As many of you will know, we have a little 'commercial' pastured poultry enterprise going on here on our little farm. I say 'commercial', rather than commercial, because any kind of economics-minded person would look at our set up and say it's not 'worth' it, 'commercially'. Perhaps true, if you're of that ilk, but for us, there's a lot more going on here than making a profit. Just as well, probably, cuz the profits just ain't that big...
Luckily for us our chicken enterprise is rewarding and valuable for other reasons.
1. We're doing something we believe in, ethically, socially and economically: We treat our chickens and our land with respect, we feed our community good quality food at an affordable price, and we run our business in a way that is sustainable for us, for our community and the Earth.
2. We're contributing to the development of a local food system that is resilient.
3. We're doing something that allows us to spend time on our land, with each other, outside, which is (most of the time) really enjoyable. This one's kind of priceless as far as I'm concerned...
4. We're involving our kids in a business that is ethical and sustainable, teaching them that it's good to work (hard) for what you believe in, and that earning heaps of money isn't everything.
5. Our chickens are delicious!
|These chickens are about to tuck into some fresh-cut fat hen|
With all that said, though, it's not like we don't care about making a profit. Doing all the hard work (sometimes it's really really hard!!!) of pasture raising chickens and then selling them for no profit is just beyond our altruism levels. For this reason, we're working on ways to cut down on our input costs, by trying to grow as much food as we can for our chickens on farm. This, happily, also has positive environmental impacts for our business: the more food we grow, the less transportation (read: fossil fuels) is required to get the chookie's food into their beaks.
|This chicken is eating some rocket|
Obviously the biggest factor here is that we pasture raise our chickens, so they eat a crap-load of grass, seeds, bugs and snails that are just right there for the taking, meaning that unlike shed chickens, we don't import 100% of their food from someone else's farm. We don't do anything to cultivate our pasture, other than the odd slashing. It's naturally really diverse, with a mixture of annuals and perennials, summer and winter dominant crops, so there's not really a down-time. But the chickens do still need grain.
|This chicken is eating a snail|
Our grand plan was to pasture crop an acre of triticale this Autumn, but ye olde cancer diagnosis and recent mastectomy threw a spanner in those works, and we're going to have to wait til next year. Call us piss-weak, but experimental grain growing was just a little beyond our capacity at this time.
|These chickens are eating microlaena seeds, and are about to stumble upon some sunflower seeds.|
Chickens, in the mean time, are being satisfied with other grown-on-farm delicacies like gone-to-seed rocket, lettuce, spinach et al, and some sunflowers we kind of accidentally grew over the summer by way of spilt seeds that were left all over the paddocks by the chickens. Bonus! Next summer we might actually do it on purpose!
|These chickens are enjoying some really big sunflower heads|
The other big on-farm chook-feeder has been our extensive crop of fat hen, which we also pretty much grew accidentally. We've written about fat hen before, because we love it, but here's a super-cool little blurb from survival.org that really sums things up:
"Chenopodium album, Fat Hen, is probably named because chickens get fat from eating it. It has been used as a vegetable in Europe since prehistoric times. It grows faster and absorbs nutrients more efficiently than any crop, and can grow in almost anything. That plus the fact that it is also a rich source of nutrients makes it one of the most useful plants that there is."
It's proved to be an absolute boon for our chickens. They love it, and we take them bunches and bunches of it every day all through the growing season.
Now that it's going to seed, we're harvesting the seeds and adding them to the chickens' daily health porridge, which consists of wheat bran, ground sunflower and linseeds, apple cider vinegar, and kelp meal, and now, fat hen seeds.
|This lady-farmer has just mixed up a batch of super-health-chicken porridge, which she is about to deliver to her chickens.|
They are digging it!