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raising broilers or meat birds in a food forest

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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There are two decent threads on raising chickens in a forest environment:

chickens in the forest?
keeping chickens in the forest/woods

with some discussion on broilers or meat birds, though a lot of the discussion in both of these threads is focused on layers or chickens in general.

Due to some interesting discussions here at base camp and with other folks across the interwebs, (in part about Paul's raising chickens 2.0 article) Paul asked me to start this thread.

We butted up against these types of questions:
Can raising meat birds in a food forest system be profitable or better than just pasture?
Can raising meat birds in a paddock shift system instead of pens or tractors be profitable or better?



This pic show chickens at Chaffin Family Orchards, thanks to a lovely blog post, http://blog.friendseat.com/chaffin-family-orchards-sustainable-organic-permaculture-holistic-management/. In the blog, the author interviews Chris Kerston who notes that Chaffin sells chicken meat (not just eggs) from their orchard paddock shift systems.

Paul would like to see even more thriving examples demonstrating that meat birds are doable in paddock-shift or food forest systems. Pics or videos would be even better!
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Jocelyn, I have 200 dual purpose chicks on order to arrive this April. They're going to follow my pigs, which will be in paddocks.

I'm going to use tractors. The biggest issue with non-layers in my admittedly small experience is that they have no reason to stay where you want them. Cornish X might stay stay in a four foot high portable fence, but every chicken I've dealt with can get over six foot fencing if they want. I suppose you could clip wings, but that's added labor and there isn't a lot of room for that if you want to be profitable.


When "food forest" is mentioned, I think of shrubs, trees, etc. All of which make great roosts for chickens. The problem is getting the chickens out of the trees, brambles, etc. This is more labor. I have personal experience trying to flush chickens out of a ponderosa pine.

I think you can keep layers profitably in a food forest, and I plan on doing so. But probably not broilers.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Of course as soon as I hit "Submit", Paul's dailyish email popped in my inbox. This subject was in the email as well as Salatin style tractors.

I mentioned I was going to use tractors. I want to make it clear that I'm not a fan of the tractors that are only two feet high. Those might be okay for Cornish X, but I don't think it's healthy to ground birds that normally roost off the ground.

My tractors have more height and room to roost. I've tried a PVC 12'x10' based on my humble greenhouse with poultry netting and I've tried the hog panel hoop style as well. I'm not sure which I'll go with.

Our farm, which we hope will bring profits from poultry, is part of an organization that doesn't allow the short tractors.

We're focusing on heritage breeds and plan to provide meat this fall and chicks and eggs in the spring. We'll use an egg-mobile next year for the layers.

Oh, I'd better use this opportunity to shamelessly plug the farm. Beautiful Nazareth Farms is where you can order, poultry or pork. I guess I should add that to my signature.
 
Adam Klaus
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I raise 150 meat chickens each summer in my orchard. It works very well. The chickens somehow do not go too far, they generally stay in the 1 acre orchard despite having the ability to roam much further. The orchard is located within a 4 acre elk fenced area, so large terrestrial predators are relatively well excluded. The tree cover seems to limit aerial predation. In all truth, predators could definitely get at the chickens, but I have had very few losses over the years. The chickens roost at night in a permanent house in one corner of the orchard. Training them takes less than a week, then they go in on their own every night, and I just have to open and shut the door for them.

The fruit orchard is setup more like a 'food savannah', with lots of sunlight penetration. I have to mow the grass once or twice in the early summer, but then the chickens are eating so much grass that it does not need mowing. The chickens scratch the bare ground under the baby orchard trees, limiting grass competition so that the trees grow better. The chickens definitely eat all the fruit drops, which is good for them, and good for limiting pest populations. The shade and shelter is definitely better than an open pasture, with chickens 'broiling' in the sun all day.

In my 'food forest', I do not use chickens. There are too many little plants, herbs and perennials and such, that the scratching would decimate. That is something I learned from Jerome at CRMPI.

When labor costs are factored in, I like my system a lot. Pens are the worst, for about a million different reasons. Electronet paddocks are a pain, unless you need the electronet anyways for predator protection. I do not shift my birds at all, they range freely wherever they want with enough area to seek out and find the best forage. The system seems to work really well for me. I have written about it a lot in some other threads here.

I think that a real key to the productivity of the chickens is the lushness of the area they are ranging. Dry areas simply do not have the same amount of insects and grubs as moist areas. If you have enough moisture to support fruit production, you should be good in this regard. In contrast, ranging chickens in dry pine forests or junipers seems pretty marginal to me.

