Tag Archives: livestock

Goats!

The pair of goats grazes and explores the backyard.

For my birthday Lindsey and her parents Ronnie and Jake surprised me by telling me they were going to get me goats!   I had a fun night and day looking around, making calls, and checking the internet seeing the goats available in our area.  These goats are the first ruminants we’ve got on the farm, and we look forward to them helping us reduce the weeds and brush that have been encroaching on the pastures and garden areas.

We decided to look at Boer goats since they are the most commonly available in our area.  I looked around and asked around and most things indicated that some of the best Boer goats in our area come from Triple Holler Farm.  We checked them out and ended up buying two of their young doelings.  Lisa and Dan really love their goats and they were so patient with our questions (we had a lot of them since these are our first goats).  They patiently and sometimes repeatedly answered our questions and told us about their goat operation.  I learned that the goat block – a mineral and protein supplement that most animals out on pasture need – I had bought was a brand that their goats usually didn’t like.  They told me the type they used and where to get, even tearing off a label from one so that we would wind up with the right product.  Lisa and Dan didn’t even laugh too hard about the dog crates we are using to move animals around in until we can afford something different.  At least the goats fit easily in them, although I think Lindsey wanted the little one to ride home on her lap.

Please allow me to introduce you to the goats…..

The older red boer doe.

Posin'. Aren't I cute?

The 2 pictures above are the older doe.  She was born 12.10.09 (hey hey Scott!), so she’s about 9 months old right now.  I would guess that she weighs about 65-75 pounds right now, but that is strictly guessing.  As you can see, she’s almost entirely red.  She has a little white patch on the left side of her belly that you can’t see in these pictures.

The younger spotted-headed doe.

Check out those ears!

And this is the young doeling.  She’s less than 3 months old, being born on 6.12.10.  She’s roughly half the size of the older doe, so probably 30-35 pounds at the most.  Lindsey’s face just lit up when she saw this one playing and prancing around.  She looks a little more like a “traditional” Boer goat except that her head isn’t as solid-colored as most.

Both of these goats are full-blooded Boers, and we got registration papers with them as well so that we can breed and sell registered goats in the future if we want to.  The two we got are actually half-sisters, as they have the same sire.  The older one has been doing a good job of playing big sister since they got here.  She stands guard  anytime something new makes a noise or moves, and the little one runs over to her whenever she needs reassurance.  It’s pretty cute.

Right now they are in our backyard.  We did that because it has a secure fence and is close to us and the house.  We thought that would be best until the goats get settled in and they tame down around us a little so that moving them will be less stressful on everyone with less risk of “escape.”  Once we get them to where they will follow us we’ll start rotating them around using portable electric fencing.

We had over a hundred step-in posts that the previous owners left.  I bought some turbowire and a Gallagher solar fence energizer yesterday and set up a small paddock behind the yard for the goats to move into once they’ve reached their first goal of following us.  There’s lots of browse in that area that we’d like the goats’ help in clearing out.  Then we can rotate them through other areas as well, keeping the brush down, keeping the goats fed, and keeping them moving  away from excrement and parasites.

Thank you Lindsey, Jake, and Ronnie!

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Livestocking Plans – Rabbits

Bunny Tractor

Lindsey has created a new recipe for Braised Kentucky Bourbon Rabbit.  I can’t vouch for the recipe.  I’ve never eaten it.  Neither has Lindsey.  Lindsey hasn’t even eaten rabbit.  But she should – it’s really good and really good for you!

Rabbit meat is low in cholesterol – much lower than chicken, beef, lamb, and pork.  It is also very low in fat, and most of the fat that it does have is of the unsaturated type.  Despite this, rabbit meat has the highest percentage of protein.  The meat also has fewer calories per pound than chicken, beef, pork, or lamb.  Basically rabbit meat is about the healthiest meat you can eat.  And it’s all white meat!

Comparison of Meats

Rabbits are also the ultimate in sustainability.  You can produce 320 pounds of rabbit meat in a year starting from one pair of breeding rabbits.  That’s more meat than a breeding pair of cattle can produce in a year, and the rabbits require far less of a footprint in terms of land, water, and food in order to produce the meat.  As more and more humans take up more and more of the space on the planet, meat animals able to be productive on small footprints will become more and more important.

