pen as last blogged. This proved to be a great way to grow him up both safely and keep him close to the hens he would eventually be re-united with. 

Our plans were to add on to the octagon pen by adding new panels atop the current ones, matching the paint and adding a floor to make a Chicken high-rise. We would add a half floor similar to the one we have in lightnings cages so there would be two town house layouts for a total of four floors of Chick spaciousness but it has not happened yet.

Instead, the pullets we bought are matured and laying! The girls are 21 weeks old and are starting to lay. We don't know which brown eggs are coming from which hen. but they are laying.

Lightning figures into this as well, we graduated him, moving him from the Bachelor pad to the main pen when he reached 16 weeks. His neck appeared to be as healed as it was going to be so we thought we'd try putting him in with the girls. It went well. There was two challenges to him from the biggest pullets, and he flared up, feigned a strike and then they gave up and he has been there with them since.

We are getting blood spots in the eggs now. We have also set aside 12 eggs under 2 of the mountain hens that were getting broody now that there were more eggs in the boxes. Hatch day is calculated for March 7 though I am not sure we'll get anything but hot eggs on that day. Here's crossing fingers!


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Butcher Day

Butchering Day

Or, the last supper for the Cornish Cross

Eight weeks ago, to the date, we picked up our fine yellow feathered chicks. Tiny little balls of fluff, we couldn't have known how much these chicks would affect us. we purchased twelve of them thinking that we might loose one or two, but hoping for the best. 


 New house for the Chicks, a brooder really, we named it the Mini Coop and I added an R in parentheses to make it sound smoother. So it was dubbed the Mini Coop(R)





Though the front looked similar to the Big Brother coop, the back was plain chicken wire so we could be sure they were cool/warm enough. Chicks don't need much space at this age (so we were told from the feed store guy we got them from) since they like to huddle to feel safer.



By the next day, they were looking bigger and there seemed to be less space between the chicks. Nah, that couldn't happen over night! Well, it was. It took exactly three days for the chicks to out grow this Brooder! This was the harbinger of things to come for us.







We started with Chick starter, free access. We checked on them twice a day, AND THEY ATE, AND ATE, AND ATE! we jury rigged a larger wire cage and they stayed there in the coop for about three weeks.   
I tell of their growing so fast, they outgrew their feathers in an earlier post, and it's true-these birds didn't fully feather out until week 7 and by then their habit of waddle a few steps then lay down- and it didn't matter where they were, their breast feathers were actually rubbed off at the skin. 

We were told many things about the Cornish Cross from friends on the chicken forum we belong to, but you know the way stories go. You believe half of what's told to you, and you discount the rest. The reason I wanted to go with the Cross is speed to freezer, plain and simple. I thought that we could fill our freezer fast with a fast growing breed, but wow- the worst we heard was also true.
1. "They can't walk well": True. they get so big so fast, they don't have time to have their strength catch up to their size. They waddle and take only a few steps before the plop down, seemingly exhausted. 
2. "They don't move fast enough to get away from predators" True. But since we don't free range like the Eco-purists feel everyone should, we have them in a netted canopy pen where they are safe from Dogs, rats, cats and Mongoose and they are still considered Free Range  raised by the USDA government's standards. 
3. "by the time they get old enough to butcher, they will be too big for their bones and will be crippled"- Not for us. After slaughtering them today, we found no broken bones, though one bird did dislocate a shoulder joint after flapping out of a killing cone while bleeding out.
4. "You can harvest them at 5 weeks"- True. Boy, Howdy you can. These grow out so fast that unless you restrict their feed at night, they will grow so quickly that their muscles and tendons won't keep up[1].

We decided to go past the 5 week threshold and butcher at 8 weeks. It seemed to be the right timing for us. The last three weeks they just looked so uncomfortable. they laid around a lot,  not running or jumping much like an adolescent chick should. Eat, drink, poop- repeat. It's all they do.

Well, the post is about the butcher day and butcher we did. All 10 of the surviving Cornish Cross and two of the Original 6 hens. these were culled from the egg layers because of their mean attitude towards chicks. Since we want our flock to be self sustaining in both egg layers AND now meat chicks, we need hens that aren't going to kill the babies.