Hope that helps, good luck!
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meat chickens in the orchard
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orchard range house
 
Adam Klaus
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Check out this thread for some solid numbers indicating the profitability of my system-

http://www.permies.com/t/30250/chickens/meat-chicken-return-investment

 
Luke Boyd
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I only have a sec, but I thought I'd mention that although Salatin raises broilers in tractors, his layers are in mobile houses in a pasture shift system following cows. Sorry if someone has already pointed this out.

SalatinEggMobile.jpg
[Thumbnail for SalatinEggMobile.jpg]
 
Luke Boyd
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Jeremey Weeks wrote:Jocelyn, I have 200 dual purpose chicks on order to arrive this April. They're going to follow my pigs, which will be in paddocks.

I'm going to use tractors. The biggest issue with non-layers in my admittedly small experience is that they have no reason to stay where you want them. Cornish X might stay stay in a four foot high portable fence, but every chicken I've dealt with can get over six foot fencing if they want. I suppose you could clip wings, but that's added labor and there isn't a lot of room for that if you want to be profitable.


When "food forest" is mentioned, I think of shrubs, trees, etc. All of which make great roosts for chickens. The problem is getting the chickens out of the trees, brambles, etc. This is more labor. I have personal experience trying to flush chickens out of a ponderosa pine.

I think you can keep layers profitably in a food forest, and I plan on doing so. But probably not broilers.


What about harvesting with an air rifle? Not the most PETA thing to suggest but chickens (in my experience) don't roost terribly high, so a decent air rifle with a little bit of practice could make head shots reliably. It would be a little chaotic but certainly no less humane than a cone. You'd have to make allowances for catching the carcass somehow, but that wouldn't be hard. Has anyone heard of this being tried?

Has anyone tried just training broilers to come out of the trees with grain?

My concern with broilers in a food forest has always been predation, precisely because many meat birds can't get up away from the foxes. I've heard it can be quite difficult to secure a forested section from raccoons specifically (brush grounding fences out, raccoons finding a way in through the tree tops, etc). Does anyone have any experience with electro netting around food forests in wet places (like NH)?

 
Jeremey Weeks
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I don't think you'd get a consistent bleed out. Even using the cone, you have to be careful to cut only the vein. Also, bruising the bird (it's going to fall) can lead to to less than good results.

I think the training would be do-able if there isn't a food-rich environment. It's hard to entice a bird even with grain when they've already loaded up on bugs and greens. There's something that may work--bugs. You could raise black soldier fly larvae if you want to go that route. My chickens go crazy for them. I don't know how well it would scale though. I don't want to raise enough larvae for 200 birds for example. 200 birds being only one of the flocks I'll have this season.
 
Sarah Loy
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I don't see the long reply I wrote so I think the cat must have logged me out when he stepped on the keyboard. My short reply would be to check out the book written by Karma Glos, Humane and Healthy Poultry Production. She uses pasture for meat birds but only in the summer, just too much snow in the northeast to pasture in the winter. They find it profitable and her handbook is part of a series for NOFA, Northeast Organic Farmers Asso.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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I just re-read Adam's posts in this topic. Food Savannah is a great term. I haven't heard it before. It makes sense, though. Savannah is nothing but a great big natural pasture.

I live in a dry pine forest as he mentioned. We found that the chickens can feed themselves, even in winter, but they have to range a lot farther. This means that a big flock is going to have a bigger impact in a small area. No surprise there. The problem with bigger paddocks, etc is that extra land costs. It makes profitability an issue.

Having said that, the chickens have had a positive impact. The ground within their range has green plants under the snow. It's not scientific but the only difference between that area and the rest of my land is the chickens. I'm assuming that their "grazing" kept the plants from lignifying. It could be the chickens' waste, but there wasn't really that much. It's pretty neat to scuff the snow away and see yarrow that's still green.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Adam Klaus wrote:Check out this thread for some solid numbers indicating the profitability of my system-

http://www.permies.com/t/30250/chickens/meat-chicken-return-investment



Okay, staggeringly brilliant info in that thread!
 
Nathan Piwowarski
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Last year, I grew my first flock of 24 dual-purpose birds using the methods recommended in Paul's article, http://www.richsoil.com/raising-chickens.jsp. I used 164-foot Premier1 electric net fencing with three different energizers. At night, I put them in a mobile enclosure made out of hog panels (much like this one: http://www.plamondon.com/hoop-coop.html).

Before offering constructive criticism, I believe that many of the results were as-promised:

  • The confinement factor was as-advertised. My birds were happy, at least based on my limited experience with them.
  • The meat and eggs were delicious, albeit smaller than store-bought.
  • The hygiene factor was as-advertised. Visitors marveled at the cleanliness of the paddock, and the lack of "that chicken smell."
  • This system visibly improved the quality of our lawn and a wasteland where there used to be a failed Christmas Tree plantation.



