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Livestocking Plans – Cattle

Cattle

Now we move on to the most visible animals on the farm, the cattle!

Cattle will be the largest, most obvious feature of our pastoral landscape and will do the majority of the grazing.  They, along with the sheep and large black pigs, will harvest most of the solar energy harnessed by the grasses and legumes in the pastures and turn it into healthy, profitable, sustainable meat.  While doing that they will trample undesirable forages, press new seeds into the soil, and deposit copious amounts of natural fertilizer from their back ends.

We will be practicing intensive rotational grazing; moving our mob of cattle every day to access new forages, to move away from yesterday’s wastes, and to give the grasses a chance to recover so that we don’t deplete our pastures of the most palatable species over time.  Therefore, we are really looking for cattle that are easy to work with, gain well on grass, produce high-quality beef, will do well in Kentucky (where it can be hot and humid in the summer but cold in the winter), and have good maternal instincts combined with calving ease.

With those qualities in mind, here are the cattle breeds we are considering, in on particular order.

Belted Galloway – The “oreo” cow of Scottish descent.  Even their hides can become very valuable assets after processing.  The Belties tolerate cold very well and grow thick coats during the winter.  They handle heat better than most cold-adapted cattle as well.  They are listed as Recovering by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.   They have good maternal instincts and their long body conformation helps maximize the high-quality cuts of beef.

Red Poll – The always hornless Red Poll is a good pasture-based breed that can produce excellent quality beef on grass alone, which is definitely what we’re looking for.  The ALBC lists the Red Poll as Threatened.  They are very docile, so they’re great for intensive rotational grazing.  The calves have low birth weights, but in one study Red Polls led the tested breeds in average 200-day weight of the calf for each bred cow.  This means that they’re really fertile, hardy, and grow quickly.

Florida Cracker / Pineywoods – I list these breeds together because of their extremely similar characteristics, not because we would hybridize the two breeds.  Both of these breeds are criollo cattle descended from the first cattle the Spanish brought to the New World.  They’ve been left to adapt to the natural conditions here on this continent for almost 500 years.  Both the Florida Cracker and the Pineywoods are heat-adapted cattle with good parasite and disease resistance.  They are almost always horned and come in very cool color patterns.  The beef is lean with a much different fat and CLA structure than most other beef.  Both breeds are smallish and retain some of their wilder nature, or what you might call “attitude.”

Texas Longhorn – As much as any Razorbacks fan would hate to do this, Texas Longhorns have to be in the mix for consideration for us.  Like the Florida Cracker and Pineywoods breeds, the Longhorn was developed from the cattle brought over by the Spanish and left to their own devices to survive on the American range.  What’s developed is a breed that is heat-adapted, parasite- and disease-resistant, and is quite at ease calving on their own on the pasture.  The meat is lean with a good Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio.  The Longhorn can finish well on grass and has good maternal skills.  The Longhorn gets larger than the other criollo cattle.

Murray Grey – For those of you who are also familiar with Tim and Liz Young of Nature’s Harmony, this is the cattle breed they chose to go with.  It is a good choice for a pasture system.  This Aussie breed can thrive on grass alone and has a very high dressing percentage.  They are easy to handle and work around.  Strong maternal instincts are another hallmark of the Murray Grey.  Firetree Production Stock, located very close to us in Kentucky, was instrumental in bringing some of the first groups of these cattle over from Australia and there are some established herds of Murray Greys already around us.

Brahman – The Hindu sacred cow from India complete with shoulder hump, dewlap, and loose skin folds.  This is a heat-tolerant breed that can also resist the cold down to 10 or 15 degrees.  It is a medium-sized breed that gives birth to small calves and are quite capable of handling calving themselves.  They are good mothers and can thrive under adverse conditions and poor forage.  The demeanor can vary like all other breeds, but Brahmans can become so tame as to be hazardous to traffic in India or so wild as to become rodeo bulls in the States.  They quickly learn how they are expected to behave.

Charolais – A large breed of cattle developed in France.  This is the largest breed we are considering, with females weighing up to 2000 lbs and bulls up to 2800 lbs.    They are very muscular and produce a lot of beef per cow unit.  They are cold-tolerant and graze aggressively even in hot weather.  They are reputed to have above-average quality beef.  I have not seen any reports of the ease of handling of this breed.

