Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Ingredients" Join us in Berthoud for a night about food


The local food movement takes root.
Berthoud Local Food Event
When: Friday, August 9th at Pioneer Park from 7:00 PM to 10:15 PM
What: Local food, music, and an outdoor showing of the movie
INGREDIENTS is a journey that reveals the people behind the movement to bring good food back to the table and health back to our communities.
Time: 7:00-9:00 PM: Food for sale, music, tour Pioneer Park Community Garden, meet people and play in Pioneer Park
9:00-10:15 PM: View the movie, “Ingredients”
Why:   Raise awareness about local food, support local food and businesses and fundraise for Pioneer Park Community Garden
Donations: A suggested donation of $5.00/person will benefit Pioneer Park Community Garden (shed and composting structures). Bring your own lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray.

For more information go to Facebook: Pioneer Park or call 303-588-9701, contact Tracey Long if you want to participate as a vendor
Thank you to our current partners and sponsors; Town of Berthoud, Pioneer Park Community Garden, Berthoud Area Chamber of Commerce, Berthoud Weekly Surveyor and Poppin Kettle Drum.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Egg Production and the Effects of Predation

OK folks, I put together the data I had to show what's going on. I am losing about 4 chickens per day to our wonderful coyote. I know that folks have asked me to coexist, or have it trapped and removed. I've coexisted with the coyote pack since 2007. They've always done some damage, but this is the worst by far. Due to a neighbor that likes to complain that my dogs are too loud, I've had to take measures to keep them quiet, including keeping them in our yard for stretches of time. This has allowed the coyotes full access to my pasture during the day, which we didn't think was a problem. Until another neighbor (who has lost chickens, too) saw the coyote at noon grab a chicken from our coop.  I have been finding piles of feathers and carcasses in the field daily when I collect eggs.

Anyhow, below shows our annual egg production. Some of the data is sketchy, we weren't as good at collecting data a few years back, so long stretches of straight lines mean we weren't collecting data. However, you can see a trend in production. A jump up in March that continues to a high point in May, then a slow decline until October when it starts to drop more quickly to a minimal level in mid November that stay lows until the next march.

The data below is shown from Jan 1 through Dec 31 annual. Colors indicate the year:

2010   2011   2012   2013

You can see that we've slowly increased production year to year, which is a good thing. Looking at 2011 and 2012, you can see the standard trend that we were expecting to see again this year. NOW there is one other factor that will attribute to a quicker drop off for 2013. If you read my last post, you'll know that we are butchering all birds this fall, that means we did NOT raise any new egg layers this year. Typically, as the older hens start to slow their production, the new birds are first beginning to lay, sort of filling that void for the fall. We don't have those birds this year, so the drop off will be quicker. However, the drop off you see below for 2013 is much more drastic than expected, and this is attributed to the coyote kills. We are already down to 2010 levels, and we had less chickens that year than we planned to have this year.  Because we are already butchering everyone this year, at some point their feed consumption will outpace their egg income and it won't be economical to keep them. We were expecting that timing to hit in October, but it looks like it might be close to September or even sooner, depending on if we can take care of this coyote.

That being said, egg sales are now being eliminated for all customers except our CSA members and our restaurant. I hate to do that, but we have agreements in place for those customers that we need to maintain.

The other piece of this puzzle - we need to deal with the coyote. I know that a large part of our farm is that we raise our animals humanely, and we don't like to see harm come to any animal. This coyote, however, has pushed me past my limits. I don't want to hurt wildlife.  We don't want animals to suffer. However, my chickens are suffering. I have found them with their necks wrung, their heads bitten off, wings torn off, large gashes in their bodies. The coyote has access to plenty of rabbits and prairie dogs, and possibly other birds like pigeons and blue jays and killdeer. But he's terrorizing my chickens. And when I butcher all my birds this fall, and have none left for him to eat - I will have a pasture full of sheep and baby lambs. We have not had coyotes attack our lambs to date, and I won't let it happen. We need the coyote gone, and we are in our legal rights to kill it, since it is killing our livestock. I have contacted the Department of Wildlife, as well as companies that specialize in trapping and rehoming coyotes. None will do it. The DOW suggest radios and squirting them with hoses and spraying with a hot pepper spray to try and deter them. That's just not going to work. It's time for something else. I may well have a coyote skin rug before the end of summer. I know that will offend some, but the piles of feathers in my pasture offend me much more.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Diseases, Dilemmas, Decisions (and Predator Problems)

OK dear customers, at the end of this post, I'll discuss what all of this means to you, but in the meantime, I have some lessons on poultry disease and predation...

