Sunday, October 19, 2014

Setting the Record Straight on Poultry Production

Just because it is seen in public doesn't always mean it is correct...

Many times I will be asked "does this really happen in the poultry industry or on farms?" when folks read something online or see it on TV.  At times our industry will add to the confusion in their advertising to gain an advantage over their competitors by suggesting improper practices.  Once we discuss the real issue and explain the truth, then many folks will say that this make sense.  Some of the questions I get:

Don't you feed hormones to poultry? No, it is against the law to give poultry and swine hormones.  And the USDA has strict rules in public statements made when making claims about its use in animal production.  Hormone therapy was outlawed back in the 1950's for poultry.  To properly administer hormones to poultry you would have to pick up and inject a bird.  This would add time, cost and stress to a flock.  Because of breed selection, nutrition, health and management advances it was long ago realized that hormone therapy was not really needed.  So, if you hear a claim "we don't use hormones" you have to ask yourself why do they wish to perpetuate the myth?

All the birds are produced on "factory farms"  In my thirty years of work with poultry I have not heard a shop whistle in a poultry house.  It is ironic since most of our common consumer goods and foods are produced with some type of economy of scale.  Toothpaste, tires, lumber, gasoline, vitamins, clothing & shoes, catchup, ice cream, mayo, chocolate, milk, humus, tofu, bread, TV, telephones, and diapers are all made in - you guessed it, a factory.  So why can't a farmer gain some advantage by sizing his enterprises to pay for workers and equipment that are more efficient than those found on smaller farms?  A large six row combine can move through corn fields faster than a two row (yes some still in service) model when time is important.  So as a whole, family farms have grown in size, yet still stay a family farm.  There are discounts given to the farmer who can buy in bulk and single drop shipments, just like what is done at WalMart and Trader Joe's purchasing & distribution hubs.  The other alternative that does work as well is very small farms that have few employees or other inputs.  Many of these are supported with outside help and inputs to keep them in business.  Pricing for the smaller farms is critical to their sustainability.

Brown eggs are better than white eggs  If you are using commercial brown egg layers, there is enough white egg layer bloodline in the bird to make them almost indistinguishable with exception of feather & shell color.  Shell color is one of the last things added to the egg, and unless you are eating the shells, you are throwing out the only thing that is different.  If you think I am kidding, soak a piece of brown shell in a cup of vinegar.  Chances are You would see the brown layer dissolve leaving a white shell behind.   Feed has a bigger impact on egg flavor characteristics, so some claims regarding feeding are plausible.  So why are brown eggs more at the store?  The birds are a little larger and eat a little more feed, so costs are a little higher for these eggs.  I like the color of brown eggs so I will buy a dozen or so every year.

Chicken is just full of antibiotics!  Wow!  This misconception is tough simply because yes, antibiotics are used in animal production.  I can also say that humans use antibiotics as well.  If you were sick with a bacterial infection, wouldn't you want to use an antibiotic?  Well, farms both large and small will use antibiotics to treat birds that are sick due to bacterial infection.  Birds that are being treated can not be used for food.  There are strict laws on the withdrawal of all therapies before birds are harvested for food.  Antibiotics use on the poultry farm is normally in consultation with health authorities to ensure a positive result with the lowest use of drugs.  So are there antibiotics in the food?  No, not if they are following the rules.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Poultry IPM Really Counts !

Follow Sound IPM and save work!


Integrated pest management (IPM) uses a set methodology to help control pests on the farm.  By looking for pests and counting (index) them you are seeing each week if controls are
Source: Sergei Frolov / Wikimedia Commons.
actually working.  Environmental controls, especially water spillage in the poultry house is critical to good fly control.
  Be sure all waterers are adjusted properly to the size of the bird you are feeding.  Check for any leaks in the system.  Dry any wet areas in the house.  And, pick up any spilled feed eggs or any other materials that will attract flies.

If fly control is needed, consider using cultural controls to help control fly breeding in the house.  The addition of temporary drying fans to move or stir air in the house may speed manure drying.  Mechanical methods, such as fly paper and traps is a non toxic control that does not breed resistance into the fly population.  Biological controls can be deployed such as wasps and beetles that prey on the fly at certain points of the fly life cycle.

If considering chemical controls, be sure to read and understand the label for the material being considered for use.  Is spraying near poultry an acceptable use on the label?  If not apparent consider consulting a licensed pest control applicator or extension educator for your particular state for guidance.  It is important to rotate between classes of pesticides to help reduce pesticide resistance.  Apply to lower walls and posts where flies will emerge as they hatch.  Use baits indoors near birds to help reduce adults in the house.

Lastly, before spreading or selling poultry manure, make a final assessment to see if any flies are active in the manure that  is to be removed.  This will help keep the spread of flies in the area to a minimum.  Properly spread manure in the correct climate will dry down quickly to a point that will no longer support fly breeding.

By following good IPM controls, pests can be minimized on the farm.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Watch what you eat, let your grass grow

Allow grass to catch up before heavy grazing

photo: Live Springs Farm
With the advent of Spring, many organic & small flock farms are looking to release their birds outside.  Be aware that while your birds may be hungry, the plants may not be ready to grow to sustain them.  This in turn will then create bare spots on your range.  Allow your range areas to "spruce up" and grow to about 4" or longer prior to release.  This will allow a healthy root to sustain grazing by most classes of poultry.  Practice good range rotation when grazing to allow the grass a chance to catch up.  Move on range conditions rather than time for optimal results.  Also maintain feeders as a backup to slower growing spring fields.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Most food is a GMO…

There is more to this than a Label...