Highland – Arguably one of the most recognizable breeds of cattle in the world, the Highland comes dressed to impress with its long shaggy coat of (usually) red hair.  They are a medium-sized breed of cattle that is listed as Recovering by the ALBC.  The breed is renowned for the quality of its beef and comprise the herd of the British royal family.  They can thrive on forage that other cattle pass up and are known as light grazers, or the ultimate “green” cow.  Obviously this is a cold-adapted breed of cattle, but successful herds are established as far south as Texas and Georgia so heat must not bother them too much.  They are disease-tolerant and parasite-resistant.  Along with having a good, even temperament, this is another breed of cattle where calving is not a problem.

So what are we going to go with?  Unlike some of the less expensive animals, some of our choice here will be dictated by cost of acquiring and transporting the cattle.  We may have to see what’s available to us within a short drive of our ranch.

However without money being an issue, I would lean towards giving the Highland, Murray Grey, or Red Poll a try.  Lindsey may hold out for the Belted Galloway though, and I know better than to argue!  This is the one group of animals I’m a little intimidated to “experiment” with due to the prohibitive cost of acquiring the animals, so I’m going to look around hard once we get there and utilize all the powers of the friendly neighbors and friendly neighborhood extension service to try and get a breed that will perform like we want it to from the start, and then breed and cull until we get a group of cattle that are adapted extremely well to our little corner of Kentucky.

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Livestocking Plans – Sheep and Goats

Lounging Goat

Well, we’ve made it to the ruminants!  These are the animals that will best convert solar energy into marketable product.  Ruminants take the solar energy collected by the grasses and other plants in the pastures and turn them into meat, milk, wool, and other products.  They are uniquely endowed by evolution with an organ that allows them to gain nutrition where other animals cannot – the rumen.

We’ll definitely have sheep, and we’ll probably have some goats.  I’m a little concerned with the fencing for goats in terms of keeping them on our property and out of the gardens, food forests, etc.  But I’ll put them in the post anyways because we are certainly considering them.

Goats can be used for meat, milk, hides/fleece, and for clearing land.  The meat and clearing are the products in which we have the most interest.  We don’t want dairy goats for several reasons, including the need to milk them every 12-24 hours and the fact that there is a dairy less than a mile away from us where we can get fresh milk cheaply and very locally.  I really enjoy goat meat (called chevon by some and cabrito in San Antonio where we’ve been living) and it’s really low in fat and cholesterol compared to other red meats.  We also have more than half our property in woods and may need the land-clearing services that a few goats can provide.  In short, I don’t think goats will be a major undertaking for us, but a small part of our diversified ranching operation.

Sheep may be the first ruminant animal that we acquire.  They are smaller and less expensive than cattle, and expense is definitely a concern with us right now.  But we’ll need some ruminants to graze the pastures for us and leave behind their fertilizer to help build the organic matter in the soil.  We eliminated wool sheep from consideration due to the heat and high humidity of the mid-south in the summertime and really looked only at the hair breeds of sheep.  This eliminates potential profits from the wool, but also eliminates shearing.  Hair sheep also tend to be more resistant to parasites than wool sheep.  We also looked at high lambing rates and year-round breeding potential in each breed.

Without further ado, here are the breeds of goats and sheep that we are still considering.

Goats

Myotonic or Tennessee Fainting – These goats can be heavily muscled because their muscles are constantly flexing and relaxing due to a genetic mutation.  If startled, they’ll sometimes even fall over momentarily.  It doesn’t hurt the goats at all.  These goats are good for producing meat and for clearing brush.  They also have the benefit of not being as escape-prone as other goats, because the relative stiffness of their muscles prevents them from a portion of the jumping and climbing that other goat breeds are capable of.  Myotonic goats come in pretty much every coat color and eye color combination you can envision in a goat, and they are really prolific goats – kidding every 6 months in many does.  They have a very high meat:bone ratio, mild flavored meat, and appear on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Additionally, the breed is in need of conservation.  The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) places them on the Watch list.

Boer – A goat breed developed in southern Africa.  The premier meat goat today by many standards.  It is a double-muscled breed, very climatically adaptable, and has true-breeding genetics.  These goats spend more time grazing than other goats, but are obviously still goats and prefer to browse for their food when given the choice.  Much larger than most other breeds of goat.  I’d like to try some of these in the pastures, but I am a little worried about escape attempts.

Sheep

Katahdin – A hair sheep breed developed in Maine from Caribbean stock.  They are efficient meat producing sheep in a wide range of climates.  Many other farms around Good Life Ranch raise Katahdin sheep, so they may be the best sheep choice for our area and climate.  Katahdins are very parasite resistant for a sheep and have a good lambing rate.  They are listed as Recovering by the ALBC.

