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Geoff Lawton film: Chickens fed Compost, no bought grain  RSS feed

 
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geoff lawton and Eco Films created a short film on one of my very favorite "waste to yield" sites in the US - Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost Company. This guy is an inspiration. And there is awesome footage of hens "doing their chicken thang".

I really hope to get something like this going in an urban setting, spread out across several homes in the neighborhood (already many of us have chickens). The idea is that we would gather food waste from local restaurants and other neighbors as well as receive regular deliveries of woodchips and process this mixture through the chicken system. In actuality, myself and a few other neighbors are already doing this on a small scale but none of us are quite to the point yet of being able to raise chickens without grain.

click here!
 
pollinator
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Same video, just posted for convenience.

Content minimized. Click to view
 
Mother Tree
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You can see the full-length 12 minute video here - http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/59960-feed-chickens-without-grain
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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@Amadean - thanks for that - for some reason, I could NOT figure out how to insert the video - most frustrating.

@Burra - thanks for the longer vid!
 
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At the neighborhood level:

What if you GIVE AWAY eggs to neighbors that supply scraps--or more accurately trade raw material for a percentage of finished goods? I am sure you could find neighbors more than willing to bring food scraps and (ORGANIC) yard waste (that they would have to PAY to get rid of) in exchange for a few eggs. The trick would be figuring out a fair exchange.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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R Scott wrote:At the neighborhood level:

What if you GIVE AWAY eggs to neighbors that supply scraps--or more accurately trade raw material for a percentage of finished goods? I am sure you could find neighbors more than willing to bring food scraps and (ORGANIC) yard waste (that they would have to PAY to get rid of) in exchange for a few eggs. The trick would be figuring out a fair exchange.



Great idea AND one that I have employed in the past. However, there are some limitations (at least for me) that I ran up against with that idea:
--fair exchange. When I had 8 hens (my entire property is only 1/6 acre) and they were young, this was more possible as there was often a surplus of eggs.
--most neighbors did not expect eggs in return, or at least didn't expect them on a regular basis. Which was great because I live on disability and often sold surplus at the farmers market as much needed income for myself.
--now that my chickens are elders, and I have fewer of them at the moment (due to my personal health, I decided against getting new chicks this fall to replace deceased birds), eggs are very sporadic and in fact, I've had to resort to buying eggs!
--I would love to engender a more of a feeling of "let's all work together to keep functional waste out of the landfills" than create an expectation of some kind of "exchange" that one may or may not be able to live up to in the future. Don't get me wrong, I love to give things to people who need them - but I don't want to tax my own extremely limited means to "compensate" folks for donating things they would have otherwise thrown out. Most people enjoy the fact that they've "done good" by keeping waste out of the waste stream. Also, I do host "tea with hens" garden parties every once in awhile and neighbors get to hang out, enjoy tea and snacks and pet a hen and snack on whatever is ripe at the time.

 
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Just watched the video and was coming to share but glad to see someone di

What a great video. Like I said on the site, I made a huge step in my researche to feed my flock eithout grains...got to try it and see how it will be managable in winter and if the birds will go out to scratch in the cold season. Is it really cold in Vermont in winter? I already have Chanteclers that can go out without freezing. I guess a couple of Brahmas won't hurt neither

Isabelle
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Isabelle - I think if you have a large enough pile, it generates heat that the birds are attracted too.

As for Vermont - the saying goes "Eight months of winter and four months of bad sledding".
 
Isabelle Gendron
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HAHAHAH Seriously? Here in winter it can go down near -35, -40 with the wind. This I would say during the 2 coldest weeks of january. After and before that -20 or so...then in Marsh that warmer days come back normaly after St-Patrick's day. We receive a lot of snow also.

Now I'm using a deep litter method in the Coop but I can't say that they are eating less grains though. But it is around 6 degrees warmer inside than the outside temp. But my ¨compost litter¨isn't really heating yet.

Isabelle
 
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We've had a good stretch of warm weather the past couple of years here in VT. This one is looking to be colder though. In vermont if your a large composter taking in more than 55% of your composting material from the outside, you have to file similar as any other waste site(dump). The chickens are actually used as a way to avoid that process. If your feeding the food scrapes to chickens then technically your not using them as compost feedstock and it counts as Agriculture. From what I understand they are doing more than a million gross sales every year, and about 10,000 or less in eggs which is still pretty good since his cost for keeping them is so low.

