Jay Hunter

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since Jan 15, 2013
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Recent posts by Jay Hunter

Elizabeth, please do let us know if you find that publication.

In the mean time let me see if I can restate this a little more clearly.

This isn't exactly about me. This is more about all the new and potential farmers I mentor for whom a lack of land is keeping them from getting into farming or from farming sustainably.

Yes those options work for many people. But they do not work for most people or most production types nor are they sufficient to get the mass numbers of new farmers on the land that we need to.

We need fundamentally better approaches and clearer paths for transitioning farms to the next generation.

So can permaculture design a better solution?

Get a high paying job and save up money to buy a farm? In this economy? Young people? That's ludicrous. Especially for anything larger than a small vegetable farm.

Are mortgages and debt consistent with permaculture principles? Arn't we supposed to be finding solutions to replace our unsustainable fiat debt based currency system that transfers wealth from the poor and middle class to the bankers?

So can permaculture design a better solution?

One of the common visions of permaculturists is to see mass amounts of land transformed from industrial extractive unsustainable agriculture to permaculture. With the local food movement and the increasingly aging farm population a once in a lifetime opportunity is coming to effect broadscale change nationwide. In fact given the soil degradation timelines this may be our last opportunity.

But only if we can find a way to get mass numbers of young and beginning farmers on the land. And I don't see that happening.

Does permaculture have a way?

Farm Link is one of the really good solutions but it is often severely hampered. One of the problems it has is its business model is unsustainable. Most if not all of those organizations rely on grants to work. And so many don't do much work. Some states have good programs, but many states have no program or programs with few to no land opportunities.

Can permaculture design a better Farm Link?

4 years ago
Kim, what you're referencing is basically the SPIN method. Urban land is great for vegies but little else. And even then the economics of SPIN is dicey.

Eric,

The northeast is somewhat of an exception to what I spoke of as there are many strong FarmLink programs there and absentee farm owners are more liable to want to see the land preserved through organic farming. However it is not like that in most of the country; especially here in the mid-west.

I have that book already, but thanks for bringing it up as others may be interested. Another useful book is Greg Judy's No Risk ranching. But I can tell you from experience the land patturns in his area of MO are different than in many others and it won't work everywhere.

There are not 'lots of non-ownership tenure options'. I've done what you say and while it can work it usually doesn't. And others I know looking can't find land. To the contrary I knew several farms that closed for lack of land.

Anything workable for farmland is usually already snapped up in long tenure leases. If its not currently being farmed there is usually a really good reason; especially after a decade of record high grain and beef markets. There are some marginal cases where someone maybe able to make something happen but it won't work for most enterprises and it certainly won't put any large number of folks back on farms.

Even if one is able to find a non-ownership option those only work in limited cases where you happen to live near by and don't need any additional infrastructure; which vastly limits the options of what land you can target and what enterprises can be done. Food forests and perennial poly-cultures? Forget it. And you're not likely to be able to source enough land this way to do any kind of larger scale operation.

When I was looking for land originally I found a few rental type arrangements in the bistate area, but none had housing on-site or near by meaning uneconomic amounts of travel would be required. And that doesn't work if you're doing anything other than hay or crops.



4 years ago
So I have a question for Elizabeth and Eric and anyone else.

If a young person wants to start a farm, what are the workable options for gaining farm land? Especially options in the spirit of permaculture?

So far the only available option seems to be go into debt. This is the standard advise and the only apparent option. This is Mark Sheppard's advise. But that is neither sustainable nor wise nor compatible with permaculture in my view. So what else is there?

Context:
I speak specifically of the US context and of people wanting to get into direct market farming, as that is where the question most often comes up. I have a lot people who come to me for advise who want to get into farming and can't because they can't get access to land. A lot. And we need a lot of new farmers because our farm population is aging but we can't get these folks into a position with land.

We're not talking 1 acre hobby farms but enough land for an economically sustainable mid-sized farm. 20 to 40? acres fruit and vegies; 80 to 300 acres hogs/dairy; 660?-10,000 acres beef.

Personally I have a little under 80 acres myself and am making it work for hogs and dairy and poultry but the best model for a mid-sized economically sustainable farm has me producing my own hay and grain and I can't do that at this scale. And the equipment needed for what I'm doing would do 100's of acres and so this pushes up my overheads. And my biggest demand is beef, which requires much larger scale to produce economically.