  • But I experienced some of the problems Darby identified in Jack's podcast:
  • For the work factor, the fencing was tough to move. I regularly tangled the net fencing, and it was rather heavy to move alone, or regularly. It would be much smarter to buy two or three smaller lengths of net fencing. I have often thought of suggesting that Paul include that advice in his article.
  • Predation was a big problem. I lost half of my birds to predators. I live near a river, and was using the chickens to improve the soil where I had removed a failed Scotch Pine plantation (meaning there was no cover other than the open coop/enclosure that I built using 2x4s and hog panels). Between the two, I had problems with weasels and owls. A lesser weasel can get around the net fence without missing a beat. I mitigated the problem by (a) moving the paddock far more often than my stocking density required, (b) being very mindful of locking the chickens into their moving enclosure at night (very helpful, but increases the human workload to more than 2 mins/week), and (c) aggressively securing the movable coop/enclosure (hardware mesh--effective but expensive). I know, I know, a livestock guardian dog would be enormously helpful. My spouse isn't up for another dog right now, so I consider it a design limitation that I need to work around.
  • Chalk it up to inexperience, but I had a tough time with shorted and inadequately-grounded fencing. I learned that one has to cut the grass low to prevent shorting the fence. And I had to buy a beefy, expensive energizer and long, impossible-to-remove ground poles to make the fence work. Count that as a strike against PP on the work factor.
  • Blame this on inexperience, too, but I was unprepared for the stage of development where the chicks should be outdoors, but are able to move right through the net fence. We had free-range chickens for a bit. Not the end of the world, but it necessitated an intermediary structure (I called them halfway houses).
  • If you're starting out with relatively poor soils and sward like me, you may not reduce your feed rates as much as expected. I saw this as an enjoyable way to yield eggs, meat, and soil, and not as a business enterprise. So it wasn't a big deal to me, but it could be for some. So PP's benefits on the vegetation factor and bug factor may be more modest than advertised, especially if you're just getting started.


  • Would I run birds another way? No (in fact, I'm going to ramp it up for meat birds this year). Some of the disappointing results resulted from my inexperience. Some of them could be mitigated by avoiding the mistakes I made. And I can live with the others. But if I only intended to have a handful of layers, and wasn't up for the expense and work associated with the net fencing, I'd consider a movable pen system instead.
     
    Jeremey Weeks
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    Awesome summary, Nathan. What breed of bird?

     
    michael crow
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    I am currently working on my design for a chicken paddock shift food forest. The ultimate goal is 4 season forage in zone 6B with no extra feed. Ideally they harvest everything themselves. Is that even possible? My main curiosity for all of you who are doing this is how much extra feed do you give your chickens (if any), and your zone. I don't see the point in raising animals if you are just going to go buy feed from industrial ag. My next step is finding a list of the best perennial food crops for chickens to self harvest.
     
    clint griffeth
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    I mentioned this idea(Meat chickens in Fencing) to a farmer friend of mine who raises his layers this way, but does his broilers Salatin style. He says that Cornish Crosses are too lazy, and they would not forage enough if they were not moved everyday. He says they would just move to the shadiest spot and lay there, so this would not work, according to him. Obviously, the easy answer is raise a different breed, but does anyone have any other ideas or rebuttal to this, because a lot of people will ONLY raise Cornish Crosses.
     
    Jeremey Weeks
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    Michael, most stats I've read are that the chickens will pick up 20% of their food in forage, the rest is feed.

    Of course, the chickens can live 100% on forage, but it will take a lot longer for them to get to butcher size. It's a factor of profitability.

    I'd skip the feed for meat birds if I was raising a small flock just for myself.

    You can find mills that provide good feed.

    Clint, you might like some videos done by Jim Adkins of the Pastured Poultry Network. He advocates heritage breeds. My farm is a member of the network because of some of the conclusion I came to regarding commercial birds.

     
    John Polk
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    Obviously, the easy answer is raise a different breed, but does anyone have any other ideas or rebuttal to this, because a lot of people will ONLY raise Cornish Crosses.


    I think that raising a different breed is the answer.
    Cornish-X is not a permies type breed - they are not sustainable.

    They cannot breed - you need to purchase a new flock of chicks each season.
    They need to be butchered at such a young age that they haven't yet developed a flavor - they don't 'taste-like-chicken'.
    They produce best as long as you are willing to buy commercial feed.

    There are many breeds available that you can perpetuate your own chicks from...forever.
    They will produce a smaller carcass, and it will take longer, but in the right environment, will feed themselves.
    They will guarantee fresh hens and cocks each year, keeping your system productive - sustainably.

