Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pasutred Poultry

So it was my Birthday a few weeks ago and my lovely girlfriend, Colleen, got me Pastured Poultry Profits, by Joel Salatin. The book basically outlines a production, processing, and marketing model for small scale poultry production. The novel part of this method is that the chickens live in floor-less, mobile, pens that are moved daily to fresh pieces of pasture. The benefits are numerous, some obvious and others more subtle. Basically, the pastured poultry model allows birds access to fresh air and sunlight, exercise, as well as fresh green pasture which provides crucial vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, because the chickens are moved daily, they are not forced to wallow in their own poop and urine, which yields healthier, disease free birds, and healthier pasture. Even compared to free range poultry that live in a stationary building, the pastured poultry fair better. Keeping chickens in one place, even if they have access to pasture, inevitably leads to nitrogen build-up in the radius around their house, which causes nitrate toxicity in the soil and enables pathogens to live, grow and prosper in the feces of the chickens. I could go on forever about the benefits of pastured poultry and even longer about the detriments of factory chicken concentration camps, but I will leave it at that.

After reading the book, I decided that I HAVE to run a batch of pastured poultry. I set out to find some flat land (a difficult task in the highlands of Guatemala) and a partner to work with on this venture. Sure enough, i found what I was looking for.

In the town next to our, there is a local Guatemalan cow farmer, named Marcos, who rents and stewards 4 and a half acres of lake front property, which is incredibly flat and well equipped with healthy pasture. After spending a few days talking and working with the farmer, I brought up my idea of running some pastured poultry on his land. The fact that he has cows makes it all the better. Note that his milk cows are beautiful and his management of them is even more so. Each morning, he moves each of his 10 cows to a piece of fresh pasture, preventing manure build up and damage to teh grass, which providing a fresh daily piece of good green material for grazing. Running pastured poultry behind cows is incredibly beneficial, as the chickens benefits from the grubs and undigested grain found in the manure patties, and the pasture benefits from the chickens spreading and scratching the manure patties into the ground, to fertilize the pasture and prevent run-off into the lake.

Needless to say, he loved the idea and, after working out the details, hit the ground running. The first movable chicken pen is almost complete and we are then going to build a brooder house for the chicks. The goal is to have the first batch of chickens on to pasture by November 1st. Assuming all goes well, and we learn from the first few batches, we hope to be at about 40 birds per week production come mid-February. There is also some potential to diversify, for example, by running pastured turkey starting in March for a batch ready right before Thanksgiving. There will be lots more information on the blog, so you can keep up there if you guys are interested.

Pictures and more details will be posted shortly and, as this is a major project for me, I will try to use the blog as a log for all my expenses, experiences, and thoughts on the project as it progresses.

Just one other thing I want to note. As Marcos is primarily a cow farmer, I have been learning a lot about how to work with these beautiful animals. I even milked one for the first time. Furthermore, we now have unlimited access to fresh, raw, unpasteurized milk (and cheese, yogurt, cream, and butter, all f which can be made from milk). The health and nutrition benefits of unpasteurized milk are unparalleled, but the details will be left for another, later post. Cheers!

And We´re Back!

So after quite a long hiatus, I have decided to restart the weekly postings on Fun with Farming and Fermentation. In addition, Colleen has also agreed to post on here as well. The blog, as usual, will be devoted to the documentation of all our activities in the areas of farming, fermentation, and nutrition.

During our hiatus from the blog, we have been extremely busy. Just as a recap, here are some of the projects that we have recently been working on:

- Built a Chicken Coup near our house, which will soon house a flock of Criollo (indigenous)Hens that should provide us with eggs for eating and some to sell. The house is all finished and we are now in the market for a number of good looking hens to move in.

- Built a Rabbit Hutch that now houses 3 rabbits. I bought the rabbits in San Pedro La Laguna. The lady who sold them to me only had three, one mature female and two of her sons that are about 1 to 2 months old. Currently, we are looking for a mature male so that we can begin breeding for meat and fur production. The two younger males are being fattened up and I suspect that one will be eaten and the other will be traded in order to get a better deal on a mature male from a different blood line.

- Built a worm bin and filled it with red worms that are used to make incredibly rich compost. We are currently figuring out a way to integrate the composted rabbit manure as a food source for the worms. Already, the worms seem well established and happy in their new home. For their bedding, we are using coconut husks from our weekly coconut deliveries. Shredded and mixed with a bit of compost, this makes an extremely effective medium for the worms to do their thing.

- Making, Bottling, Labeling, and Selling our Kombucha Vinegar. Our vinegar is a live culture, non-distilled, raw vinegar that has been aged for three to four months. This vinegar is now being sold in a health food store in San Pedro, with more locations to come. This is also the beginning of our plan to sell a number of live-culture, whole foods to restaurants and health food stores in our area.

- Weekly Beef Stock: Understanding the benefits of animal fat and protein for human nutrition, we have begun patronizing the local butcher in order to work these products into our normal diet. The life of the typical cow that is sold at our butcher is a quite and lovely one. For the first several years of his life, he lives near the coast, eating fresh pasture and dried hay and corn stalks. During the last year of his life, he can be found in our town or the town next over, grazing and exercising in the open fields. Each Saturday morning at 3AM, a cow is slaughtered across the street from the butcher. I have actually had the pleasure of watching this ritual be performed. When we buy the meat Saturday morning, the flesh is still warm, signifying the freshest meat one can possibly buy. We typically buy 2 to 3 pounds of shoulder, bone and all. We make a beautiful stock that literally simmers for 2 full days. The meat and bones are then removed and the meat is picked out for use in other dishes later. The resulting stock serves as a base for soups, rice dishes, and also as a warm nourishing drink.

- Lard Rendering: From the same cow, we also buy several pounds of fat once a month or so. We then render this fat to yield highly stable lard and also some cracklings. The whole process also takes about 2 full days. For all those who think lard and animal fat is bad for you, rest assured. We will devote a post not only to the benefits of stable, saturated animal fat in the diet, but also how to render your own lard and typical uses for it as well.

There are also a number of other things, but I will cut it short for now. We will be posting more detailed information regarding each of these projects, as well as updates on their progress. We are also working on getting a camera, so we can upload pictures.

We apologize for our hiatus, and we hope that you will continue reading and also spread the word to all your friends. Cheers!