If the chickens see him with a shovel they come running. He flips over some compost and they go crazy trying to eat all the critters that are revealed. It's pretty fun to watch.

We buy our potting soil from them and its always an interesting conversation.

He also partially heats his testing hightunnel in the winter with a compost pile jean pain style. He sells the mix by the truckload as well if anyone is interested in compost heating.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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@Josh - lucky you to be so nearby - close enough to be regularly entertained by the antics of chickens! I would love to visit their operation one day but ain't no way this desert rat is going there any time but in the heat of summer!
 
Isabelle Gendron
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@ Josh...effectively I ssaw on tehir website that in the winter the chicken are inside a tunnel...did I understood correctly? Here I think it would be difficult to use this method since we have a ¨quota¨system with the ¨big¨agriculture industry. So small farm like mine can have up to 100 egg layers, 100 broilers, and 20 turkeys (I think) without needing to by a quota to produce eggs or meat...but the idea is absolutly great. But I am really woundering if the chicken can really go without eating any grains? Here my flock free range and they always waiting for the grains.....I have a lot of pastures, flowers, trees etc but they like their grains...

Isabelle
 
josh brill
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We've only gone during the shoulder seasons to pick up compost. So I don't know what it looks like in the middle of winter.
http://goo.gl/maps/oeyhV The light colored area is where the chicken are most consentrated and that building has the roosts and egg boxes if I remember correctly. Next to that long white rectangle you can see a small square area. Food scrapes get dumped there and the chickens can go at them. You can see two tunnels that up on cement walls in the overhead shot. That is where the first bit of composting happens. And might be the tunnels they were talking about. I'm sure they had other reasons too but they had to add the tunnels to stop crows and ravens from grabing food scraps that were not composted yet and flying over to the neighbors and dropping it. The neighbor who moved in well after the composting operation was going full force has been a real headache over the years for Karl.

We try to keep our winter chicken area clear of snow then spread first cut hay out. That really helps the birds get out an about during the winter. The first cut hay tends to have a lot of seeds that they can scavange for as well. We have a mobile hoop coop, that gets pretty darn warm in the winter with the bedded pack and all the chickens heating it up. Moisture buildup and be a big problem if you don't have good ventilation.

He is in a warmer climate but http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_smallscale_poultry_flock:paperback has some good ideas on alternative feeds and general chicken maintenance. We met him at our winter's farmers market two years ago when he was doing some touring research and he seemed like a really nice guy.
 
Isabelle Gendron
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I will check this out.

Thank you.
 
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Geoff Lawton and Eco Films created a short film on one of my very favorite "waste to yield" sites in the US - Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost Company. This guy is an inspiration. And there is awesome footage of hens "doing their chicken thang".

I really hope to get something like this going in an urban setting, spread out across several homes in the neighborhood (already many of us have chickens). The idea is that we would gather food waste from local restaurants and other neighbors as well as receive regular deliveries of woodchips and process this mixture through the chicken system. In actuality, myself and a few other neighbors are already doing this on a small scale but none of us are quite to the point yet of being able to raise chickens without grain.

geofflawton.com



I just watched his whole series (on his site) and it was VERY informative for this PC newbie.
 
pollinator
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That video above no longer looks available but here is one from the Rhodes family and their Great American Farm tour titled "How Karl Hammer Feeds 600 Chickens (Without Grains)":



GREAT video interview.  Hammer also talks about heritage breed mammoth donkeys and mules, and the history of donkeys and mules.  Really valuable and interesting stuff. 

He also talks about how he has some renegade chickens... it's just a couple minutes, but I identified.  We had a renegade duck, who was just this different, clever, free-thinker.  And he discusses the value of keeping the chickens, even those too old to lay.  He feels they pass on intelligence.  I think that's very accurate, in my experience with ducks and chickens both.

He also goes into water management at their composting farm.  They use ponds and pond life as indicators of whether or not they are managing runoff properly.  "Counting frog legs..."  Brilliant ideas coming from this farm.
 
