Friday, June 22, 2012

Pastured Poultry & Rotational Grazing

Photo: Peggy Sellers - Perdue Univ.
Pasture Quality & Condition is Important 

I had the chance to visit several pastured poultry farms this week and I was reminded of how this was done in the early 1920's.  Birds were routinely pastured to take advantage of sunlight (vit. D) and the natural grasses they ate.  What is so different between operations of today and yesteryear is that we tend to restrict our birds in one area as we graze.  This creates a host of problems as the grass becomes over-run by the birds and heavy loads of manure accumulate.

Rotational grazing should be just that.  Moving the birds frequently to keep grass in good condition and to help spread out manure loads in a field being grazed.  You should move birds before all the grasses they are bedding on become stomped down.  Supplemental feeding is also important at this time to make sure the birds are receiving all essential nutrients that they are not getting from the grasses they are feeding on.  Clover for example has a high protein content than most grass species.  Therefore the corn in a full feed poultry diet will help compensate and provide the energy component of the birds daily nutritional needs.

By rotation of the pasture, the sun can help sanitize the ground last occupied by the birds.  With frequent rotation, the pastures can recover more quickly and in turn provide more forage opportunities for the birds.  Your pasture after the move of the birds will tell how well you are doing on your pasture management program.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Foot Health in Poultry

Broilers on floor
Photo: NC Extension
Putting your best foot forward                              

Like all farm animals being able to move is very important.  Over the years, foot health has gained interest in meat birds and breeding stock, since if a bird can't walk it can't eat and a dangerous spiral starts if not corrected.

It is important to note that moisture plays a large part in a bird's foot health.  Litter and floor conditions that are too wet begin to erode the skin on the foot pad and can lead to inflammation (bumblefoot) and lameness.  Moisture created by the birds along with water spillage if not managed can create lameness in a flock.  You can test litter moisture by picking up a large handful of litter and squeezing it.  Excessively wet litter will ball up or drip water, and feel sticky to touch.  Add additional litter if possible or stir existing litter to help promote drying.  Adjust ventilation rates to help remove moisture from the house and keep the litter dry.

Remember that litter floors are the environment that the birds live in, including walking and standing.  The litter volumes on floors should be adequate to supply a soft walking surface for the bird.  It also should be deep enough for water absorption from the flock.  All other associated flooring, including slats, perches and other resting devices need to be in good condition to eliminate any foot pad injury.   Good housekeeping of the floor will aid in keeping the flock in good step.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Old McDonald in a New Light

We are not in Kansas anymore...

I spent the week at the PA farm show this month. This year PennAg Industries put together a live animal exhibit called "Today's Agriculture". Inside the commercial building were animals depicted in their commercial enclosures for their particular needs.
Almost to the person, most were very impressed with how all the needs of the animal were being cared for. Most were fascinated that we can keep animals in confinement and yet have them flourish if given the proper environment.

What this great exhibit reminded me of was that we sometimes hang onto old ideas, like Ol' McDonald's farm. Old McDonald had to become more efficient and produce more product as margins for his product decreased. It is amazing to think of all the developments that have continued to make our food the most plentiful and safest in the world. The people who went through that display saw firsthand how their food is produced. We should do more to promote that dialog. One such place is Farmers Feed Us that discusses how some of our foods are grown. Take a look and see. picture credit: Sarah Weeda

Friday, August 26, 2011

Preparing for Bad Weather

Picture from Corn & Soybean Digest
Could of - Should of - Would of ...

Many farmers often are too busy to think about emergency preparedness until the storm is upon them. That is the worst time to plan for an emergency. Fire departments do not take delivery of a fire engine only when a house is on fire! So it pays to be prepared, to be a good scout, and be ready for the most common threat to your farm and your livelihood. For small flocks, it too is important to prepare as the birds you keep are important to you as well (some have names!) so, it is important to have an emergency plan to enact when trouble strikes.

Anyone with animals should have a plan to take care of them if a supply falls short or fails altogether. For poultry, water and power is important to maintain in constant supply. As a storm approaches, it is important to take stock of critical equipment on the farm and make sure it is in operational order. Fuel and oil levels on backup generators, extension cords for backup generators, switching equipment and emergency pumps are valuable tools for farm backup supplies.

For water supplies, if running on a tank / cistern system make sure that pumps are keeping pool levels high in order to ensure supplies during a power outage. Barrels of water for small flocks can ensure a constant supply.