St. Croix – Another Caribbean hair sheep breed that was developed further in the United States.  The St. Croix has similar characteristics to the Katahdin, but it is much smaller.  The upside is that the St. Croix produces more lambs more often than the Katahdin under most circumstances.  They share a similar ability to resist parasites.  However, although the Katahdin is a Recovering breed, the St. Croix is still listed as Threatened by the ALBC.  It also appears of the Ark of Taste.

Barbados Blackbelly – A very different-looking sheep!  Very beautiful animals.  This is another hair sheep that thrives in the hot and humid conditions of the mid-south that give wooled sheep trouble.  They are very parasite and disease resistant.  They are also prolific, often producing twins and triplets.  Blackbellies lamb year-round, even in the heat of summer, and are good mothers.  They are usually polled and are intermediate in size between the Katahdin and the St. Croix.  It is another species listed by the ALBC, this time as Recovering.

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Livestocking Plans – Hogs

Large Black Pig

I’m from Arkansas, so naturally the Hog is one of my favorite animals – way better than Longhorns, Wildcats, Tigers, Gators, Gamecocks, Bulldogs, or Elephants!  Woooo Pig Soooie!  Razorbacks!

We’re looking at raising several breeds of hogs at Good Life Ranch.  Like with our poultry, we’re looking at the old-time heritage breeds of hogs that have better-tasting meat, far more flavor, breed unassisted, and can pretty much take care of themselves in our woods.  The ranch is 157 acres, and over half of that is mixed oak woodland that will be perfect for finishing hogs on acorns, pawpaws, roots, and tubers.

Just like our poultry, we want our pigs to breed naturally here on the ranch.  Our pork production will then naturally be limited by the carrying capacity of our woodlots.  The hogs will mostly be expected to free-range in the woodlot pastures they will be rotated through.  We will separate the breeders, the girl growers, and the boy growers and will have large paddocks in the woods for them to explore.  We’ll see how much supplemental feed they’ll need and I’m keeping my mind open and looking to experiment a little with that.  At certain times of the year, our pigs will also be utilized to till under cover crops or clean up crop residues in our gardens as well as turn compost for us in late winter and early spring.

Here are the breeds we are considering, and we will probably end up with a couple of them:

Large Black – This is a good breed for hams and bacon, and is more of a grazing pig.  Our large blacks will most likely be a part of our pasture rotation with our ruminants and poultry once our pastures have improved enough to support them.  Large Blacks don’t root around like other hogs do, so they won’t tear up the pastures.  The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) has the Large Black listed under their Critical category.

Mulefoot – Like its name suggests, the Mulefoot doesn’t have the cloven hoof of a normal pig.  Its hoof is more akin to a mule’s or a horse’s.  This mutation allows them to thrive in wet areas that causes footrot in other breeds.  Farmers used to put them out on islands in the Mississippi River and let them free range all summer until harvest time in the fall when they would go pick them up again.  The Holliday farm in Missouri single-handedly kept this breed from extinction, and the breed is still listed as Critical by the ALBC.  This breed fattens easily and are known for high-quality hams.  They are listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

Red Wattle – Another hog breed listed as Critical by the ALBC, the Red Wattle has large fatty wattles protruding from the sides of its neck.  The origin of the breed is uncertain, but the current stocks descend from herds collected from the woods of east Texas by HC Wengler and Robert Prentice.  They are known for their dark, very lean meat.  Also listed on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, they are good foragers, are very active, and have gentle dispositions.  They also have large litters of 10-15 piglets.

Mangalitsa – This is a European breed that has a dark, wooly, curly coat.  It’s a lard-type pig, and supposedly has some of the best fat in the world.  The fat also tends to be the monounsaturated variety, which is great!  The meat is also dark and marbled, similar to beef. Only 3 places I know of in the US have this breed of hog, and they are in south Texas, New York, and Washington state so acquiring them may become too problematic and expensive.  I’d like to give this large European delight a try, but if we can’t get ahold of any we’ll try to replace them with the Ossabaw Island pig.

Ossabaw Island – This is a smaller, American version of a lard-type hog.  These pigs are domesticated versions of the feral hogs left on Ossabaw Island during the Spanish exploration of the New World.  They are small (usually less than 200 lbs) and have large forequarters to maneuver through woods and brush.  The Ossabaws have similar meat characteristics to the Mangalitsa, but are just much smaller.  The Ossabaw Island hog is listed as Critical by the ALBC and appears on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

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Livestocking Plans – Other Poultry

Turkeys

Turkeys

Ahh, turkeys.  The “original” American bird.  Franklin wanted them for the national symbol, but of course we all know how that turned out.  Now almost all of us experience turkey in all its glory once a year on Thanksgiving.  Many of us, Lindsey especially, consider it their favorite meat and have it grace their sandwiches several times per week.

Sadly, though, the only breed of turkey that many of us have ever tasted is the broad-breasted white turkey, a bird bred for confinement farming that can no longer breed naturally nor resist parasites or disease without antibiotics.  Additionally, and like in the Cornish X chicken, the broad-breasted white has lost a good deal of the “turkey-ness” in its flavor.

At Good Life Ranch, our turkeys will be raised out on pasture and in the woods without antibiotics.  They will also be bred here at the farm.  Therefore, we need a heritage breed that has retained its natural abilities to resist disease, evade predators, reproduce without “procedures,” and forage for its own food.  The heritage breeds also have a much more pronounced turkey flavor that doesn’t bring “large chicken” to mind.

The turkeys will forage on the grasshoppers, seeds, and grasses they can find on the range and contribute their manure to the soil.  We will free range them most of the year and then put them into larger versions of chicken tractors for several weeks during the spring to breed them and collect the eggs for hatching.

We are considering the following breeds, and we’ll let you know which breed or breeds we’re trying out during our first year.

Bourbon Red –  How could we have a farm in Kentucky without raising the Bourbon Red?  This breed was developed in Kentucky in the 1800’s and was a popular breed up until the advent of the broad-breasted varieties.  It still retains the old-time superior flavor and is said to reach ~22 lbs for the toms and ~14 lbs for the hens.  This breed is on the watch list of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC), but are gaining popularity in the last 10 years.  The Bourbon Red is also listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.  They are very pretty birds and we are definitely going to feature Bourbon Red turkeys at Good Life Ranch.

Royal Palm – In my opinion, this is the prettiest turkey breed around.  They are also one of the smallest, with larger toms topping out around 20 lbs.  I just think that makes them a good bird for people with smaller families to feed!  Honestly, who doesn’t get tired of turkey by 3-4 days after Thanksgiving anyway?  This bird is a more appropriately-sized bird for most of our families.  They are beautiful, tasty, and also on the watch list of the ALBC as well as the Ark of Taste from Slow Food USA.

Narragansett – Until the development of the broad-breasted varieties, this was an important commercial breed.  It has fallen out of favor in the last half century and is now listed as Threatened by the ALBC.  The Narragansett is another heritage turkey breed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.  About the same size as the Bourbon Red, the Narragansett has excellent foraging and laying attributes.  I’ve read that after the brooding stage this breed is particularly adept at finding its own food.  We’ll put them to the test!

Our property has flocks of wild turkeys that will frequent the pastures as well.  I might try to collect some eggs from them and see how the wild strain does in a pastured setting.  Of course, that is all assuming that it is legal to do that.  I’ll contact the wildlife department of Kentucky before I do anything like that, but it would be interesting to see how the taste and growth rates compare!

Wild Turkey Flock

Ducks

I love the taste of duck!  In my opinion it is the best tasting poultry.  We have several ponds that ducks can make their own as well as a large garden in which ducks can be invaluable assets in the never-ending battle with slugs and snails.  Some duck breeds can also produce prodigious amounts of eggs as well.

Ducks will be brooded like the chickens and turkeys.  Our meat ducks will be used to improve pasture fertility while our egg layers will take care of the gardens and ponds.

The breeds we are considering are:

Indian Runner – Very good layers, producing around 200 eggs per year!  They are also very active in their search for slugs, snails, and other undesirables in the gardens.  They walk very upright for a duck, and are on the Watch list of the ALBC.

Campbell – Another breed on the ALBC’s Watch list, and another fantastic layer.  Many reports list this breed as laying 250-340 eggs per year!  They are also extremely adaptable climatically, which will be good in a temperate place like Kentucky.

Cayuga – This is a black duck that (at least early in the laying season) lays black eggs.  The meat is reportedly of excellent quality, but the black feathers make processing the birds into a presentable carcass quite a challenge.  They are a Threatened breed according to the ALBC and the only duck on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

White Pekin – The world’s premier commercial meat duck.  They can reach 8 lbs in 9 weeks, according to many sources.  Their white plumage also makes them relatively easy to clean, at least as far as waterfowl go, and presents a clean carcass.  I just have reservations about them because in my mind I have made them the Cornish X of duckdom.