    Going with Cornish-X's just perpetuates the cycle of consumerism.


     
    Jeremey Weeks
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    John hit it on the head.

    I also have a problem with fast growing birds.

    Temple Grandin talks about fast growing livestock (pigs I think). She mentions that the meat will be super lean (sounds like a good thing), but it has poor nutritional value. Just my opinion, but I'm confident the same applies to poultry.

    From chick to harvest, the industry spends less than 6 weeks to go from chick to butchered bird.
     
    Shane Gorter
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    I am in my 3rd year raising pastured poultry full time and thought I would comment on my experience. For laying Hens there is no better system that I have seen than the paddock shift with electronet. I am currently running about 200 hens with a paddock of 3 164' electronets. To avoid some of the issues Nathan P. had with electronet I would recommend having your fencer in a centeralized location and buy one of those cheap quarter mile spools of fencing wire and some step-in insulated fense posts and run the power out to your nets vs moving the fencer and ground posts each time. As far as moving the electronet goes I do not pick up the entire thing and move it all at once, I spent way to much time chasing loose chickens. Instead what I do is I move my mobile coop each day and then shift the electronet onto new ground about 1/3rd of a paddock shift a day and I have a large paddock. I do this by moving a few posts at a time so that the net is always standing and there is no openings for the birds to escape out of.
    As far as predation goes I have not had any ground predators get through the electronet so far and we have plenty of them. Last year I had 9 bald eagles and a few owls that took up residence on my property. I have found that if you leave in some roosters to keep their eyes on the sky and you do not release your Hens into the open paddock until they are laying you wont loose any birds. I had birds at 4 months and maybe one at 5 months get scooped away, but I have never seen a full grown hen taken away. To get them up to age I keep them in my greenhouse with shade cloth over it until they are large enough to go into a chicken tractor which I raise them up to laying age in. Currently my tractors are 10'x12' and made up with electical conduit welded together. These tractors are light enough that I do not need a dolly to move them and if a chicken goes under the back it is not harmed. This post is getting long so I will hold off on talking about my broiler experience for another post if people are interested.
     
    Nathan Piwowarski
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    Jeremey Weeks wrote:Awesome summary, Nathan. What breed of bird?



    I used barred rocks and Rhode Island Reds. They served my purposes. I am considering freedom rangers for meat birds this year.
     
    Nathan Piwowarski
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    Shane Gorter wrote:To avoid some of the issues Nathan P. had with electronet I would recommend having your fencer in a centeralized location and buy one of those cheap quarter mile spools of fencing wire and some step-in insulated fense posts and run the power out to your nets vs moving the fencer and ground posts each time. As far as moving the electronet goes I do not pick up the entire thing and move it all at once, I spent way to much time chasing loose chickens. Instead what I do is I move my mobile coop each day and then shift the electronet onto new ground about 1/3rd of a paddock shift a day and I have a large paddock. I do this by moving a few posts at a time so that the net is always standing and there is no openings for the birds to escape out of.


    Shane - These are great recommendations. I wish I would've thought of the spooled wire trick last year--it would definitely save a lot of trouble. I have had some success moving the fence a little at a time. If there are any trees in the paddock, or major changes in topography (as I have when my land dips toward the river), that strategy is limited.
     
    Shane Gorter
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    I read though so many posts that I forgot that the topic was broilers and not just paddocks for chickens. I raised 1500 broilers last year and most of them were Cornish X. I do not like the Cornish X at all, but a major part of being sustainable is not going bankrupt. I have tried a few heritage breeds such as Barred Rock, Black Austerlorp, and Rhode Island Reds. Currently I have a flock of 150 Black Austerlorps that I am trying to make commercially viable as an egg layers primarily and meat secondarily. As far as raising one of these breeds as a broiler alone I will say from my experience, and that of other local farmers I know, it can not be done profitably with the same model we use for hybrids. This is mainly because the food conversion ratio is just way to poor with these birds.

    Even if lets say that you can get them to eat 50% off pasture and get there feed ratio under control another problem your going to run into is that of the market. People have grown to expect that chicken will look and taste like a Cornish X. Even the hybrid red birds I have raised such as the Freedom Ranger and Red Ranger people given the choice preferred the large breasted Cornish X. This honestly offended me because I was willing to sell those birds at a loss the same price as the Cornish X. In my experience even the red hybrids were not commercially profitable because of their lower food conversion ratio. The only model I can see that might be able to bring back heritage meat birds is that if you raise them as a layer first then after two years you slaughter them as stew hens. This of course assumes that you can raise heritage layers to be profitable which I am still experimenting with. The other pastured egg farmers in my area NW Washington that I know have all abandoned this pursuit and raise exclusively sexlink hybrids. I do not take pleasure in this negative response and I am literally gambling the farm trying to get us back on the path to sustainability.
     