Check drainage routes on the farm and clear away any debris from gutters / spouting and culverts to ensure drainage away from poultry shelters and barns. If there are bridges that lead onto the farm be sure to check those too to make sure they are free of trash that could clog the bridge and cause a wash-out.

Logistically, you should have a call list of people that can help you. Township, county and other agency numbers in addition to integrator numbers should be handy. Check (Google if you have to) governmental websites for current numbers and contacts.

Personally, you should have a family plan as well. Have an outside the area contact that can call family on your behalf should disaster strike. Many times an area code will turn to one- way traffic (outgoing) in an emergency to keep phone lines open. Plan for that as well and give your out of area contact a list of who to contact in an emergency. Be sure your home has enough food and water for all occupants for 3 days without power. Be sure your cell is fully charged and that you have a way of charging it (car, batteries, etc.) without plugging it into a wall.

For more information on emergency preparedness for poultry and farms see:

ReadyAG program
a poultry module is available there.

Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN)

eXtension Emergency preparedness website

Friday, July 22, 2011

Combating Heat Stress

Boy, is it hot out there!

With the recent heat wave moving through the US, we are all reminded of what we can do to make poultry more comfortable, and hopefully get them to survive.

Water is the saving elixir in heat. Due to its physical properties of heat energy, water can aid in the cooling of flocks. Flushing the watering lines with cool water may aid in getting hot birds to drink. Do not flush water lines for chicks as you risk the chance of cooling the chicks below their optimal core temperature.

In addition to flushing drinking lines/fonts, spraying the outside of the house (roof, sides and surrounding grounds) with water will drop the ambient temperature of the area a few degrees due to evaporative cooling. In humid climates this may not work well. To test, place a wick on a thermometer and dampen it with distilled water. The ability to cool with evaporation will be shown as the temperature will drop as it cools. Five degrees depressed temperature can make the difference in some flocks.

Shift some feedings to feed the birds during the coolness of the night if possible. Heat builds up in birds as they metabolize their feed. Cool air aids in getting birds to eat in hot periods.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moving Forward in Uncertain Times

A Penny Saved ...

When we consider the business climate we are working in right now, it does give us pause. Change is the only constant in life, behind death and taxes. Whether you have a small farm or a large business the key to succeeding is to be able to evaluate and decide the big questions that present themselves in the course of moving through time. Those that can will be able to stay ahead of the curve and optimize opportunities that are time sensitive.

To aid in those decisions requires good data. Keeping good data both on production and business aspects of your enterprise will help in the analysis of questions affecting your firm. By having a good sense of where you are will help in where you are going. With the present climb in oil prices, it would be good to know what your average trip consists of so that you may be able to predict consumption and perhaps lock in a fuel price for your fleet. Comparing current production to breeder goals and comparable flocks will also help "benchmark" your current position and aid in decision making for the future.

We would think it silly to drive through a city without a speedometer, so why make business decisions solely on "Gut Instincts". With all the financial software and spreadsheets available, it would be prudent to use these tools to help aid the "Gut" in navigating through the tough decisions in a hard economy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Did you hear that ?

Egg Cholesterol is moving lower in Eggs...

In an age where being first is best, sometimes rediscovery of what is known makes for a better result. Recently, a press release about the cholesterol content of eggs made for a big splash. True, news about lower cholesterol content and higher vitamin D3 in eggs is a good thing. When I asked Dr. Jacob Exler from USDA/ARS for a copy of his findings, he sent his original report from - September 2010. While publically released, this did not make top media notice until AEB made a recent press release and media push.

What this means is that it is true, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We need to take the opportunities presented to us to tell the story of how good our poultry and egg products are for a balanced diet. It also means that we should thank scientists like Dr. Exler and his team that routinely tests foods for their correct composition. It does change over time. Because of his research, dietitians and other human nutritionists will have the most recent data in order to formulate diets for their clients who for some may be at a risk from dietary cholesterol or in need of nutrients. Dr. Exler and his team will repeat this testing over time to correct nutrient levels for the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. This is certainly a good program.

These latest values for egg nutritional components can be attributed to feed formulation and breeding lines used for our modern poultry layers. With further adjustments to the diets of layers we may expect the cholesterol content to further drop.

For More Information:

Link to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference