Pasture Poultry Husbandry- Some Lessons Learned

Husbandry- I always thought this was a weird way of saying poultry management.  When I started with 25 birds (16 years ago) management was easy.  Put the birds in a chicken tractor with food and water, then butcher in 10 weeks. Simple. Right?

The next year with 250 birds was a little more complicated.  I needed to figure out how to get water out to the birds in the field.  I started to buy feed in bulk. I figured it all out the hard (and expensive) way.

The third year was 750 birds.  A new set of issues.  I needed to be out in the field twice a day to check on the birds.  The brooder needed to be managed three times a day. Then we had 1500 and predators started to show up.  This was nearing a lot of problems (One which resulted in my father-in-law shooting me in the shoulder!), but I also had 7- 500 # feeders, 2 dogs in training, and was creating jobs for 2 high school students. So, I have learned a lot through trial and error, suffering through learning curves and that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my experience. Why re-invent the wheel?  

I would like to think these tips that I provide will save you time and money.  I have a list of personal poultry celebrities that I have learned from and in which I am grateful.   If you are reading this, it is all Joel Salitin’s fault. Plus, I love talking to Mary from Hoovers Hatchery every year at Peterson’s mill and Eli Rieff makes amazing poultry processing equipment.

I also love listening to Mike Badger, who has a great pasture poultry podcast. He covers so many podcasts on different issues on poultry. If you want to learn the poultry business then you need to listen to him, but specifically on Pasture Poultry Husbandry. Just to save you some time here is his link! Mike Badger’s Podcast Link

As always, I encourage customers to call me about raising birds and sharing new ideas.  Let’s make it a great season!

What Type of Meat Bird Should I Grow in Minnesota?

Personal preference will help make your choice.  From the butcher’s point of view, I prefer Cornish Cross, but your family may want a slow growing Freedom Ranger. Regardless, it’s important to look at both options completely before making your decision.

It’s no secret, Cornish Cross is the fastest growing meat bird and is generally ready to process after 7 weeks, providing it has been given the right circumstances: right food, adequate space, water, and the right management practices. The Cornish Cross is more genetically modified.

Some however may prefer Freedom Rangers because of their slow growth, dark meat, and being less genetically modified. They are better growing on pasture with their breed qualities, they peck more, move around more, etc., and they do contain a lot more fat. They are ready after 10-12 weeks.

I recently attended the Sustainable Farm Association annual conference.  One of the presentations was by Randy Kleinman from Seelye Brook Farms located in Oak Grove, Minnesota. Randy completed a two-year study comparing Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers raised on pasture.  There is so much information in this one study. 

If you are a small poultry farmer in Minnesota, this information will be very valuable in helping you make the decisions on your farm. With his permission to share the study, I would recommend anyone growing meat poultry in Minnesota to take a look!

Possums, Raccoons and Minks, Oh My!

If you have meat birds that haven’t been processed or are overwintering layers please be advised: predators filling up on their last meal before hibernation have accounted for massive losses. Possums, racoons, and minks, but don’t forget skunks. Whether it is ducks or prize chickens they don’t care!

Here is a list of helpful suggestions to protect your Honeys!

  1. Keep them locked up, day and night.
  2. Barn-lime your coop exterior or barn’s interior. Note: This does NOT affect your birds or their feet.
  3. Buy a Dog-Proof Trap (at Fleet Farm) if you don’t have one already.
  4. If you have a dog, brush it and throw the excess hair around the coop to emit that smell that they fear.
  5. Raccoons hate country music! Don’t play it all the time, but occasionally seems to help.