    Shane Gorter
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    Nathan, it helps if you have more than one net for navigating around obstacles since you can usually line them up where two nets meet and open them around the tree. If I was to run my birds through my orchard I would probably reduce the paddock down to two nets and use the third net to set up the enclosed fresh ground and then open up the existing paddock into the new one and remove a net from the back. There are a lot of tricks to working with the electronet, but once you get the hand of it you wouldn't want anything else.
     
    Matu Collins
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    I have had full grown hens carried off by hawks and eagles. I've been hesitant to try the paddock shift system because of the many predators that come from above, in particular the birds of prey, raccoons and fishers. The other is the cost of the fencing. I've been toying with a design that includes a chicken moat which I'm excited about but it's going to take some capital.

    I want someone to design an easy way to put netting around yes that will keep predators out but allow the chickens to have access to lower branches and fallen fruit and shade and other benefits of trees. Has anyone accomplished this?
     
    Shane Gorter
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    Matu Collins wrote:I have had full grown hens carried off by hawks and eagles. I've been hesitant to try the paddock shift system because of the many predators that come from above, in particular the birds of prey, raccoons and fishers. The other is the cost of the fencing. I've been toying with a design that includes a chicken moat which I'm excited about but it's going to take some capital.

    I want someone to design an easy way to put netting around yes that will keep predators out but allow the chickens to have access to lower branches and fallen fruit and shade and other benefits of trees. Has anyone accomplished this?


    Do you have roosters with your hens? Also do you have multiple points for the birds to take cover in? I love watching the eagles fly over my hens because the roosters take points around the flock and start calling out and the hens don't even look up they just run for cover. I have the mobile coop which is bottom less so they just run under that and I also have a mobile tin roof that sits over their water that they can hide from birds under. I am certain that an eagle can easily lift one of my Hens up and out of the coop if they had a clear flight plan, so I make sure they do not and the roosters make sure that the eagles wont get the jump on them.
     
    Matu Collins
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    I do always have a rooster with my flock. If one gets eaten (by people or predators!) there is no shortage of roos needing a home.There is lots of cover and there are lots of predators. I have learned to only let them free range under strict supervision or in a fenced in yard during the day.

    By the way, I've never had Cornish crosses myself but I've helped care for and slaughter them with a friend. I think Cornish crosses are really boring and stupid and sort of gross but one benefit- they have so little personality it's not as hard to kill them.
     
    Adam Klaus
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    Shane Gorter wrote:another problem your going to run into is that of the market. People have grown to expect that chicken will look and taste like a Cornish X. Even the hybrid red birds I have raised such as the Freedom Ranger and Red Ranger people given the choice preferred the large breasted Cornish X.


    Not at all true in my experience. You have to develop your clientelle. You have to communicate with potential customers. For me, a huge selling point of my chickens is that they are differernt from conventional factory chickens.

    Marketing is a huge part of the game. You have to bring people into your farm world, and let them understand what you are doing, and why it is superior.

    When small farms try to compete with big farms, only slightly modifying the industrial protocol, it is a guaranteed failure. We small farms cannot operate on the miniscule margins of corporate agriculture. We have to produce unique, artisan products, and charge premium prices for them. That much I am sure.
     
    John Polk
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    We have to produce unique, artisan products, and charge premium prices for them. That much I am sure.


    Very true.
    You can find Kraft cheese at any supermarket, but if you want real cheese, you need to go searching for it (& be willing to pay $$).

    Factory farms probably 'make' less than $1 per bird, but show a nice profit because of volume.
    Us little guys need to make more per bird, just to cover our costs (time & $$).

     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    Hi Adam and John, I agree with your points about educating your customers and the superiority of our products. The question I would have is have you done it with broilers? I am known as a preacher in my community and everyone in my sphere of influence has heard my GMO sermon as well as my sermon on the shortfalls of industrial organic. In the last couple years farming organic pastured poultry full time I have found that moving someone from conventional chicken to industrial organic will cost about a dollar more a pound and most people will do it if they understand the cost benefit. To get someone to go from industrial organic to pastured beyond organic and pay twice as much is difficult and you need to make a true believer out of your customers before they will take that step. To go from that step and try to get them to buy a Red hybrid bird and pay another dollar or two a pound on top of the pastured prices reduces your potential market in my case to about 150 to 300 birds a year. Now the ultimate jump to a heritage bird which would have to cost nearly twice that of a pastured bird I do not see any real market for except a few here and there from those looking at it as a delicacy or a novelty.

