Wednesday, April 12, 2017

🎡Let's do the Mash! The Chicken Mash! 🎢 πŸ“πŸ₯



The thing about farming is that we are constantly learning, ever-ready to adapt to new systems, varieties, climate, even changing soil microbiology.  It’s fascinating and keeps life interesting but means that we can’t rest on ‘how it’s always been done’.  So when it comes to questions regarding our products, we take extra time to sit back and consider as many angles as we can.  Feed is no exception and when we were considering Pellets Vs. Mash, it was a long back and forth of consideration.  Since it’s a question we’re sometimes asked by customers, here’s some of what we considered (but, as I said, we’re always learning, so nothing is ever static). 

It was firstly a matter of reducing the amount of processing that the grain goes through from seed to feed.  It makes sense to us that the animals get a product that is as close to what it really is as possible.  Michael Pollan, the well-known food author, is oft-quoted as saying, “Eat real food” and we don’t think that has to apply only to people.  Our feed has no fillers or weird stuff and every ingredient is in there for nutritive value, so we wanted to keep it as little processed as possible while still making it accessible to the animals consuming it.  We wanted to avoid any unnecessary heating of the grains and pelletizing would almost certainly contribute to that as well.

Another factor we considered was the growth of the birds, particularly the meat birds.  We’ve read that the pellets result in faster growth and bird ready to market a few days earlier but along with that comes health problems like ascites.  The increased demand on the body of the bird to grow quickly becomes too much and they suffer from, and eventually succumb to symptoms related to respiratory problems.  While the conventional broiler breeds (meat kings) are already a bit pre-disposed to these health challenges, we wanted to make sure that we did not contribute to them, and in fact reduced them if possible.  Using a mash with a more consistent particle size meant a slightly slower growing but healthier bird.  Organic production is certainly directly in line with this thinking, but so too are the desires of any smaller scale chicken farmer.  A healthier bird is the priority when it’s going to be your food!


The last factor we considered played directly into our values statement as a farm:
“Barnyard Organics is a diversified, family-friendly farm with a priority on organic integrity from seed to feed and keeping products fair and accessible to the regional community.“

We have worked really hard at prioritizing the ‘fair and accessible’ part of the statement because we want more organic livestock in the Maritimes and want to play a role in making feed a fair price.  Pelletizing would add an extra step and thus, more cost to our final product and we didn’t see the benefit outweighing the added cost. 

We have several customers who choose to ferment the feed, prior to feeding it.  Our own experience has taught us that the height of the feeders plays an important role and that our hens make optimal use of the feed when it is kept up at least as high as their backs, closer to eye level. 


I love farming for lots of reasons and constant learning and adapting is just one of them.   Who knows what we’ll learn tomorrow!   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SpBeak the Truth about #henlife

This is the age of 'post-truth', or so we're told.  Whatever that means, it seems clear that we all need to work a little harder to be informed citizens of the world.  Here's my contribution for your real information quota today:
Beak trimming in laying hens is industry standard.  That basically means that when the chicks are hatched they are bustled off to a laser that nips the tip off their beak.  Sounds somewhat innocuous, right?  "Probably doesn't hurt that much" you tell yourself.  Maybe.  Science is a bit inconclusive on that point, so let's give industry the benefit of the doubt here and pretend it doesn't hurt the day olds to have their beaks trimmed by laser.

"Why do they do it?" might be your next question.  "Must be for good reason".  Yes, it's so that the birds don't hurt each other.  Because birds that are bored and miserable will hurt each other.  And birds that are given 500 - 700 cm2 each (approx the size of a piece of paper) in a cage with 5-8 other birds are bored and miserable.

If you've ever had the joy of watching a chicken dust bath or chase a bug through the grass, you will appreciate the incredible natural instincts they have and the beauty of an animal able to express that.  500 cm2 doesn't even allow the bird to stretch her wings.  

I hope that any conventional egg farmer reading this will recognize my appreciation for what they do because the demand for their product is much greater than the demand for mine.  They are able to produce eggs at a much much lower cost than me.  They can do it much more efficiently and keep the shelves at the grocery store groaning with stacks of cheap eggs.

My appreciation stops at the customers who are able to justify celebrating a great sale on conventional eggs while simultaneously crying fowl at that sad video that came out about the dog being forced into churning water on the set of an upcoming blockbuster film.  Or while spending thousands of dollars on their pet.

I don't care if you buy my eggs, but for the love of all that is sane, stop and think about why your cheap food is so cheap and if an animal is an animal is an animal or if you care how the creature who supplies your daily sustenance must suffer to do so.  (If at this point you're having a dialogue in your head about how the hens don't know any different, and are 'only chickens' and you 'can't afford those organic eggs', I hope you don't mind coming back as a conventional laying hen in your next life.  Take heart, it will be short lived.) (This is also the part where I become acutely aware that I'm treading in 'white, middle-class privilege' territory, but is a risk I'm willing to take for the benefit of the point at hand.)

This message is brought to you by a frustrated young farmer who realized that her latest batch of hens has had their beaks trimmed because it is standard operating procedure and NOT debeaking is the EXCEPTION.  Evidently, foraging on pasture, preening and eating a diverse diet are not factors that need considering in a cage.  This farmer's renewed desire to get (fully beaked) hens into the hands of everyone who can have them is fuelled by good intentions, a love of farming and eggnog made from organic eggs and raw milk.