Category Archives: Pastured Poultry

Yes, we are still here…..

Yes, we are still here and are still farming. But it has been all we could do to care for the animals while planning and hosting a wedding for our youngest son. He and his beautiful bride were married here on the farm last weekend. It was beautiful!

We have been working on our fall birds since mid-August. Our Thanksgiving turkeys have been on pasture for several weeks, as well as 150 broilers. They are all doing well in spite of some cool evenings. We will be setting our processing dates soon. An email will be forthcoming with specifics if you have ordered from us. We still have about 30-40 broilers available if you’d like to reserve some.

This is a picture of the turkeys and their new shelter. They are fertilizing the orchard area for us.

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Chicken Processing 101……

Whew! What a day and what an experience. Before yesterday, the only time I ever tried to do anything with a chicken besides take it out of the package, none of the parts resembled anything you’ve ever seen. But yesterday, I learned all about the chicken from the inside out. It was sort of like science class, or at least that’s how I approached it. As a softie and a squeamish person, it helped. I could probably write a short novel about the day, but I will just hit the highlights for the sake of time. All the pictures are at the end.

The Process (You should probably skip to the next paragraph if you are squeamish.)

So here’s the basic process for those who have never seen it done so you can follow along. You put the chicken into the killing cone upside down and cut their main arteries. When they are upside down, they go into sort of a trance or something and it is mostly peaceful, for lack of a better term. Once drained, they go into the scalder which is a tank of hot water. The water needs to be maintained at the right temperature to loosen the feathers. Then they go into a plucker, which is a machine with little rubber fingers which pull the feathers from the bird. Next you remove all the unnecessary parts, inside and out. From there, they go into a huge cooling tank with lots of ice to get them to 40 degrees as quickly as possible. Then you bag and weigh them.

The Set-up and Equipment

We had all of our equipment under a tent with a screen all the way around. No issues with bugs or flies at all. The set up worked well, except we think we need to pour a concrete slab or maybe put down some gravel for the future. From an equipment standpoint, the plucker was good. The cones were fine. But that scalder and roto dunker left a lot to be desired in my opinion. The pilot light kept going out so we would lose water temperature. The root dunker couldn’t keep up with the plucker so we were standing around waiting on chickens to clean. I think the Featherman people are going to hear from us. Even being new to this, it should not have taken us from 9 until 4 to process the number of birds we had.

The Product

As first time broiler chicken farmers, we’ve been so consumed with daily care and keeping them alive and healthy, we hadn’t had much time to think about the end product. But the past few days, the little niggling thought about how good the product would be has been there – will they be big enough? I’m pleased to report that with 120 birds, we averaged just over 5 pounds per bird, with a few weighing in at a little over 6 pounds fully dressed. The goal is between 4 and 5 pounds, so we feel we did pretty good. The proof will be when we cook one tonight. I can’t wait!

Many thanks to our family and friends who came to help! We could not have done this without you! Having such a great team really made the work fun and the day go by quickly! I can’t wait for the next go around!

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New baby chicks!

We got our new baby egg layers today along with our replacement turkeys!

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Problem solved…..

No, we didn’t give up yet – I just haven’t had time to post. And my reader hasn’t been working consistently so it’s been hard to read much as well. But, here is an update….

We’ve had problems with the broilers having enough food and water on days we both work. We’ve come up with a double bucket solution for the water. We t’d them off so now they have 10 gallons in the morning and it lasts longer than we need it to.

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They had also been running out of food with just one feeder. So we fabricated our own feeders that are at least twice as deep. Problem solved!

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Our chickens and turkeys are looking really good.

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We will be processing for the first time Monday. We are SO looking forward to seeing and tasting the fruits of our labor!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

Hello faithful followers! This has been quite a week to say the least so I’ll just jump right in with the highlights, starting with the raccoons.

Our son, son-in-law and grandkids came to help with the pig fence last weekend. We made great progress – WOO-HOO! We still have a ways to go, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel on that project. Sunday they had to cut down a hollow tree. As it was falling, they heard a screaming noise. There was a nest of baby raccoons in the tree. Mama was nowhere to be found and one of the babies didn’t make it, but two survived. Their eyes were not even open yet. Our son-in-law, animal lover that he is, took them home to try to save them. Here are the grand kids holding them.