    I am a full time farmer and I know I can sell probably 2000 Cornish X a year and make about $4-$5 a bird. With the Red Birds I could probably sell 300 a year and make probably $3 a bird. With the heritage birds requiring 5 months to get up to an average weight of 4lbs I can not make money at all. Also in my experience, not to my pleasure, I find that the average consumer wants boneless skinless chicken breast. I loose probably half my market because I only sell full birds not parted out. When someone takes home a Red bird and finds barely any chicken breasts compared to the Cornish X, I have gotten complaints. I do have a couple customers that stock up their freezers when I run a batch of red birds, but not enough to run a successful farm off of. Heritage birds for profit will require an incredibly innovative business model that I am not aware of. I really want to drive the point home that I am in no way advocating for Cornish X at all. The reason why I raise them is that is that first I am trying to create a non industrial farm business model that others can duplicate and thrive on. Second, I want to make food available that is not poisonous and has greater nutrition than industrial organics. Sustainability comes in third, although, sustainability is a critical aspect of both my first and second priority as well. If you guys are successfully farming heritage broilers and making a living off of it, I really desire to know how your doing it and I will jump on board if it is possible to do in NW Washington.
     
    Adam Klaus
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    Shane Gorter wrote:
    I am a full time farmer and I know I can sell probably 2000 Cornish X a year and make about $4-$5 a bird. With the Red Birds I could probably sell 300 a year and make probably $3 a bird.


    If your margins are that small, you need a better system of production, with lower input costs. You are working off of the industrial poultry model, of high volume, low margin, and mediocre quality. Successful small farming comes from a totally different paradigm. I have posted a lot, including a link in this thread, indicating the finances of my meat chicken operation. Check it out. Like some said initially, it is unbelievable. That is the mark of true innovation. It seems impossible. It is a new paradigm.

    Shane Gorter wrote: With the heritage birds requiring 5 months to get up to an average weight of 4lbs I can not make money at all.

    Again, check out my linked thread. Something isnt right with your system of production. You should get 5lb birds in 5 months, with much lower feed and facility costs when raising heritage birds on pasture. I have numbers to back up my claims. I am a professional small farmer, though highly diversified so that I am not trying to sell thousands of chickens per year. Quality over quantitiy, margin over volume.

    Shane Gorter wrote: Also in my experience, not to my pleasure, I find that the average consumer wants boneless skinless chicken breast. I loose probably half my market because I only sell full birds not parted out. When someone takes home a Red bird and finds barely any chicken breasts compared to the Cornish X, I have gotten complaints.

    Sounds like priority number one is finding better customers. Find the foodies, the nutrition conscious, the farm advocates. I honesly cannot even relate to the kind of customer base you describe. You have to make your market.

    Shane Gorter wrote: I really want to drive the point home that I am in no way advocating for Cornish X at all. The reason why I raise them is that is that first I am trying to create a non industrial farm business model that others can duplicate and thrive on. Second, I want to make food available that is not poisonous and has greater nutrition than industrial organics.

    It really seems like you are advocating pretty strongly for the Cornish X chickens in all your posts. I dont think that Cornish X birds, raised on commercial ground chicken mash, with a little bit of pasture, have much greater nutrition. They are essentially the same thing as the supermarket chicken. Same look and feel = same nutritional compostition.

    By upping the game with meat chickens, by using heritage genetics, whole grain feed, quality foraging, animal protein supplementation (raw milk in my case), and home kosher slaughter, suddenly you are selling a truly different and extrordinary product. That is a good business model. Not tweaking one small variable, but leaving the fundamental system of genetics and feed the same, and just adding a little pasture for a breed that is the absolute worst at foraging.

    Again, I encourage you to check out my previous posts in the chicken forum. I go into great detail on my meat chicken operation. It is nicely profitable, and produces meat that is 1000% superior to the typical Cornish X pasture chicken nonsense that my competition produces. We have to do better as small farmers if we want to remain viable. Knoweldge is the key.

    good luck!
     
    Keith Smith
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    I am trying to raise free range layers. I used to let them out to roam my yard and a couple of acres that have trees. I have had to quit letting them and the ducks out without watching them. I lost several to hawks. The trees didn't stop them. One day I heard something ping and turned and saw a hawk that had just tried to take a dove decoy off a low limb in a redbud. Last year I lost six laying hens to a mink. The first mink I have ever seen in Arkansas. A few days ago, I caught a great horned owl in my covered pen that had killed my only laying brown duck. He couldn't figure how to get back out. It seems that Arkansas Raptors don't have a problem with trees.
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    Great Horned owl I captured in pen and later released unharmed. Ugh.
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    Coopers Hawk I winged and then nursed back to health and released.
     