First, we'll start with a definition:

BIOSECURITY:  a system of practices used to reduce the spread of disease and illness in an agricultural practice.

This word embodies why we won't take stray animals on the farm anymore, why we need to try to allow our birds to free-range, while also having ways to isolate birds that are ill from birds that are healthy, and how we can try to keep a healthy flock of birds for breeding, laying and meat production. We haven't done this in the past, and are paying dearly for it now.  So, let's go back two years and discuss:

Two years ago, we noticed some of our birds getting sick. It was spread across meat birds, egg layers and turkeys. By the time we saw the symptoms, we did some quick research and started giving antibiotics to the sick birds. We separated them, but nothing was working. We eventually got a correct diagnosis, that our birds have a disease called Mycoplasma.

To be specific, we have both Mycoplasma Gallisepticum and Mycoplasma Synoviae in our flock. We learned that the broad spectrum antibiotics sold at most feed supply stores don't touch this illness. We have to buy a tylosin antibiotic, which is only available from a few online sources. We found it, treated the birds and those that weren't too sick, got better. That year, we lost over 50% of our meat birds, 50% of our turkeys and 30% of our egg layers. The ones that survived were stunted and either didn't grow to full size, or didn't lay as many eggs as suspected. When you are sick, you too, slow down, as your body spends its energy fighting the illness and not doing other things for you.  Our meat and egg production was severely stunted, and it was a tough year on the farm. By winter, when the meat birds and most of the turkeys had been processed, we were left with those birds that were able to survive the illness, we saw no more active symptoms and thought we were good to go.

The following spring, we started again with meat bird production as well as replacing most of our egg flock, with 300 more egg layers. Several weeks after the first batch of baby birds left the brooder, they started showing symptoms. This time we were ready with the correct medicine, and corrected the issue. But what we discovered (that we hadn't learned the year before) is that once you have this illness, much like chicken pox, you still carry it. Those birds that appeared healthy were spreading this illness to my new baby birds, who had no immunity to it. We started the rounds of medication again. This time, our research led us to understand that the only way to rid ourselves of this illness is to eliminate every bird from our flock. Every one of them.  Since I had just brought in 300 new egg layers (some of which we lost to the illness) and it would take them 6 months to start laying an egg, I couldn't butcher them before they even produced a single egg for me, so we decided to wait.

That brings us to this year. We knew we would see the illness again, and we are seeing it now. We also know that this virus does not live outside its host for more than a few days. We have to butcher every bird on the property. Every single one of them. That is going to happen this fall. We will go all winter with no birds. This will give us time to sanitize all their spaces - brooders, coops, egg boxes, etc. It will allow sunshine and snow to clean up the pasture and grassy areas they live in. It will give us a fresh start next spring.

On top of that, our predators have gotten more aggressive this year, too. We have coyotes that are hunting in broad day light, and all night long. I hear them at night all the time, they don't even run when I come by, and due to the proximity of houses and other livestock, we are unable to safely shoot at them. We also have an owl that is hunting our meat birds. That owl gets one bird every single night. We are considering putting up nets to get in his way. But he's so quiet, my dogs don't hear him.  My dogs seem to be very set in protecting our sheep right now, likely because they are pregnant. They sleep near the sheep. The other morning, I heard the coyote on the pond (we have lost a total of 7 ducks this year, 3 of them being in the last week ALONE). So there he was, on the pond, howling away, trying to alert his pack... the pond is outside of our fence, where my dogs can't get at them. Atlas and Goliath had their BACK to him (facing the sheep) and were laying there, silent. Moose, on the other hand, had squeezed out of the gate, and way laying near the pond, also not barking or anything. I have no idea why that coyote was still there. Once I shined a light on him, he took off for home. I have found several piles of feathers at the chicken truck, probably when the pond coyote was howling away, his friends could sneak to the other coop to grab chickens since my dogs weren't budging from their sheep. This year has been a bad year for predators as well.