Since there are plenty of videos and photos on how to process birds for meat, I am not going to go into that in this post. I do want to say that the Aloha spirit is strong in HPP as we had one new friend and one recent one show up to help us! There is something about a person that will voluntarily help you butcher any animal. It is a bloody situation no matter how you try to keep it 'normal'. This made the day go smoothly. Thanks Barbara for your hard work with just the offal and a chicken for your pay. Thanks also to Jeff, though you had to keep an appointment, you still showed up which helped keep the moral up for the rest of us. I have your chicken  waiting for you in our freezer. Either JoAnn or I will make sure you get it or it's equivalent.

After all was done today, we butchered 12 birds with an average of 5+ pounds for the Cross birds and just under 2 pounds for the older hens. that gave us 56 pounds of chicken freezing up nicely in our fridge. This will go a long way in decreasing the higher food costs on the Island.

Though it was an amazing experience, we will not be getting the Cornish Cross breed for our meat production again. We like the "happier" look to the pullets we have of the Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red breeds. They act more like chickens where the Cornish Cross acted more like eating pooping door stops. Until we find a good grower that isn't going to be lame, lazy or sad looking, we go with the regular chickens for now.

Next post: Expansion- for real.




[1] source: https://www.cacklehatchery.com/jumbo-cornish-cross.html 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Update

Update

Chickens are growing

Big news, right?
Well, it has been a while since I posted here and a lot has happened. Yes, the chickens have been getting bigger; the Cornish Cross are insanely huge and the Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rock hens are now officially old enough to be called pullets. 
Their Foster Moms have abandoned them, meaning they are no longer protective of them and instead are making sure they (the hens) are getting the pullets inducted into the flock's 'Pecking order'. The pullets are basically on their own, though chickens really don't need to be taught much. The pullets are finding a pecking order of their own, fussing at and with each other as it should be in the natural order of chickens.

The Cornish Cross are amazing. We purchased them three weeks after the pullets and they caught up in size in just two weeks. At three weeks old, the Cross chicks were taller than the Pullets at 5 weeks. Tomorrow they will be 7 weeks old, and they are weighing in heavier than my puny postage scale will register. I think just over 5 pounds, one or two are over 6. Check the photos for the difference. 

This photo taken the day we got them home. Regular sized peepers. 







This is the small scale and it shows an average weight of 720 grams at 3 weeks. They are growing fast, feather out earlier, and yet still are head aged at just a few days. Their bodies are growing very fast, but in their head they are still just babies. 

This one is the same chicks at just 7 weeks.  These are Crosses of two big and fast growing breeds and are supposed to gain weight and thus get to butcher weight fast. Well, they eat like horses, seriously, all they do is hang about the feeder and lay on their bellies eating. The only thing I can liken this to is the Dr. Seuss story,"A Fish Out of Water". They have had phases where they actually grew out of their feathers.
I am not sure we are going to get more of this breed, though we still need two cycles of grow / butcher before the pullets are egg laying age and producing our own meat birds. They look uncomfortable. They can't seem to walk more than a few feet before they plop down and have to rest. They do grow fast getting to butcher weight 4 weeks faster than any other breeds, but it isn't pretty. When I say that they grow faster than their feathers, I mean that though each of the feathers are growing out, the down fell out before the feathers were full sized and their body mass is such that they look a bit like a man with very thin hair. Lots of space between the individual feathers.  Now at 7 weeks, their feathers have finally caught up and look more like the chickens they are supposed to be. 

We are planning to breed and hatch out our own chicks eventually, but we will not be saving any of these Cross chicks for breeding. we like the colors on the RIR and BR chicks.
Speaking of that, we did get roosters, 2 Barred Rocks. One has since disappeared, leaving one that is getting all the attention. 

