A mob of poultry in the city, and swimming with ducklings.

I met Joel Salatin at an agricultural conference recently. Afterward, I was stunned to realize that there was nobody else on Earth I would’ve rather met. Not the President. Not Bob Dylan. No sports figure.

Salatin

Though he was due to speak to a large crowd in mere moments, he was fully engaged and animated in our conversation about raising chickens. What an experience! He’s the main farmer featured in the documentary Food Inc, which you can see on Netflix right here. Michael Pollan also wrote about his farming philosophy in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He is a huge influence in the local agriculture movement, and also on me. What a thrill, and not just because he’s some sort of celebrity.

His style of farming is what I would do in a heartbeat, but I live in the city on a 50 X 140 foot lot, so I can only do bits and pieces wherever I can find land to borrow. Recently, I expanded to protein, and will raise meat chickens on grass in a manner similar to Joel. Doing this with my available resources and network is a real challenge.

I picked up these day-old chicks at the post office sorting facility at 6 am. 100 birds were confined to these shipping boxes, and they all arrived alive and active just 24 hours after hatching. What a miracle! Chicks are made to be shipped in the mail. They eat the yolk just before hatching, and this has enough nutrition to sustain them for three days without food or water. The USPS has been delivering baby chicks in the mail for nearly a century. Here they are in their shipping boxes at the post office. It sounded like all the birds of the forest were confined within these two boxes. It was that loud!

post officeEverything started out swell. Here’s a short video I filmed after getting them home into the brooder:

That very first night, Duluth was hit with its worst storm in decades. The power was out for days, and 80 – 90 mph winds blasted into the open garage window. WHAT A DISASTER!!!! I went out into the tempest and closed the window, but it wasn’t until three hours later that I boxed up all the birds and placed them beside the woodstove. It was kind of surreal to build a roaring fire on a July day that would later reach 95 degrees. But, you do what you’ve got to do…

Unfortunately, I waited three hours before doing this. I had no idea the power would be out as long as it was. The temperature in the brooder was down to 70 degrees, and they were all huddled up. Chilled. Not good. 90 – 95 is what they need in their early days. This is especially critical since these are being raised without medications, vaccinations, or antibiotics of any kind. The poultry industry pumps these into their birds in an effort to mask poor management.

chicks woodstoveEverybody survived this initial disaster, but we have seen some mortality since then that I think is related. We’re down to 91 birds. This is still within normal mortality rates, but not what I’d like to see at this stage. You live and learn. I’ve had a lot of experience with small batches of chicks, but management at this scale changes things entirely.

Within a few days or so, I’ll move these birds out to the pasture you see here. I’m building a movable hoop house portable pen for the chickens, and they’ll be moved to fresh grass daily. This does wonders for the health of the meat. For example, studies show 100% more omega-3 fatty acids in grass-fed chicken.

pasture

These cattle panels, arched, will form the underlying structure. A tarp atop this arrangement for the drive back would have given this setup a perfect covered wagon appearance!

wagon lighter

We also have five newly hatched ducklings in our home, which is complicating matters considerably! I filmed this short video to provide a tour of our ridiculous animal menagerie confined to our city lot.

Thankfully, most of this is a short-term arrangement, but I’d like to figure out how to move these ducklings to new homes. They are the cutest things ever, however, and they love to interact with people. Thus, my daughter is completely attached to them. The other day she and my son were in the bathtub with all five ducklings. They make the best bath toys ever! The ducks learned to dive underwater, and were swimming like seals!

Farming should be kid-friendly, not that five ducklings in a bathtub has anything to do with agriculture, but I’m affirming Joel Salatin’s thoughts on this. 100,000 chickens breathing fecal dust in a confined facility is definitely not child-friendly, nor healthy. Just saying…

My pasture-raised chickens will be available on or around September 19th, and can be reserved with a small deposit.

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