Answers that don't work:

Farm Link: Nice option, but availability is limited to non-existant in many parts of the country.
Debt: Farming and debt don't mix; this is suicide. Land is priced at investment value and the interest cost is higher than the rental value. It can also be hard to get.
Renting: Often impossible to find, insecure, and for many types of enterprise you need to live on the farm or build infrastructure incompatable with rental.
Trusts: Not available most areas.
Just do small scale vegies/SPIN farming: Not everyone can be a vegetable farmer. This is easy to get into and the market being saturated in many parts of the country. People still eat meat and dairy and they're often more in demand.
Crowd funding: Maybe this could work. But how? Has anyone crowdfunded 250k for land? Will this scale if everyone starts doing it?

4 years ago
Mick,

Well some say up to 30% from pasture, especially for layers who don't need much protein. Growers will be real susceptible to protein deficiencies and it will be easy to shoot yourself in the foot.

People like meat on their chicken carcass and far too many heritage birds not only are not double breasted, they practically have no breast at all. They're just egg layers with pretty feathers and often not very good layers at that. The hatcheries and fanciers have decimated the utility quality of the genetics. Forget quality, half the time you're lucky to get the breed you ordered. I'd sure like to hear from Adam just how the breast matches up on his birds compared to a Freedom Ranger and a CC.

I refuse to raise CC birds; sickly disgusting things. I have some rainbows for layers from last years batch, if they'd ever start laying.

The 1000 birds limit makes it hard to profitably sell chickens. One can make money with non-CC birds, but they are way less profitable. Kansans due care about sustainability, they just don't necessarily want to pay for it. But some will. The problem is most of the guys marketing organic or natural chicken feed GMO grains and so set unrealistic price expectations in the market.

KDA is beholden to big ag and all they care about small farmers and direct marketers is how to get power over them (likely so we can be shut down at will or harassed to death). I havn't heard that they're going to shut down chicken sales but it wouldn't surprise me, they've been pushing extralegal requirements and spurious restrictive interpretations of the law for years.
4 years ago

Adam Klaus wrote:

Dave Hawkins wrote:I wouldn't mind 5 months if I'm not buying feed.



The reason I have chosen to utilize a slow growing breed is actually for its economy in feed.

Fast growing birds require high protein commercial feeds, which are expensive.

Slow growing birds can grow much more economically on forage, with a relatively small supplementation of whole grains.

My total feed costs end up being less than $1 per pound of dressed bird.
With organic feeds.

Its like the tortoise vs the hare, slow and steady wins the race.



Looking forward to your answer on that last reply. This one is the deconstruction; let me know if I got it wrong somewhere.

In the linked thread you said it took 21# of feed to get a bird to 20 weeks with a 4 to 5# dress weight.

My last batch of Rainbows from Mt. Healthy took 24lbs of feed to about the same size as yours but did it in 17 weeks and that result was fairly error prone; there was lots of room to improve significantly. At 21lbs of feed/bird you're not really saving much feed and feeding way more than an 8 week cornish cross would require. Is it sustainable to double the land required to grow chicken feed? But it is cheaper feed and the result is higher quality. In reality your 21lbs of feed is only the energy protein and a complete feed equivalent would be 32 lbs of a corn/bean ration. IOW, way way less efficient.

But herein is a HUGE bugabo. If you're feeding dryland CO/WY spring wheat instead of corn, that will be 14-16% (vs. 8% for corn). I grew up in MT and we'd feed straight wheat to layers with better results than folks here in KS get on mixed/balanced feed despite the worse winters up north. In other words, it has almost all the bulk protein you need (though not balanced at the AA level) and is very nutrient dense and so you need very little from pasture. Clover and fermented milk out to easily balance most of the rest of the AAs. But if someone out east tries to grow birds or produce eggs on pasture with 10% winter wheat its going to fail; hard!

Welp claims 10lbs and 6 weeks to produce a CC. My local organic grain is $.54/# (a typical midwest organic price) before shipping so thats $5.40/bird. Local corn is .38 and wheat .2948/#. So going with wheat for yours thats $6.1908/bird BEFORE skim milk and extra labor cost of sprouting and fermenting and the extra labor and opportunity cost in tripling your time to market. But with 5# dress you're still at $1.24 on just the grains. Not under a dollar by any means. Last years wheat price would have pulled it down to $.97; but thats before your extra labor involved with sprouting/fermenting which must be included for an apples to apples comparison. Welp says 17# and 12 weeks for a Red Ranger which is probably accurate. That would be $9.18/bird on mixed organic feed. How that compares to your bird will depend on the time inputs involved in your alternative feed regime. Now grow a hand harvestable OP variety of corn that pushes 12%p and use that with your regime and you might have a winner from a sustainability standpoint.