This little guy is Lightning. We picked him and his brother up as the twin hurricanes were barreling down on us and the guy at the feed store mentioned the recent Thunder and Lightning we had been getting the last few days (though we get lots of rain, it's not usual to get thunder or lightning here) and the names stuck for the chicks. Thunder was the chick that later went missing, not sure if it was the hens that killed him or rats carried him off, but we went in to the coop one morning and he was gone. Lightning was pecked pretty hard with some bleeding on his neck, but here. We segregated him from the hens and after he was fully recovered we put him back in with the Cornish Cross. They took to him though he was younger and when we got Lightning, twice his size. 
Well, after a couple of weeks, the Cross chicks are taller than the temporary grow out cage we made for them, so we thought it'd be okay for them to mingle they were huge. Big mistake,
Lightning was mauled by a hen. Scalped basically, not sure how he survived. we got the wound cleaned up, antibiotic ointment applied and put him in a small 'hospital' cage that we placed in the coop so he could be with the Cornish 'brothers'. We would have had chicken soup that night if I had known which hen did this. 
His left eye was feared lost, and it looked as though all the skin was missing on his head and neck, but though bloody, the skin was intact and it turns out he is healing fine, eye is working and he is running about. We are NOT going to let him out into the general population yet. In fact,  we got a new home for him. We modified an octagonal dog kennel by adding a plywood 'second story' mid height and are planning a ramp to go from the ground up to the food and water level. 

We are planning on taking this higher still. It is 4 foot at the start of the angled roof line, so we will be adding another 24" in height and one more 'floor' to it. Once Lightning is Rooster sized in a few weeks, this will become our  grow out pen for the meat birds we will be breeding. With the addition of the upper unit, I figure we can easily handle 30 chicks per run in this set up. 

See, lots happening in a short time , but more than I was able to keep up with. Got to go- the Cornish Cross are hungry! 

Next Post: Expansion Plans?
 











Saturday, September 3, 2016

Hurricane Alley

Madeline and Lester

Since they are named in alphabetical order as they get to hurricane status, I'm not sure why the hurricanes came at us out of order, but there you go. We actually got hit with two hurricanes in three days though it wasn't bad where I am sitting. Though Madeline swung close to the island she missed us to the south, however the storm did unleash a lot of rain. 20 inches or so on Wednesday; enough for some localized flooding and sandbagging. At our house there was not much more than the usual rain with some gusty winds above 40 mph, but no tree damage at all. Coop wise, after the last big storm I made sure the nest boxes weren't leaking and sure enough- dry as a bone. We tarped it just in case.  

We ordered some Cornish cross chicks about three week ago to start our meat side of the coop, so of course they'd arrive just as the hurricanes did. We had them in a box in our kitchen (I swore this would NEVER happen). When Madeline passed with just a whimper on our side of the island, I started a brooder since none of the chick-less hens were even slightly broody. 
I did the math and it showed that we needed only 3 square feet for the 12 chicks, but I made it 24" x 24" just to have a few more inches for wing tip room.
Matching Brooder, the Mini Coop RI started it out as a cube, then looked at it and thought, this is an ugly box. Why do I want to build an anything ugly? So deconstructed it and I re-worked the parts to make it a bit prettier. I then decided if I was going to changes things, I would really change it. I know it's not to scale as I did have to make the doors bigger so the windows had to be moved up, but hey, it's a close Mini me of the Coop. Maybe a Mini-Coop R? No? It is mobile. Still no? Okay. 


Identical brooder for spoiled chickens
Here they are side by side. I have the lamp cord coming out the back but placed here in front just so you don't get confused as to which is the brooder.... Still no?  Tough crowd! Well the chicks love it, we have a full sized chick feeder and one a quart sized waterer inside (I'm really glad I made it bigger) and we added sand and t-shirts for the chicks to snuggle on under the lamp. 
Tonight will be the first night outside for them, and the first night for the lamp so we'll do some frequent checking, maybe every hour for a couple of hours to make sure the lamp isn't to low. Outside temps don't go below 76-80 here this time of year but I will feel better if I know its neither too hot or cool.

Acclimating to their new home
I put the lamp about 12 inches above the chicks, with a puny CFL that is supposed to be a 60w but is only 13w for draw. How does that even translate to heat units for a chick that is either too cold or too warm?
Good that we have the extra square foot so the peepers can move away if they get too warm. 
We turned it on at dark, boy it puts out a lot of light. I can see the coop from the house through the backyard jungle.

All in all I am happy with the remodel of the cube to mini-coop, JoAnn already has the photos on Facebook and the feed back is positive so far. Whats more amazing to me than the cuteness of the yellow chicks, is the speed that our three week old chicks are growing! Feathers are almost all in, most have lost about 85-90% of their downy fluff and they are getting big! 

Next post: Damage Control and Remodel

Photo Credit: Double Hurricane heads to Hawaii http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/science-behind-hawaiis-double-hurricane-180960310/?no-ist
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