Daniel Salatin has been raising meat rabbits at Polyface Farms for over 20 years now.  He claims that they could sell 300 rabbits per week if he could produce that many, so there’s no shortage of a market in their area at least.  We want to market our rabbits to the restaurants in Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, and Cincinnati.  We plan to follow the Salatin model of raising our rabbits on pasture in the spring, summer, and fall and then bringing them into a hoop house or barn in the winter.  We’ll have the rabbits living above laying hens.  The rabbit manure will fall through the floor of their enclosures and land on the floor of the building.  There it will be mixed with carbonaceous materials.  The chickens will scratch the manure and carbonaceous materials together to create a rich compost that we can then utilize in our gardens, orchards, and pastures.  Earthworm farming (vermiculture) can also be integrated into this system using the waste feed from the rabbits to enrich the soil and, in turn, feeding the chickens.  The chickens do their part creating the compost, laying eggs, and growing meat for the stock pot.

Rabbits are easy to start with, and we may take a field trip to Swoope to see Polyface and inquire about purchasing some of Daniel’s line of meat rabbits.  He has been breeding them for twenty years to increase their ability to utilize forage.  Why reinvent the wheel ourselves when we can help him profit from his breeding program as well as give ourselves the best possible kick start to our own rabbitry?

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Word to your llama

General Fierceness?

Lindsey wants a guard llama named General Fierceness.  I thought you should know that.

No word yet on whether the “general” part of the name is a military rank or just denotes that the llama is fierce in general.  I’ll get back to you on that.

We do, in fact, wish to employ a guard llama to keep watch over our flocks by night.  I am a dog person but llamas have several advantages I can see over livestock guardian dogs:

  1. They don’t need training.
  2. They eat the same stuff as the animals they are guarding.
  3. They live longer.

That’s a good bit of benefit.  You don’t have to waste time teaching a llama that chickens are for guarding rather than for eating.  You don’t have to purchase extra dog food or add a chore of taking it out to them twice a day every day.  I saw two different sets of statistics that showed the average lifespan of a livestock guardian dog was around 28 months while the average lifespan of a guard llama was 14 years.

We’ll need something, and hopefully the llama will work out for us.  The former owner of the property was just ecstatic about the coyotes, bobcats, otters, and weasels on the property.  I hope the llama will be less excited and remind them that we keep over half of our property in woods and creeks just for them.

“The pastures are for lambs, not bobcats.”

– General Fierceness

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Livestocking Plans – Fish

Koi

We sort of have a greenhouse on the ranch.  What I mean is that the previous owners had begun to construct a greenhouse.  They put up some steel wall supports for to form the two long sides of the greenhouse and attached those to one side of the shop to form a third side.  They also have bought most of the polycarbonate sheets to attach to the steel.  What I have to do is build a roof and a front.  So we will have a greenhouse soon, and that greenhouse will be used for aquaponics.

Aquaponics is the blending of aquaculture and hydroponics.  Individually, they both come with some pretty serious flaws.  What do you do with the thousands of gallons of poopy water produced in aquaculture?  What do you do with thousands of gallons of phosphate-ridden water created by the fertilizers used for the plants in hydroponic systems?  Both of those systems generate a lot of pollution that usually just gets shipped to the treatment facility or, all too commonly, dumped into the local creek.

Aquaponics eliminates those issues by using the fish waste as the sole fertilizer for the plants.  The plants and the gravel they are grown in filter the water for the fish.  The water does not have to be changed!  This system eliminates the pollution of local watersheds and allows you to grow plants with much less water than you would need in a garden of similar size.  Fish feed the plants, plants filter water for the fish.  If you have extra plants, you can even feed them to herbivorous fish.

Basically we’ll have a large pool for the fish, a pump to send the water to the grow beds for the plants, and some PVC or old guttering to bring the water from the grow beds back to the fish pool.  15’ x 24’ x 5’ above ground pools are only $299!  We don’t need one that large yet, but if large ones are that low in price then smaller ones should be even more affordable.  I’m going to try to use a solar powered pump with a powered backup pump just in case the first pump fails.  That will run about $200.  The rest of the system will run about $50 for miscellaneous PVC connectors and junctions, as we already have lots of PVC pipe laying around.  The gravel is free from the streams on our property, and I plan on making the grow beds out of old bathtubs that people get rid of when they remodel a bathroom.  They are just the right size, free, fit with our sustainability mindset, and even already have the drain installed.  No drilling!  That will make the total cost of the system around $550, not including the fish and seeds.  That’s a great deal on a system that can produce literally a ton of fish per year in addition to all of the produce we can grow in the beds.