    John Polk
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    I certainly agree that this is a smaller market. There is a guy selling whole chickens at the West Seattle farmer's market for $35 each. I don't know how many he sells in a good week, but probably not many. Three blocks away, there are 2 supermarkets that sell already broiled chickens for about $5-6 each. For a family on a tight budget, that seems the better value - especially if they have never eaten a bird that 'tastes-like-chicken'.

    Perhaps, one could grow out 2 batches. The Cornish-X's for the mass audience, and a smaller flock for those willing & able to buy the better product. Here in the U.S., marketing has managed to push the majority of buyers into the boneless/skinless breast market (talk about "Boring"). Many consumers look down their noses at leg quarters, or anything that is dark and has a skin on it.

     
    Adam Klaus
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    Lets get it back to topic! Chickens in the forest! Like nature designed.

    When we raise our animals in a suitable ecology, we work with nature to produce healthier food more economically. That is a beautiful vision. Let's do That!

    Lots of places to discuss marketing, genetics, predation. Lets focus on the beauty and simplicity of 'doin it right'. On this topic!

    So, "rasiing broiilers or meat birds in a food forest". What do you got?

     
    Matu Collins
    Posts: 1969
    Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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    bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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    Adam Klaus wrote:Lets get it back to topic! Chickens in the forest!

    Lots of places to discuss marketing, genetics, predation. Lets focus on the beauty and simplicity of 'doin it right'. On this topic!

    So, "rasiing broiilers or meat birds in a food forest". What do you got?



    What have I got? Predation. That's the thing.

    The question was who is making money with chickens in a food forest, and a helpful answer would include what breeds work and how to sell them for profit. Reading over my previous post I think I sound like a glum chum and I'm sorry about that. I love where I live with a passion and I love the ecology...and I'm sad that so many birds in my care have been eaten by predators. Paul's paddock shift article was the thing that got me to permies.com and the concept is sound. I'm looking forward to making it work for myself but it's going to be a while. If it's working for folks I want to hear all about how. Seriously, how can I keep my birds alive in paddocks? Fishers are brutal and swift. Raccoons are crafty. We have many hawks and eagles.

    We have the same food value dynamic here, 35 dollar frozen birds at the farmers market, 5 bucks roasted at the "super"market.
     
    Matu Collins
    Posts: 1969
    Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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    bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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    This is Cookie (layer now, meat bird someday) foraging for yummy treats in the mulch under a blueberry bush. It is very funny to see chickens hopping up to eat berries off the bush. My birds spend a lot of time in the orchard, which I would like to divide into two of my paddocks. I'm hoping to train them to eat chestnut weevils...
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    Nathan Piwowarski
    Posts: 8
    Location: Northwestern Lower Michigan - Zone 4b - sandy acidic soil
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    Shane Gorter wrote:Nathan, it helps if you have more than one net for navigating around obstacles since you can usually line them up where two nets meet and open them around the tree. If I was to run my birds through my orchard I would probably reduce the paddock down to two nets and use the third net to set up the enclosed fresh ground and then open up the existing paddock into the new one and remove a net from the back. There are a lot of tricks to working with the electronet, but once you get the hand of it you wouldn't want anything else.


    Shane, I completely agree. If I could only offer one tip to someone starting the PP system, it would be to buy multiple smaller lengths of electric net. It would be so much easier to move around. The cost difference is worth the reduced hassle.

    The second tip would definitely be to use a spool of single line to run from a fixed energizer location to the moving paddocks, as described higher up in this thread.

    And the third would probably be to build the movable enclosure in two half sizes. I move the enclosure by hand. Sometimes the skids on the bottom "run aground" in the weeds, or dig ruts in sandy soil. To reduce these difficulties, I am building two half-size mobile enclosures instead of one 4x8 enclosure (not that the 4x8 will be wasted--it'll make a great greenhouse for our starts simply by swapping the tarps for some plastic sheeting). I can move the 8x8, but it would be soooo much easier to move a 4x8, especially through thick weeds or sandy ground.
     
    Paul Ewing
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    Location: Boyd, Texas
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    I have done pastured meat birds in our orchard and it worked out ok. We did it both using confined 8x8 hoop coop tractors and also using electronetting around the hoops for a day ranging setup. Cornish Cross broilers will range a bit if they are exposed to it while young. I like to get them on pasture no later than 3 weeks old. I think having our layers in the orchard works better though. Cornish Cross will not range too far (say within an acre or so) and the main reason for the electronetting is protection from dogs and a first layer of raccoon and possum protection at night.