So here is where you come in - what does all of this mean to our customers?

First, it has meant that for the last 3 years our egg production has been lower than expected. That is continuing through this year as well, even though we don't see any egg layers that are actively sick, they still carry the virus. The stoutest birds have endured the illness for more than one year now. Some of the younger birds that hadn't built an immunity have perished. And we have NO NEW egg layers being raised this year. TRANSLATION: Egg production typically slows this time of year, but due to predation and no new layers coming on board, egg production is slowing much more quickly and we will be low on eggs sooner than expected. As egg production continues to drop, we will start butchering birds this fall, probably starting in September (which means more stew hens in the freezer for you) but egg sales will cease at some point in time, sooner than we hoped and we won't have eggs again until next summer.

Continuing the discussion on eggs - duck egg production has been drastically reduced as well. Of the 7 ducks that were taken by coyotes, all 7 were female. Those were all productive, laying ducks. It has left me with a flock of ducks that is about 50/50 drakes to ducks. Drakes aren't laying, and some of the ducks are frightened and don't lay for several days after the loss of one of their friends. I suspect duck egg production to continue to reduce, hopefully not attributed to any more losses, until the fall when they all get butchered as well.

Third - meat production. This illness is partly why our chickens and turkeys have not been able to grow to the sizes we were used to seeing before the mycoplasma. We struggle to raise any turkey past 20 pounds, if any, when we used to regularly get them to 30+.  Turkeys also have an innate ability to off themselves in unique ways, so I am trying to keep them as safe as possible, but we will start getting colder weather, wet weather and other incidents that may endanger the naturally clumsy turkeys. Once they are large enough to perch in trees at night, they are relatively safe. As for that owl, we are not finding turkey remains from its hunting, but it is possible that some of our turkeys are small enough, still, that an owl, eagle or hawk can carry them off with no trace behind.    We are raising 200 MORE meat chickens than last year, but are continuing to suffer losses due to the owl, as well as the illness. We are hoping to stock our freezers to last through the winter, but we might sell out of meat birds early again this winter.

Fourth, let's talk turkey a little bit longer. The illness may stunt their growth, so again, this year, we may struggle with getting birds past 20 pounds. We also have several other factors against us with turkeys this year that will limit the number we have to sell. 1. I moved my incubator this year, and lost about 1.5 months worth of hatching eggs - we would have been rolling in turkeys. I did not realize that this move would effect the temperature and humidity regulation of the incubator, and once I moved it back to the basement, I started hatching turkeys - too little too late and that quickly dropped the number of available turkeys we have for the holidays. 2. We had several batches of purchased turkeys, arrive during storms. We had those wonderful May snows - not so wonderful for baby birds trying to stay warm. Many were brooded inside the house, and still we lost most of our spring baby turkeys. 3. Several batches of purchased turkeys have been cancelled or delayed to me from the hatcheries, as they did not hatch as many as planned. This has already shorted me over 75 birds as well as delaying them to me ensures they don't have the time to grow to the size we want. It's going to be a depressing turkey season. We will have birds, but until September, I won't have a good idea of how many - but I can guarantee, if you want a 6 pound turkey, we'll have lots of those!

Last - what does this mean for the future?  This means several things for the future - we will have no birds this winter. It gives us time to rebuild our brooder - we want to add temperature controls for heat and fans. There are two major issues with brooding - one is keeping it warm enough during an unexpected cold blast (like our May snow storms), as well as keeping air circulating when it gets hot. If we can better automate this, we can make sure birds never get too hot or too cold in the brooder, so we can eliminate the loss during that stage.  We can also ensure that no birds will carry the Mycoplasma virus, and giving us time to sanitize all their coops, brooders, gear and fields - we can ensure we won't get it again. This will reduce loss to illness as well as lost growth in meat birds. It will also reduce the cost of purchasing antibiotics, as well as eliminating the need for them. We will have happy, healthy birds again.

It means that we will not have eggs for probably 9 months. No eggs. Not a one. So our egg customers will be disappointed, but we'll be back up and running eventually.  It won't effect the timing of meat production, so we will still have chicken and turkey available at the same timing that we usually do, and hopefully next year they will be bigger!