So it doesn't look as rosey a picture as you paint. BUT if your numbers are accurate then it looks like marketing heritage birds is at least doable; which is something as the only one I've known thus far who has pulled it off is Frank Reese and he requires quite a premium to do it. A true breeding meat bird with high quality carcass is a huge missing piece of the sustainable puzzle and I'm thrilled to see you taking a crack at it. Though from a business standpoint I don't look at it as a way of saving money as breeding and hatching takes time and on a small scale should be more expensive than hatchery birds. But it is very useful as a way of reducing risk, controlling quality, and increasing profits through vertical integration. And on a sustainability/societal level we need to break free of the dependence on large multinationals for our chicks.

However if you're feeding western dryland wheat I don't think the birds are really getting all that much from the pasture.
4 years ago
Thanks for that link Adam. Let me see if I have your system understood correctly...

You feed 20% commercial chick starter for about a month until they leave the brooder. Then they free range in your bug rich, clover dominated, orchard for another 4 months at which time you butcher for a 4-5# dress weight. While ranging they are (free choice?) fed sprouted organic wheat/corn and fed lactobacillis cultured skim milk.

The key to making this work is a slower growing, better foraging bird which due to the slower growth plane doesn't need the high protein to grow. The Jersey genetics give you more meat and slightly better growth rates and the cornish double breast and compactness. The inefficiency in longer growouts and energy consumed in exercise is made up for via self harvested protein. The grain provided or you is you feed lower cost energy grains while allowing the birds to gather their fiber and protein through foraging. The skim also provides energy, minerals, and probiotics.

Is that right?
Are you feeding any mineral once off the starter feed?
How many birds/acre are you running on those pastures?
How much skim how often?
Only sprouted grains? What is your sprouting procedure? I like to do that as well but the winter freeze and summer heat shuts me down.
How does the carcass compare to conventional CCs and to the slow growing pasture broiler crosses?

I tried using excess milk instead of beans for feeding hogs. It didn't pencil out. Growing beans to feed them would have used less land than it took to raise the cows. Even if I hand harvested I would have had less time into it. Since my milk is $10/gal I only see that part working when lots of cheese is being made.
4 years ago

Adam Klaus wrote:

Dave Hawkins wrote:I wouldn't mind 5 months if I'm not buying feed.



The reason I have chosen to utilize a slow growing breed is actually for its economy in feed.

Fast growing birds require high protein commercial feeds, which are expensive.

Slow growing birds can grow much more economically on forage, with a relatively small supplementation of whole grains.

My total feed costs end up being less than $1 per pound of dressed bird.
With organic feeds.

Its like the tortoise vs the hare, slow and steady wins the race.



The SW ate my reply but it the other shows up again take this one as a better restatement.

Thats a trick, especially with organic corn at $21/bu. For that to be so the amount of feed they forage would have to be more than that lost to the increased maintenance and displace a fair amount of grain as well. And thats not easy. That and there are other costs than feed such as time, equipment, land and overheads which all go up dramatically with slow growing birds.

I desperately want what you are saying to be true. Unfortunately I've yet to meet someone working with slow growing heritage birds who actually keeps good enough feed logs to definitively state what the actual feed costs are. You sound like you do? Do you mind sharing some logs or at least detailed summations including feed consumed, age at butcher, live and dress weight, etc.

Is there something about this cross which is resulting in this or is it true of the parent breeds as well? Everyone I've talked to who tried to produce meat with heritage breeds to any scale found out once they got into it it wasn't economic, even at very high prices.
4 years ago
Boycotts and talk of sexism is nothing more than politics. Its the kind of thing that works pretty well in US circles and lots of special interest groups have been able to gain influence and numerical representation beyond that merited by their contributions.

The process which ends in you being famous (whether that was your intention or not) takes a lot of work and involves taking a lot of flack from other people. To put it colloquially, it takes balls to deal with all the kickback you get. And that uncovers the underlying issue. While it may not be popular in our equaltarian age to say so, there are innate differences in the sexes and they have real world effects and here we see one of them.
It might not be so much that egg production is carried by the male. In a typical 4-way cross (of any species) the meat/growth characteristics come in the sire side and maternal/laying on the maternal side. I suspect the reason to pick roos from only the best layers is not only because of their disproportionate influence, but because it is easier to loose the maternal characteristics on the male side. Meat/growth and maternal characteristics tend to be antagonistic. IOW a really good looking male (meat production) might have a depressing affect on egg production and so you have to be more careful about that.

The other aspect is that if you're running a rotational linebreeding system the ONLY genetics passing between lines is the male, so thats the sole progenator of maternal and growth traits.
4 years ago