When I first started farming about five or six years ago I could get organic whole grains in 50 pound sacks locally. This was great because it created the opportunity for me to mix my own ration for our chickens, as I’m sure a number of backyard flock owners love to do as well. With a small flock it was easy to mix and use 3-4 hundred pounds at a time and feed it out over a month or two. But after a short while the 50 pound sacks dropped, unannounced, to 40 pounds. The price remained the same. Then access to the whole grains came to an abrupt end altogether without any clear cause. Frustrating to say the least. We were forced to start feeding processed feeds in 40 pound sacks because that was the only available organic feed. It worked for a short time, but the quality was questionable and the price was too high to make a profit.
Certified organic feed can be a challenge to get at the best of times, especially for us at our small scale. So our next step was to push our production up to the next price break. We increased our production by adding more Turkeys and egg laying hens so we can order 1000 pound of feed at a time. That way we could use up the feed in a reasonable amount of time, because unless the feed is in a whole grain form it loses its nutritional quality over time. This worked well and we were able to build a productive small farm business.
But once again after a short while our access to the 1/2 ton sacks came to an abrupt end without clear cause or warning. We found out the day we tried to order our next batch of feed. The only option’s now for organic grains are to go back to getting grain in 40 pound sacks (not an option) or jump up to the now 3 ton minimum, meaning we have to order no less then 6000 pounds at a time. Wow, thats a lot of feed! We can and do feed this much in the course of a season but the hard lump to swallow is where and how to store this amount of grain. When you are at the scale we are, you just have to take it as it comes and is just the nature of running a small business. But it would seem that the mantra of “get big or get out” is still strongly with us today in agriculture.
A couple of seasons ago we lost a large portion of our turkeys and chickens to skunks (check out the post “It Ain’t Easy” for a better idea of what went down). It took some time and a lot of research to figure out what we needed to do to remedy this problem.
Chickens need and like to roost, and as it turns out it’s also their first defense. This was an easy fix–we just changed the way we house them.
Then we got a couple of geese because our research lead us to believe that their aggressive temperament would deter predators.
At first I wasn’t convinced that geese could perform this job and thought of them as just another mouth to feed. But we haven’t lost a turkey or a chicken since we added them.
I have often seen them cock their head to the side and stare up in to the sky. When I follow their line of sight, inevitably there is a hawk floating in the blue, and once in a while an airplane. Needless to say they will always have a place at Pradaria.
Allowing turkeys to run and frolic in the grassland setting that encompasses our farm just really feels right. It’s often hard to imagine that turkeys could be raised in any other way; they are so well adapted to this lifestyle.
Spending up to four months on pasture their conditions range from ninety-degree summer days to the cold rain of a Rogue Valley fall. Even though we provide them with shelter they will often be found in the direct sun on a hot day looking for a tasty morsel or scouting out worms in the rain.
Blackberries and blackberry leaves, legumes, grasses and grass seeds, and the wayward cricket are just a few of the things I have seen turkeys eat. This does also include corn and grains because they need carbs like the rest of us. But when given a choice these birds love to forage.
I have numerous food allergies and intolerances and have had problems with chicken (even organic). But Pradaria Farm chicken not only tastes wonderful it tastes clean and I never have a reaction to eating it. I eat it almost every day, in soups or roasted. And Pradaria Farm turkey is the absolute best turkey I’ve ever eaten…tender, flavorful…amazing!
This season, I built what I thought was a really deluxe turkey house; place for the birds to relax that’s shady, dry, with a roost so they can sleep out of the reach of predators.
But one day, a turkey decided that this snug little house just wasn’t good enough. He felt that sleeping on top of the house was superior to sleeping in the house. The next night this turkey felt a little lonely, so he invited a friend to enjoy this new, higher perch. Then this turkey’s friend invited his friend, and then his friend invited a friend. In ever-growing numbers, in a short time they wrecked their warm, dry, shady house.
Some turkeys, however, couldn’t come to terms with the destruction.
I should have realized in hindsight that given a turkey’s nature, they would disregard a charitable act and do as they wish. Who am I to stop them?
As some of you know, last season we had an issue with skunk predation on our poultry. We lost a number of chickens but it was the turkeys that suffered the most. This season, we have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen again.
The first thing we did was to change the pen from a low, flat Joel Salatin-style house where the birds were on the ground, to a taller hoop-style house. Once we did that it only seemed logical to capitalize on the turkeys’ natural instincts to protect themselves by roosting high off the ground, so we installed lateral boards as roosts three feet off the ground. It’s amazing how effective this small change has been, made easier by the fact that once we showed the turkeys how to roost they have done it on their own ever since (maybe some of our chickens can learn
a thing or two).
The second change is that we got a portable electric net that we place all the way around the turkeys’ house and electrify it. This has had the great unforeseen benefit that we have been able to create a larger secure area, which allows the turkeys to free-range and also gives them access to more bugs and grasses each day.