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Hello, wanted to share my experience in this subject.
I am a chef, and we collect compost at my restaurant. Since I bought land, my intention was to depend on this biproduct of the restaurant (which uses only local and almost entirely organic produce) as the complete source for my chicken and egg laying project.

It went badly.

Ideologically, I prefer the thought of heirloom birds that breed true to type: my first choice for my climate (hot, arid south Texas) would be Arrancauna or Mexican fighting chickens, both of which are dearly suited to this terrain. But as for selling birds for meat, I discovered that my restaurant would buy neither of these--or any other bird but the double-breasted Cornish Cross. The yield of meat to bone is pitifully low, and tougher, stringier..and on my end, takes far longer to raise.

(I ended up eating this first flush of heirloom birds myself, and I have to admit they were tough as nails--the breasts I could only grind and turn into chili, and even then it was like gravel after seven hours  in a crock pot.)

So, Cornish Cross or nothing. Which I hate, but I decided to still do, since chickens were at the heart of my nitrogen cycle and cleanup crew, in a system reminiscent of Joel Salatin's. I had to have something that did that kind of work, and would have to be sellable in some form--or the operation wouldn't pull itself.

So I bought 40 Cornish Cross, and (after feeding them starter crumble to the solid food stage)proceeded with my original plan. I brought home two 5 G buckets of compost a day, and dumped them on the ground, and puled the chicken tractor over it. It looked like it would work well for about a week, and then bad things started to happen. I started finding a dead chicken in the tractor each morning. First one, I thought it was fluke: chicken farmers deal with this all the time, forget it. Then more than one. One final day, there were six dead chickens all at once. The bodies would bloat by the time I found them. After I had lost over half my flock I decided to stop the compost.

Compost (food scraps we don't want, for one reason or another) obviously has bits of nasty stuff in it. It is teeming with bacteria, fungus, and all the rest--which is all part of the life cycle in a compost heap, and probably an amount of that in the digestive tract of South America's chickens, opossums, raccoons...but not the Cornish Cross.

It is designed specifically for one thing: to be an indoor, drugs-yes, pellet fed meat machine. I stopped the compost feeding, and (not wanting to go back to soy protein and corn pellet, which I saw as being a complete forfeit) switched to regular old chicken scratch--whole millet, sorghum, and cracked corn. Slightly more respectable than pellets, I thought.

They survived, but failed to thrive. In a factory setting, they are supposed to hit kill weight at seven weeks. Mine were well past three months, and not at a harvestable size. But they didn't die on scratch, so I let them go until 6 months, to begin egg laying--and we'd call them layers. (We ate most of the males at this point: even at three months and oddly fed, they were almost as edible as standard grocery store stuff.)

Their bodies went into egg laying mode, and we began to see the beginning of little pullet eggs showing up here and there. Then one day, laying dried up completely. Feeling like I'd finally reached total failure, I turned the cage on its side, let the hens out ro do whatever the hell they wanted, and went and bought a bag of standard feedstore pellet garbage, the very enemy I'd sought to vanquish.

Wham--the layers kicked on just like clockwork. An egg a day per hen, just as big and shiny and perfect as anyone ever saw. I still bring the compost home, because I can't bring myself not to. I dump it on the ground, and let whoever wants it fight over it, which sometimes includes the chickens, but just as often it's the goats vs. the dog, and the chickens don't figure into it.

I feel like my sustainable chicken project has been a total flop, kicked off one shelf of ethical and ecological high-mindedness after another. Now it's a chicken factory--as much as I would like to raise--by exactly the same inputs that chicken factories use. The only difference is that I'm pushing my chicken factory around a tree-covered savannah.
 
pollinator
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Michael, thanks for sharing this tale.
Real life results,good or bad are invaluable for informing a sustainable life.
I find my chooks eat the food scrape I bring home, but don't eat enough of it.
They eat their fill and then go off to scratch...
Clearly I need more chickens!
While not "heritage" persay, Rhode Island Reds and Easter Eggers  aren't Cornish Cross either.
I'm not planning on eating them, but they lay well even at 5+ years of age.
Maybe a chicken breed some where between hardcore heritage and overly bred would do well on the scrap you provide, producing eggs and even meat.


 
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