    As far as the Cornish Cross vs. Heritage Breed issue, I am only working from my experience. The one time I tried to do a batch of heritage breed cockerels (Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Buff Orringtons) for sales, it was a total failure. In the 20 or so weeks it takes them to get to close to an acceptable weight for modern expectations (3 pounds dressed) they will eat about as much as Cornish will in 8-10 weeks so food costs are about the same. Labor costs are double though and the length of time you have to worry about predator losses is double. In the end you have a 3 to maybe 3.5 pound dressed heritage bird with big legs and thighs and very little breast meat. The Cornish at 8 weeks will give the consistent 4 to 4.5 pound dressed mini-turkey look that customers expect.

    I had presold these heritage birds to a group of foodies that had been brainwashed on how good heritage breeds were. I agree they taste better and I love dark meat myself so I prefer them for my own meat. Well these crunchy momma foodies were aghast when they saw what a heritage bird carcass looked like. Then only ones happy with them were a couple that made their own broth. I ended up giving away several sample Cornish Cross to keep them as customers so it was an expensive lesion in producing what the market really wants not what they think they or I want.

    If you want to try broilers, I would recommend a small batch of 50 or so Cornish and maybe a separate batch of 25 heritage breed cockerels. Do not presell the heritage breeds until after someone has bought them from you before. If you can compare and contrast the heritage birds benefits in person while showing them what they are getting that might work and would be a way to move them at the higher price points you will need to get to make it work financially.
     
    Jay Angler
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    Re: net fencing
    1. I was under the impression that long sections of net fencing can be cut into pieces. You just have to add electric leads to them. We've used large alligator clips soldered to suitable wire to connect net fencing to the electric fence wire that's on the outside of our moveable shelters, so the same technique should work to join fence sections, although I am in *no* way an expert in this area.
    2. I know that the official rules call for very long grounding spikes, but we use a couple of foot-long galvanized spikes with a 20 foot wire attached near the top just with a stainless hose clamp and one of those alligator clips on the other end to clip it to the grounding wire on the net fence. Two techniques we use are to pour water on the ground (usually dirty chicken water - re-use!) around the spikes as wet ground will "ground" better, and adding extra grounding spikes around the circumference of the netted area. We try to position the grounds so they just get unclipped before a move and clipped back on after a move for at least a move or three.
    Maybe someone who knows more can comment on this....
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    Jay Angler wrote:Re: net fencing
    1. I was under the impression that long sections of net fencing can be cut into pieces. You just have to add electric leads to them. We've used large alligator clips soldered to suitable wire to connect net fencing to the electric fence wire that's on the outside of our moveable shelters, so the same technique should work to join fence sections, although I am in *no* way an expert in this area.
    2. I know that the official rules call for very long grounding spikes, but we use a couple of foot-long galvanized spikes with a 20 foot wire attached near the top just with a stainless hose clamp and one of those alligator clips on the other end to clip it to the grounding wire on the net fence. Two techniques we use are to pour water on the ground (usually dirty chicken water - re-use!) around the spikes as wet ground will "ground" better, and adding extra grounding spikes around the circumference of the netted area. We try to position the grounds so they just get unclipped before a move and clipped back on after a move for at least a move or three.
    Maybe someone who knows more can comment on this....


    Hi Jay, Last year I had the neighbor clip one of my electronets with a tedder and I had to stitch it back together which took hours. What you are suggesting doing is possible, but the amount of work would not justify the savings you would get from buying a longer net and cutting it in half. I am 32 and in pretty good physical shape and I get really tired hauling the 164' bundles around the fields, so if your not in that kind of shape I think the suggestion to buy a 100' nets instead is excellent.

    As far as grounding rods go one foot long rods will not give you much of a ground. I personally do not want to waste time mowing the perimeter of my electronet so I compensate the shorts with a powerful fencer. The limiting factor on your fencer is almost always your ground rods. I placed my ground rods at the base of the north facing side of my greenhouse so the rain run off keeps the soil well hydrated and I will set out a soaker hose if it has been dry for over a month. I buy the 8' rods and cut them in half do to a nearly impenetrable hard pan about 3-4 feet down. I will usually use two of these eight food rods to ground one fencer so cut in half that makes four 4-foot rods spaced ten feet apart. I like to see at least 3k volts on the meter when I test my nets which seems to be the minimum effective voltage.
     
    Linda Kurtz
    Posts: 27
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    Matu,
    When you figure out how to train the chickens to eat the chestnut weevils, let me know! I was hoping if I penned into the area (at the correct time) they would get the little buggers. If I recall, there is a window in the spring and again before they head up into the trees that my girls would have the chance to get them.
    Good Luck.
     
    This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad:

    The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers:
    http://richsoil.com/cards


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