Geese

Geese will weed our gardens and food forest, provide fertilizer where we want it, and actually deter some of the predators in our ecosystem with their defensive displays.  Geese also respond to unfamiliar people, vehicles, and animals with loud honking, and so make good watch animals.  Of course, in the end, roast goose is amazing!

American Buff – Developed from the very beautiful wild Greylag Goose, this breed was indeed produced here in the States.  It has fallen out of favor and is now listed as Critical with the ALBC.  They are calm and docile as far as geese go, and make good parents.  It has light-colored feathers that help with presenting a good carcass to customers and is a pretty large roasting bird.  The American Buff has made Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

Cotton Patch – Another American breed descended from the Greylag, the Cotton Patch got its name from its original function – weeding the cotton fields of the southeastern United States.  Now listed as Critical by the ALBC, it may find a home at Good Life Ranch performing its originally intended function of weeding our food forest and gardens.  They do have light plumage, but I have found no information on them as table fare.  They do fly better than most geese, though, which is a trade off for us between having them more easily escape predators and keeping them home on the ranch.  The Cotton Patch is one of three goose breeds placed on the Ark of Taste by Slow Food USA.

Guinea Fowl

The guinea fowl will be our tick assassins!  Their job on the ranch will be to eradicate ticks that might normally bother us or our livestock.  Guineas also make good watch animals as they start a ruckus whenever anything unfamiliar wanders into their sight.  Some people allow them to roam wildly over their property, but they seem to lose a lot of birds this way.  We’ll try to try ours to come back to a coop at night so that we keep as many members of our flock intact as possible.  We’ll keep a deep layer of composting material and worm beds in the coop as well to utilized the nitrogen and spilled feed of the guineas.  I’ve heard that guineas taste excellent as well, but I have never had one myself and we’ll probably be utilizing them primarily for their tick eradication skills rather than as roasting birds.  I’m not sure which color we’ll get – I may defer to Lindsey on the colors.  Well also have to find some way to keep them away from our planned beehives, as I’ve seen the guineas at Heifer Ranch just stand in front of the hives and pick off the bees as they come and go.

Well, that’s about all for the Poultry Planning Posts for now.  We’ll move onto hogs, ruminants, rabbits, and fish in future posts and keep you posted on the varieties we’ve chosen once we launch.

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Livestocking Plans – Chickens


Chickens

Well we are now 23 days out from populating the ranch ourselves, and for a long time my thoughts have kept returning to the question of what livestock and breeds will occupy the land with us.  I’ve been trying to think of everything from a land stewardship and ecological point of view; trying to picture all of the different tasks we want our animals to accomplish for Good Life Ranch and how those pieces fit together in the manner we want them to.  That means that we want the outputs or “wastes” of one system to provide the inputs of another.  I’ll try to discuss this aspect in each post and provide a summary in the final post on the livestock breeds.

Here’s my thoughts so far, which I’m sure will change as we get to the land and encounter all of the opportunities and challenges that it has to offer.

Chickens

Of course, all of our animals will provide manure to fertilize the soil.  However, the chickens will probably be the first animals on the farm and will provide the initial source of nitrogen to rejuvenate the pastures.  Our pastures have not been utilized by domestic animals for a long time, if ever.  For the last 10 years about half the fields have been hayed each year with no grazing and the other half of the fields have been used for corn by an Amish farmer whose property adjoins ours on the east.  Since there hasn’t been any grazing going on in most of the fields, they haven’t been fertilized in any way for a number of years.  The fields that have been used to grow corn have been spread with manure every year, but luckily no chemical fertilizers have been utilized.  We’ll use some form of chicken tractor or prairie schooner to help protect the chickens from the numerous predators (our property at least has mink, hawks, and bobcats on it, maybe some other critters as well) and to help the chickens put their manure where we need it most.  Since we don’t have fences yet either, chickens will be the easiest animal to keep on the property as well and the tractors or schooners will help keep them off the highway.

