Life's Refinements

Once again we’ve arrived at the point when our little chicks make their way out into the great big world, and have their first taste of pasture!  These little guys are doing great and already we can see some pretty dramatic improvements in their quality of life (not to mention ours!) that have come from the experience we gained from the first batch and subsequent changes that we made to our methods.

First, and maybe even foremost, the compost in the brooder has finally kicked into high composting gear, and it’s great.  The issues we had with excessive moisture and even cannibalism (see the earlier post “A Murder Most Fowl”), completely disappeared, and we have dropped our mortality from 3% in the brooder to now less than 1%.  Based on the fact that little else has changed in brooder management, and that the weather has actually gotten more extreme both directions (which would negatively bias our findings), I happily attribute this progress to the compost… or more accurately the billions of micro-organisms that make it up.

Basically, the composting floor in the brooder gives the chicks’ digestive and immune systems a preliminary inoculation of pro-biotics and the compost’s flora and fauna provide, among other vitamins and nutrients, vitamin B12 and riboflavin.  What’s so striking is that conventional wisdom would have us cleaning out the brooder between batches.  Very few people would think it was right to leave a dirty floor for new house guests.  In fact, if we weren’t putting in the effort to aerate the compost regularly and manage the level of moisture to encourage the right pace of decomposition, it might even be a good idea. 

However, the fact is this vibrant and living floor creates an ecosystem in the brooder that is far better at using the concentration of waste that these little chicks provide and even has the fringe benefit of nourishing them too.  It’s really remarkable that just like in the pasture, everyone (no matter where they are on the food chain) is healthier when there is greater biodiversity and macro- and micro-biotic activity.  So, all that said, when I saw mushrooms growing up through the floor between the first and current groups in the brooder, I knew we were in for a good batch.

The chicks are doing beautifully.  We were so impressed by the quality of the birds and the richness/nutritional density of their meat that we have also decided to permanently implement our pilot program of moving the birds twice every day.  The comments we’ve been getting from customers have been really impressive and inspiring.  Also, after Shae made the richest and most flavorful chicken stock I’ve seen with one of our broilers, it really proved that the change to the meat is worth the doubling of our rent and labor.

The turkeys are now living in their new home.  We moved them into a 1/8 acre paddock with a mobile shade structure that gets moved every two days.  They are grazing like mad, as turkeys will do, and we are very excited about how they will taste.  They are enjoying the mild weather and sleeping under the stars outside of their house that I spent days making, but the important thing is they are happy.  In fact, even with all the fuss that their propensity to kill themselves causes, they pay for themselves just in the fertility they add to the soil and the entertainment they give us every day when they come and great us with a rousing chorus at the fence.

The great test, though, of whether we will keep doing turkeys will be if my Mom likes the turkey I bring home for Thanksgiving.  In the past, she’s been suckered into paying too much for a bird in the health food store, that ended up being dry and uninteresting.  The next year she got a tofu-turkey instead, and I think I'd have to retire if any of my birds were responsible for such a dramatic Thanksgiving upheaval.  What’s hard to communicate to customers is that simply buying a bird that was raised on better feed will do very little for the quality of the product.  In fact, just changing the feed can even diminish the quality of the bird because industrial practices often rely on the presence of an industrial feed full of hormones and medications.  If you just swap the feed, the eventual product will likely be a pretty good showcase of how poor treatment, nutrition, and living conditions affect meat.

In my mind, it’s unfair to make people think they should pay more for food as some kind of tithe for their lifestyle.  While I agree that we need to understand that food has a higher real cost than the supermarket advertises,  the jump in price should be worth the extra money when families taste the product, see the land that’s been improved, and interact with animals who are raised in a way that respects their natural habits and character.

P.S.  I wanted to brag a bit and share with you all back home a review that was written on the Holisitic Moms Network of San Jose website about our farm.  We had a couple of customers come out on the first pick-up day and it looks like they enjoyed themselves!

I also just got word that we are the "growers of the month" on the Buy Fresh Buy Local website for the Bay Area.

How cool is that?