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The broilers are doing well in the chicken tractors. We’ve got a pretty good routine established for the morning before work to move them. Then there is another round of work in the evenings when we get home. They are now almost five weeks old. The processing equipment arrived Thursday, so we are ready for our first processing experience.

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The biggest excitement of the week came Wednesday night. We were riding across the levy to the barn when the Eggmobile came into view. It looked like it was leaning. We both did one of those head-tilted-sideways looks at it. When we got closer, we realized it was upside down! I watched on radar from work that afternoon as a storm moved through our home area, but I had no idea it had been that strong. The Eggmobile was sitting at just the right angle for the wind to lift it and flip it over.

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It was surreal to raise the door from the bottom and look up through the floor.

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The doors were all closed when we found it, but there were hens inside. Some of these girls went for a wild ride. We unfortunately lost three hens and the day’s eggs with the exception of two. But I imagine it could have been much worse.

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We hooked the tractor to it and rolled it back over.

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One of the window doors broke off and the gutter is smashed. But other than that, it’s sturdy. We’ve since put some temporary braces on it to keep it from happening again.

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Last but not least, and certainly well timed, one of our young hens is starting to lay. We found this tiny little egg Thursday night.

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Time to get busy. Those chores wont do themselves. Everyone have a great weekend!

Grass at last!!!

After three and a half weeks of tender loving care in the brooder, our remaining broiler chicks are on pasture! Of the 155 we started with, we have 136 left, plus 10 of the 26 turkeys. ( the hatchery is replacing a number of the lost turkeys because the loss was in the first 72 hours) It’s normal to lose a few and I’m guessing since this is our first time with broilers, our loss rate would be a bit higher than normal. But “The Tragedy” that ensued Thursday resulted in the loss of 10 babies and a sleepless night for us.

Everything was fine Thursday morning. But when went went to check on them Thursday night, we found the dead babies. The bell waterers were too low to the ground and the chicks had kicked bedding up in the trays which weighed them down. This caused them to shut off so no water was flowing in. With a daytime high temp of 85 degrees, the chicks became over heated and some unfortunately perished. We took the ones that were lethargic, which was many of them, and helped them get to water. We propped both brooder doors up to get more air flowing. Within a couple of hours, they were better. We stapled chicken wire across the opening and left the door propped all night. They went on grass Friday and today they look wonderful!

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We definitely will need to go back to the drawing board with our brooder and tweak it a bit more. The bedding got too hot even without the light bulb. And moisture seemed to come from the ground which made it too humid in there. We’ll have about a month to work on it before our next batch of babies arrive.

The chicken and the egg…

What an “egg-citing” day! We finally got our ducks, er, I mean chickens, in a row and moved our egg laying hens onto the pasture. They are enclosed in a mesh hot fence designed to keep the chickens in and predators out. We will keep a close eye on them for the first few days to make sure it’s working as it should. They will go into the Eggmobile at night to roost.

Day to day maintenance should be fairly easy. There are little doors on the outside of the building that open so we can just reach inside to the nest boxes and get the eggs without having to go inside. The food and water will be on the outside under the awning. Hopefully soon we’ll get around to hooking up the gutter to a barrel so we can catch the rain and use it for water as much as possible. This portable poultry paddock will have to be moved every few days. I’m sure we will struggle a little at first, but eventually get our routine down pat.

We believe that eggs layed by chickens who are exposed to sunshine and whose diet is supplemented by grass and bugs are more nutritious than commercially produced chicken eggs. There are many articles out there for you to read about the potential health benefits to eggs produced by hens with exposure to fresh grass, bugs and sunshine.

Here is a link to an article which provides a few details about one such egg study.<;a href=”http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx&#8221;.

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Greetings From Porter Pond Farm!

If you’ve read the ‘About’ page, you might be asking yourself, what difference does it make where our food comes from or how it’s raised anyway? And why would anyone want to spend their retirement years working hard on a farm?

Let’s take the first question: Why should we care about where our food comes from or how it’s raised anyway? My mother always taught me that there are two sides to every story and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Your mother might have taught you the same thing. This causes me to be inquisitive and look into the facts surrounding issues carefully so I can come to my own conclusions about their merits.