However, this dilemma also gives us a HUGE opportunity. By eliminating all our birds, and cleaning out our brooders and grain bins, this gives us the change to go ORGANIC next year. We've been feeding our birds non-medicated, but conventional feed.  I won't go into all the details right now (isn't this post long enough already?) but we are working on making the switch. It won't be a 100% switch, but it's going to be tilted more towards organic, with some conventional meat chickens on the side for folks who don't want the price hike.

Feel free to contact me with any questions. The short of it is: Our birds carry a highly contagious bird illness, and the only way to eliminate it is to eliminate our flocks, start over with NPIP registered chicks, and maintain biosecurity on our farm to ensure we don't get the illness back again. It's the responsible thing to do, and it's the RIGHT thing to do, for us, for the birds, and for our customers.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chicken Processing this weekend: July 13-14

It's the middle of July already? How did that happen?  Anyhow, we are almost sold out of the batch of birds we just processed, and we are butchering again this weekend. Now, we are finally keeping up with demand!  We'll have plenty of birds in the freezer after this weekend, or if you want them fresh, come out on Saturday or Sunday to grab your birds!

We also have duck, a few cuts of lamb (we are almost sold out of lamb!), one last guinea, plenty of chicken, duck and even turkey eggs for sale. I'll also have some freshly picked lettuce available, some baby greens, spicy Asian greens and even a little bit of kale available. I'll pick that fresh Friday morning, so if you know you want some, let me know Whatever doesn't sell, gets eaten by us, so I don't want to pick more than we can consume or sell.

We'll be working mostly in the mornings, trying to get done before it's too hot. So if you don't want to see birds being processed, come later in the afternoon, if you DO want to see (we don't mind, we'll even show you how) come in the morning and see how it's done.

See you this weekend!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bird Babies!

Baby bird season is starting to wrap up for the summer, well, at least the ones in my incubator. The Turkeys are rarely laying, so I am selling their eggs now, instead of hatching. I am stiull hatching ducklings on occasion, if my egg stock in the fridge gets too high, I start to hatch instead. Here are some of the baby escapades...
We had a turkey mama hatch some of her own poults. This happened last year, with a hen who hid in our raspberry canes and hatched 9 little turkeys. She quickly abandoned them, so they went into the brooder. We saw a mama this year roosting on a nest, in a safe-ish place in out front yard, so we let her be. We put down water and food for her.

SHe had 9 eggs, and 7 of them hatched. WE we didn't realize was that her nest was on a pile of chicken wire where grass had grown through, so we didn't see it. When her little ones hatched, several got trapped in the chicken wire, and she abandoned them and they perished. Very sad. She had 3 that survived and didn't get trapped. I watched her that first day to make sure she was being a good mama, and she seemed to be. Until the next morning, when I found 2 of her babies wandering far from her, and she seemed none too interested in looking for them. They are now in the brooder. Since then, her third is also lost, and I kick myself for not putting it in the brooder as well. 

Such is reality. I lose a few mamas every year because they attempt to sit over in the neighbor's field, where they and their eggs become coyote food. We're not apt to run a turkey program here by letting the mamas do the work, they aren't very good at it, so it seems.  Besides, the entire time she is sitting, she isn't laying, and after the poults hatch, she isn't laying either, so I lose a lot of hatching opportunities there. I'll stick with the incubator and brooder from now on.

Now, if I had ducks that wanted to sit on their eggs AND be good mamas, we'd be onto something. But, since that isn't the case, I use the incubator on them, too.  We have 5 grown ducklings, that all look a lot like these two from above. It's clear that my mallard has good hatching eggs! ALl 5 are also female, which seems statistically suspect.

I also have 8 more ducklings in the house, this picture was taken before the last 4 were hatched, and there are more in the incubator. Gosh, I love ducklings! I see some more mallard genes in two here, and possibly Welsh Harlequin or Peking in the big yellow one in the back. Surprised to have a beautiful grey-ish looking one, but I sense he might turn brown. It's fun to see what my motley ducks will turn into!
Here's a short video of my mama turkey being a good mama. If only for one day, it was sweet to see them together!