Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good Husbandry Grant

I'm happy to announce that Ecotone has been selected to receive a grant through the Animal Welfare Approved Good Husbandry Program. This grant - awarded at $5,000 - will enable the full and timely completion of a poultry mobile processing unit (MPU), scheduled for debut at the Tennessee Organic Grower's Association meeting in March 2011.

For the interested, find below the details of the grant proposal. In the service of transparency, I will also begin to track its expenses and construction, both as an exercise particular to this project, as well as an initial step toward a more comprehensive policy of open accounting for the farm generally. Finally, throughout are some recent photos of the farm this fall, as well as three photos of the unit at Foothill Family Farms in North Carolina that sparked this idea, and is the basic model on which we'll proceed.
The goal of this project is to complete a poultry mobile processing unit (MPU) to be made available subsequently for rent to regional farmers wishing and willing to process their own animals, on their own farm, in a welfare oriented way. Currently there is only one small-scale poultry processor in a five state region.
For both homesteaders and farmers, then, this MPU will serve a direct and vital need, and will be the primary vehicle for the new agrarian coalition F.L.A.G., or Farmers for Local Animals and Grain, which aims to promote local food sovereignty and the transparency of farming practices and marketing claims.
Over the last year, in cooperation with two other local farmers, we have acquired the following items to complete this project: a 28' double-axle trailer, a rotating scalder and plucker, and a stainless steel evisceration table. In addition, we have built several iterations of slaughter cones, to be attached in an exchangeable way for different size poultry. Funding from this grant will facilitate the completion of this project, including major renovations to the trailer. The outcome will be the regional availability of a major piece of agricultural equipment for which there is a direct and vital need.
Mobile processing units are of significant benefit to farm animals. Without the enormous stresses associated with transport - catching, caging, moving, and unloading - the MPU is especially beneficial to poultry, which are often caught the night before, overnighted in transport pens, and unloaded hours later, many miles away, by people working as quickly as possible. With a MPU, it is conceivable that birds never even have to leave their enclosures on pasture.
The MPU, moreover, will be a classroom on wheels, and inevitably be a space for the agrarian education of farmers and eaters. As we have seen just with this equipment on the farm, both producers and consumers are eager to learn how their food is raised and prepared and, in turn, to learn how to raise and prepare their food. In short, this MPU will enable people to eat and live in ways that are beneficial to themselves, their neighbors, and the lives and places that sustain them both.
Once the already significant expenses of this project are recovered, the MPU will improve the viability of Ecotone by providing an alternative source of income through rental and processing services, and an ongoing means for agrarian education, which is one of the primary aims of the farm.
As a cooperative project, however, the MPU will have a much more significant and widespread effect. By enabling local farmers to process their own poultry, on their own farms and in welfare oriented ways, not only are the expenses and stresses of transportation to the nearest facility in Kentucky eliminated, but one of the most important pieces of infrastructure for building local food economies will be available for use by the general public. In short, this grant will improve the viability of many farms throughout the local and regional food-shed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Egg Count 11

The egg count for October was 130.44 dozen, or 4.21 dozen per day, from 319 hens. If you've been keeping up with the count, then you know that this represents a significant turnaround from last month. It seems that the main problem concerned the hens not getting enough of their vitamin and mineral supplement mix, Fertrell's, which had been offered free-choice since the transition to organic feed grains.

On October 12, I began to mix the Fertrell's into their feed by hand. On that day the count was 1 dozen total. By October 14, the total count had climbed to 2.5 total. A week later the count had risen to 5.5 dozen. By the end of the month, the total daily egg count was close to 10 dozen.
This is really sort of remarkable. Over the last two weeks of October, once I began to hand-mix the Fertrell's into their grain ration, the number of eggs laid by the Ecotone hens rose by almost 1,000% a day. Cumulatively, from October 12 to the end of the month, there was a 866% increase in the number of eggs laid on the farm!

Even with these numbers, the feed conversion ratio remained rather high. For the month of October, the average amount of grain it took for each dozen eggs was 12.27 lbs per dozen, or just over a pound per egg. This put the cost of each dozen eggs from Ecotone at $3.68. Given the last two months of significant costs and very few eggs - where the average cost of a dozen was $11.60 - this is no doubt encouraging, but still some tough accounting.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lessons in Leverage

The art of raising pastured poultry requires frequent moving. Once each flock of chickens has spent a few days in one location, with their two roosting tractors and one nesting tractor as the center of their world and a ring of electric netting defining its perimeter, they've had enough time to scratch and peck through almost every inch of their territory, gleaning nutritious bugs as they go and depositing precious fertilizer. Then it's time for fresh ground.

Moving the roosting tractors and nesting tractor used to be a frustrating and daunting activity requiring two people, back when we were using flimsy little warehouse-style dollies. Now that CJ has custom-welded these fancy new special dollies (in red) with a five-foot wheelbase and curved spot where the base of the pen sits snug, he is able to move them by himself, realizing a major goal in hen husbandry.