The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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Certified Organic Feeding of Your Livestock & Poultry

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 July-August Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson NOFA/Mass Education Director and Farmer at Many Hands Organic Farm

As we consider ways to feed our livestock and poultry certifiably organic while promoting maximum health and productivity for our animals, we need to be cognizant of financial viability if we are to stay in business. A broad diversity of feeds, ideally foraged as much as possible by your animals, will keep costs down and health more nearly at its potential. I start my feeding regimen with a high quality certified organic commercial grain for our chickens, turkeys, and pigs. A cow’s ideal diet centers around high quality grass.

It is important to understand that organic grain does not necessarily mean quality feeds. We purchase Kreamer Feeds’ Nature’s Best brand feeds. We have tried many brands of feed over the years and find them to raise the happiest, healthiest, heaviest, and most productive animals. We get our feed from Horse and Buggy Feeds in Winchendon. Walter Anair is willing to deliver and to give volume discounts.

Chickens

We raise 500 broiler birds each spring-fall season in two batches: May - July and July - October. We have found a variety that does well on-range called Kosher King. These Barred Rock crosses have a more natural body type than the Cornish crosses, and they enjoy range-eating grass. We have tried Freedom Rangers also, which we enjoyed, but have only been able to get them straight run. We prefer to raise all cockerels because of their more consistently larger size.

For health and vigor from early on, we supplement the starter feed with apple cider vinegar in their water, kelp free choice, a shovelful of sod each day, and sprouted grains (mentioned in last month’s newsletter) from the start. At about a month of age the birds are moved outdoors to their chicken tractors which are moved along the pasture one length per day with the birds walking along inside. With adequately low stocking numbers, the birds have access to fresh and nutritious grass most of the day, which I understand can meet up to 25% of their nutritional needs. All of the above produce in 12 -13 weeks a bird that dresses (with giblets and neck) approximately 6 ¼ lbs. We charge $6.25/lb for these birds and net between $10-$15 per bird.

Laying hens are the homesteader’s dream bird. Ours are totally free range for 6 months each year, the October - April period. They return to their permanent home at night after spending the day foraging broadly. There is nothing more heartening for me than the sight of a laying hen spending every moment wisely gathering her living. These chickens get free choice layer grain, kelp, oyster shell and their daily breakfast of sprouted grains. In the summer-time the birds would destroy our crops, so they have to be moved into chicken tractors along with the broilers. We follow that same protocol as above.

Turkeys

In many ways managed like the chickens, the turkeys differ in that they make aggressive use of pasture. They do not seem as interested in sprouted grains as the chickens, however. We do what we can to get them on grass that has been mowed (by cows or mower) about two weeks or so prior to being moved onto the pasture. I am sad to say that we merely broke even on our turkeys last year. Staying on top of infant mortality is the most important management concern with these birds as they are very fragile as children. As infants they receive vinegar in the water, careful monitoring of brooding temps to keep it toasty warm with no corners to pile into, kelp, sod, fresh hay for bedding each day, and regular nursery check-ins. Once they are adults, they are very tough and can handle all sorts of weather. From a quality of life standpoint, one should have turkeys around for the entertainment factor – they are marvelously curious and highly sociable.

Pigs

We raise 13 pigs each year that we purchase as certified organic 8 week-old piglets from Misty Brook Farm. We have gone back and forth over the past 30 years regarding where to raise our pigs. Of late we have settled into carving out a different ½ acre section of the woods each year. We electrify the area, provide them with a movable house that can accommodate all of them (they generally choose to find housing in the woods), and see them daily when we come in to feed them. We start with free choice hog grower in a self-feeder and supplement with about 7 gallons of whey each day from Robinson Farm’s certified organic cheese operation.

As animals that originated in the woods, these pigs do extensive foraging for food and minerals they find in the soil. They are immensely healthy and happy. Our pork prices range from $8.25 - $13/lb. We also sell lard at $20/ quart. One of the real benefits of raising pigs is that they take almost no time. Meanwhile they improve the quality of our woods. And we get all the bones, heads and organ meat to make a year’s supply of stock, head cheese and dog and cat food (our security staff). We netted approximately $100 cash per pig last year. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot of “money” but I feed large crews of people for breakfast and lunch year round, mostly with pork and eggs as the protein basis of our meals.

Cows

We have had cows off and on for the past 20 or so years. Presently we are harvesting a couple of almost 2 year-old Jersey steers each fall. We don’t net significant money from their sales. What we do get is a highly improved pasture/hay field that has shown a substantial increase in diversity, weight and volume of hay, and subsequent fertility returned to our vegetable fields that are mulched with the hay. There is a perceptible improvement in overall farm biodiversity and health with the addition of these cows. Their manure also feeds our modest worm operation and is a significant source of nutrition for our chickens that pass over the field after the cows have grazed there. Our steers get one tray of sprouts each day to keep them happy and manageable with two trays in the winter. They are totally pasture-raised, eating our stored hay in the winter when they are not eating grass (approx 8 months per year).

Our vegetable/fruit operation and animal operation are very integrated with one another. Each serves the health and nutrition/fertility of the other. Working within a certified organic and biologically sensitive paradigm, I can safely use the animal waste and by-products across the farm and be assured that I am honoring the microbial life that have the final say with our health care. My challenge is to continue to find economical (in money and time) ways to further feed our animals from our land and reduce off-farm inputs. As I get personally into a more grain-free diet, I am constantly working to maximize the sprouting of grains, improving pasture, and thus further reducing bagged commercial grains that are not biologically active, and perhaps not as digestible as these live sources. All this is a work in progress.

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