There has been a lot of debate regarding genetically modified organisms in the world.  I
Source: Wilson's Page
would suggest that unless you catch it wild that what you are eating is genetically modified.  So technically (in my opinion), in essence you can put a GMO tag on just about any food you can think of…

If we use corn for example, wild corn looks nothing like the corn we eat today.  Ever since Gregor Mendel, Luther Burbank and Barbara McClintock (a corn geneticist) we have been manipulating animal and plant genomes for years.  This has allowed man to keep producing more food on the same footprint of land.  It also has allowed more people to work elsewhere and spend a smaller portion of their time and money on food.

Well, what about buying “vintage” breeds of chicken?  Yes, unless kept in a random bred flock they too are modified in some way, and look nothing like their ancestors.  Poultry breeding companies adopted the same genetic tools to poultry breeding and selection and made todays birds more productive in the same environment of old.  Even organic raised birds are using the identical genetics of conventional birds.

And, for that matter, man is also a genetically manipulated species as well.  While we could argue that we are randomly selected, I would suggest that environmental influences and social customs, taste & preferences are still at play in forming the next generation.   I would also suggest that we look at the good that science has given to man, even in the food we eat.  I believe it does outweigh the bad.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dropping Weight in a Storm

Rake to reduce roof weight

Source: http://www.avalanche-snow.com
Snow, Ice and wind loads can cause roof system failures in older poultry housing.  To combat heavy snows, the use of a roof rake to pull down snow off a roof can be employed.  In my Feb. 11, 2010 post, I discussed the use of a home-made rake.  While watching one of my favorite home improvement shows, I saw another design that cuts the snow making it easier to move than a plowing rake.  For examples take a look at:

http://www.minnsnowta.com/index.html

http://www.avalanche-snow.com/index.asp

After a heavy snow, you should check roofing systems for any breaks in support bracing and rafters.  Why you may have survived this storm the next one may finish off your your roof.  Be Safe and check your housing.

Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by the author & Penn State Cooperative Extension is implied.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Staying Dry in Cold Weather



It is all in the air.

Picture: allaboutdamp.com
One of the myths I run into is that is it is very hard to keep a poultry house dry in cold weather.  What could be said is that is it is hard to keep a house dry and warm in the winter.  The core problem is that you fight water all winter long if you do not understand what is in the air.

As air cools, it loses its ability to hold water.  Hot air on the other hand, will hold a large volume of water as vapor or if it gets hot enough - steam.  This is why a dehumidifier will collect water as it removes water from the air by cooling.  Knowing this, a farmer can dry his litter enough to control wet spots and therefore insect levels during the winter before they become a problem in the spring.

Water is being created in a poultry house every day.  For each pound of feed, two pounds of water is consumed.  Some of this will pass as liquid water in the manure, but other is given off as vapor from the respiratory system. Therefore, to best use this principle, the farmer should vent his house to remove the hot moist air and bring in cool air to mix with the hotter room air.  Circulation fans within the house can help with mixing the air, as well as attic ventilators and inlet baffles that helps pre-heat the air before dumping into the room.  As the outside air warms up it will remove water out of the surrounding area and begin to dry the manure.  A constant amount of room air needs to be vented in order to help dry the house.  If condensation is seen in the house, it is under ventilated or the air is not mixing properly.  The use of hand held wind meters, surveyors tape and other aids could help determine where air is flowing in the house.

Smaller flocks also need to ventilate in winter to keep bedding dry.  If necessary, a heat lamp will provide the additional heat to help the cool air absorb the needed moisture that is to be removed from the house.  Watch the litter conditions to determine if further venting is needed.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Home Egg Quality

Keeping fresh eggs safe at home

Source: Wikipedia

I do from time to time scan other sites regarding the home flock.  One of the biggest debates is whether to wash eggs at home or not.  The USDA does not recommend washing eggs at home because they make the assumption that US consumers are buying eggs from grocery stores that sell farm washed eggs.  Eggs washed once should not have to be washed again.  But, what about local farm eggs?  Eggs do have natural defenses against bacterial intrusion, but that is only for a short period of time.  Heavy soiling of eggs can contribute to bacterial contamination, and this is why washing is done.  Sanding eggs to remove dried manure and urates actually breaks down the outer bloom of the egg and could lead to contamination.  Improper washing can also lead to contamination of eggs through thermal checking and osmotic pressures.  So, if you have to wash eggs, be sure that the room temperature eggs are washed quickly in soapy water that is 10 degrees hotter than the egg temperature.  Rinse water should be 10 degrees hotter than the wash water.  Short durations in each bath should do the trick without a drop in egg quality.  Use a cool blow drier to remove any excess rinse water.

In any case, eggs should always be refrigerated.  Refrigeration  is the best method for keeping any bacteria from growing too fast.  If you eat home raised eggs on a regular basis you should do so to keep the supply in the refrigerator fresh.  The lowest portion of the refrigerator is the coldest, so store eggs there in a covered egg carton or bowl for protection from food spills and bumping.

More info at:
USDA Food Safety - Eggs