The plant beds are great for growing lettuces and other leafy greens, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, watercress, beans, and even corn!  The fertilization from the fish makes the plants grow very quickly.  Plus the use of the greenhouse will extend our growing season by 1-2 USDA plant hardiness zones.  I’m hoping the greenhouse will remain warm enough for our lemon tree, lime tree, and olive tree to survive the winter in there.  If not, then they will have to go in the house by a nice sunny window.

On to the fish!

I’ve kept aquariums my whole life (I literally cannot remember a time when I did not have a fish tank), and I’ve had 4 or more tanks in my classroom at any one time for the past couple of years.  Out of all the enterprises on our ranch, this is the one I may not ever live down.  My dad is going to make fun of me for this….  I took Aquaculture as one of several vo-tech classes in high school (Wildlife Management and Ranch Management being the others).  Since then my dad has never let a year go by without referring at least once to my “catfish farming” education.  Now that I’m actually going to use that in an actual career, I’m just holding my breath to see what he’s going to say.  Anyway, the point is I like fish, I’m good with fish, and I’ve had training to succeed with fish.

So what fish to grow in our aquaponics system?  Here are the contenders:

Tilapia – This is the fish we grew in our high school Aquaculture class way back in 1994.  Since then it has become the fastest-growing seafood trend in the US.  There are many species and hybrids out there, but all tilapia is white, flaky fish with good flavor and a great nutritional profile.  They thrive in warm water and in tanks and pools, and are easy to breed.  They are mouth-brooding fish, so they might have better maternal instincts than some of the cattle breeds we’re looking at!  There is evidence that the Egyptians have been cultivating tilapia for thousands of years.  Their lone detrimental aspect is that they are an invasive species in some US states like Florida and Texas.  They can’t survive Kentucky winters in the wild, so that wouldn’t be a problem here, but that result of the hardiness and adaptability of the tilapia has sometimes made owning and transporting them difficult, as you have to navigate red tape for permits and licenses.  I’ll have to look into Kentucky law for this one.

Channel catfish – Channel catfish are very popular table fare throughout the south.  Fried catfish is found on the menus of almost every southern restaurant, and is the featured dish for many.  Channel cats are small, hardy, and breed readily.  They can get to market size a little faster than the tilapia, but also need more space per fish in which to do it so overall yield might be lower.  They are also more time-consuming to process than tilapia because they have skin rather than scales.  They are very efficient converters of feed to meat and grow very rapidly.  They also are native to the US, and therefore non-invasive.

Crappie –  My favorite tasting freshwater fish!  Crappie are simply delicious.  There are 2 varieties of crappie that are different in color, but similar in all other aspects of their characteristics.  They taste the same, they act the same, they live in the same places, and they are caught in the same manner.  This fish is also native to the US, but is relatively new as an aquacultured fish.  Farmers do produce them in ponds, but they breed so readily that people are still trying to work out methods to keep them growing rather than making more little stunted crappies.  I haven’t read too much about growing them in tanks despite searching, but I think they’d be an ideal candidate for a tank or pool system.  They are schooling fish and can crowd themselves out of ponds, so they don’t mind close quarters.  Their breeding rate my be slowed by tank culturing.  Additionally tanks or pools might allow me to sex the fish more readily and possibly separate them into male and female pools for growing out.

Koi – Obviously these fish are not for eating!  These are ornamental fish for ponds and water features.  I’ve had a koi pond at a previous house, and koi are so beautiful and personable.  For a fish, they are about as interactive as it gets.  They learn to recognize their keepers and swim up for treats.  They also grow very quickly.  My koi grew from 3” goldfish-looking fingerlings to footlong torpedos in 7 months.  They can grow to 3’ long and the oldest koi on record is 228 years old and still swimming.  The plan here would be to acquire some nice breeding pairs and then raise the young to a nice size to sell to collectors or to water garden centers.  They are domestic fish, so non-invasive, and are easy to breed.  They also command a very nice price compared to food fish.  However, they are more expensive to acquire and feed than fish for eating.

One of our dogs, Scooter, very much looks forward to the acquisition of our fish.  At our house with the koi pond he learned that “Scootie, let’s feed the fish!” was a real fun time.  To this day, if you say the word “fish” in his presence he goes really crazy and starts jumping all over the place.  We have to have good fish as Scootie’s pet project.

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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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