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!