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!