A friend of my husband knew we were raising chickens on a small-scale and were looking for a way to make our farm supplement our retirement income (Hint: this is part of the answer to the second question above). He recommended that we look at what this farmer in Virginia, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, was doing with “alternative” farming methods. As we began to research this new way of raising food, we read things that surprised and shocked us about the way commercially packaged food is raised and prepared. But we’ve eaten it all our lives and have lived to be close to retirement, so how bad could it possibly be, right?

Through the years of raising our kids, we relied heavily on fast food meals, quick and convenient microwavable food, quick mixes, snack foods – you name it, we’ve probably had it in our pantry at some point. However, I didn’t always eat that way. As a child, my grandparents had a small farm. They raised vegatables, fruits and cows, with an occasional pig thrown in. My childhood memories include riding the plow behind the mule as my grandfather turned the soil to prepare the garden or knock back weeds. I remember helping with the picking and canning, dressed appropriately in my own sunbonnet made by my grandmother. My parents helped my grandparents and then shared in the bounty so as a child, I grew up eating fresh and home canned vegetables, fruits and meat. Processed snacks and junk food were treats, not a regular part of our daily diet. And I was a skinny kid. After decades without the wholesome diet I had as a child, I see definite changes in my health. Some may be normal aging issues, but I sincerely believe that I have done it to myself by years of junk food, fast and over processed foods, combined with a fast paced, corporate existence and little exercise.

Our reading and research has taught us that many of the foods we eat have been modified from their original, God-given DNA. Some of these modifications have been implemented to help improve yields, to make animals grow bigger more quickly or to help the plants be stronger and more resistant to disease and pests. The big commercial farmers might tell you that these modifications are helpful and they couldn’t produce at the rates they do today without these scientific breakthroughs. And I suppose based on their world view, they might be right.

But what do we really know about the impacts of these modifications? What is the impact on our children long-term if many of the foods we buy already processed contain ingredients that are not in their natural state? What are these unnatural processes and chemicals doing to our soil? What is the impact on animals and insects that naturally thrive and are necessary for sustaining a certain eco system? Sure, you can read stories from the biochemical industry and the big corporate farm folks that support their way of production and belief that there is no harm being done. You can also find stories, blogs and books all day long from the environmentalists and naturalists who are convinced that these new genetically modified seeds and chemical treatments are detrimental to our health and the environment. Animal rights folks will decry the inhumane way that our meat supply is grown, fattened and processed. The commercial livestock producers will just as vehemently stand behind their methods as humane and necessary to ensure the food supply is ample for a growing population.

I have not learned enough yet to say with strong conviction if one way is right or wrong, or to quote facts and figures to convince anyone else of what I am beginning to believe. Even if my mother was right and the truth on these issues is somewhere in the middle, I am convinced of enough to make a personal conscious choice to care more about where my food comes from. I am also convinced of the following:

  • What some folks refer to as “alternative” farming is actually the natural way of farming. It’s how my grandparents did it and theirs before them. The alternative farming is actually the chemically based, genetically modified or engineered, single species corporate production operations which are more prevalent today.
  • The more times food is processed, the more natural nutrition it loses.
  • God created all things to his purpose on this earth in a certain way, with certain DNA, for a reason and you don’t mess with God’s creations! ( or fool Mother Nature!)
  • Growing and raising multiple species of plants and animals in sustainable ways that don’t overtax any single piece of ground is good for the land and can actually improve fertility.
  • Eating all that processed, unnatural food – food that I have no idea how or where it was grown – for all those years is part of the health challenges I face today. If I begin to eat more whole, natural food that I know is grown using safe, clean methods, my health can only be improved.
  • We are not only what we eat, we are also what our food eats.
  • Each of us should have the freedom to make decisions about what food we purchase and consume. This freedom is being threatened at this very moment.
  • Porter Pond Farm can make a difference in our community by providing clean, fresh food to our family and our neighbors. (Hint: this is the rest of the answer to the second question!)

I hope you will follow us as we get our farm up and running. We’ll share what we learn, our successes and our mistakes as we go. We are so excited about Porter Pond Farm and hope you visit us soon!