We plan on having broilers and a laying flock.  We’ll start with the broilers and a few laying hens for our own use and add a larger laying flock after we acquire some of the ruminants for the layers to follow around the pastures.  We want to get a nice dual purpose breed for several reasons.  First and foremost is that we want to be completely sustainable.  That means we want to hatch out our chickens on the ranch and not have to order them from distant hatcheries.  Second, and more importantly, I don’t agree with the policy many hatcheries have of killing the male chicks of the laying breeds.  I understand that the male chicks are not profitable for the hatchery, or at least are more profitable as fertilizer or chicken meal, but one of the main reasons we want to embark on this venture is animal welfare and my value system cannot support the mass slaughter of male chicks.  Of course, we may have to order from a hatchery initially to get started, but we will at least check around locally and see if anybody has a good flock that we could use to get started.  Anyway, I want to get a dual purpose breed where the females we hatch out can join our laying flock and later become stewing birds and the males that hatch can become pastured broilers, fryers, or roasters.

Here are the breeds I’ve looked at and some thoughts about each.  Except where noted, we will probably try out several different birds in an effort to see which breed performs best in our particular location.  There are many other breeds out there, and I’ve by no means found them all!  This list is just of ones I specifically do or do not want to try.

Cornish X – I looked at this breed initially.  It’s what the Salatins raise and it’s by far the cheapest option, both in terms of the price of chicks and in terms of growing out, as they have the best feed conversion ratio.  However, the early maturation doesn’t allow the flavor of the chicken to develop.  This bird may be single-handedly responsible for everything tasting like chicken.  They also are developed for confinement, not for the pasture and do not seem to have some of the foraging instincts that other breeds do.  They may drop dead from developmental issues caused by their incredible growth rates if you don’t process them in time.  For these reasons, we will not be raising Cornish X.

Black Australorp – above average layers and supposedly can grow fairly quickly as well.  They are a calm bird and are well-adapted to free-ranging.  This breed would allow us to utilize both the males and the females.  They are a brown egg layer.  Downside is that the dark feathers can leave the processed birds less than appealing to some customers.  They are on the Recovering list of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC).

Delaware – this breed began as a broiler cross, but was true-breeding and a good layer as well.  It’s light in color, very hardy, early maturing, lay brown eggs at a good clip, and free range well.  The ALBC lists the Delaware as a Threatened breed, and the Delaware is listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

Orpington – specifically the Buff variety because of their lighter feathers to make things easier in processing them.  They are supposed to be good cold weather layers and above average layers in general.  They are also early-maturing and can grow to a good size for meat.  Adaptable to free-ranging.  Listed as a Recovering breed by the ALBC.

Araucana/Ameraucana – these probably won’t form a big part of our flock, but I just like ‘em.  They will play a role in our Lifestyles Lane experience.  These birds originated in South America and are often called Easter Eggers because of their blue- or green-tinted eggs.  They free-range well and will help make the South American portions of Lifestyles Lane more authentic, but will probably not factor into any commercial egg or broiler production for us.  The ALBC lists these breeds under their “study” category.

Rhode Island Red – obviously, a red-feathered bird.  That may make a difference to customers at processing time, but they are very good brown egg layers, very hardy in all weather, and not broody.  They are active free-rangers and can reach 6-7 pounds, so the males may make passable broilers on pasture.  Some strains of this breed have been industrialized, but we’d be after the more traditional lines.  The non-industrial lines of this breed are listed as Recovering by the ALBC and are on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

White Rock (Plymouth) – the unlisted part of the Cornish X.  White rocks have white feathers that come off cleanly at processing time, grow rapidly and have a pretty quiet disposition.  Some strains are pretty much confinement only birds, but other strains are starting to be developed for pasturing.  They are supposedly pretty strong layers of brown eggs as well.  A common breed that isn’t in any danger of decline.

Other breeds we may eventually investigate as broilers only include the K22 Red Broilers and the Freedom Rangers.  I’d rather go with one or more of the dual purpose breeds above, though, for the sake of simplicity and in the interest of breeding our own flock and not having to reinvest in chicks each year.  That saves us about $1-$2 per finished chicken, which is a rather high percentage of the total cost of production.

The chickens, no matter what breed or mix of breeds we end up utilizing, will provide fertility to our soils through their droppings, scratch through the manure of the ruminants that we will add to our enterprise eventually and eliminate or reduce the fly problem that many ranches experience.  In addition, they will take care of windfall fruit around our fruit trees and in our food forest (more about that in an upcoming post) and dispose of garden and kitchen scraps.  By products from chicken processing (blood, feathers, entrails, etc) will be composted and then used to fertilize our food forest, gardens, and pastures.  The only inputs into this system should be a one-time investment in chicks, incubators, and brooding equipment as well as a recurring cost in chicken feed.  Outputs include meat in the form of broilers, fryers, roasters, and stewing birds, eggs, manure, and organic materials for composting.

Coming up next – turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas!

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