Allen is working his calves today and Monday (mine are tomorrow) – it’s time for their second round of vaccinations and some fall calving cows need pregnancy checking. Weather is perfect except super windy. My job is to prepare lunch for the guys for whenever they arrive. It’s ready now (11:30), and i was notified that they’ll be in probably about 1p. Hopefully, all will go smoothly.
Beef short ribs offered with BBQ sauce
Homegrown slow simmered green beans with onions and garlic
Paraguayan Corn Bread (this is a new recipe for me i’ve made a few times this week – adding this one to my lineup and will post recipe soon)
So we have some traveling hens. Brett took these chooks for a ride on the pickup to the North place, where apparently they hung out for about 15 minutes, then continued their bumpy muddy gravel road journey to Highway Y, pulled in at the Neal farm and loaded two big bales of hay then continued to Brook road, another mile west on Brook road (another muddy, hilly gravel road. Cord drive was too muddy for a pickup, so Brett held up there to unload the hay for tractor to pick up and continue another mile to take out hay. It was during that down time, the hens apparently decided they’d had enough travel and hopped down to make themselves known. Dallas caught them and they scored an up front ride home. Never a lack of entertainment on the farm.
How did they go unnoticed for 22 miles? The only answer must be that they were settled on top the spare tire which is bolted underneath the bed of the pickup.
Should be enjoying fresh pullet sized eggs in about 3 months.
From delivery of chicks to first pullet eggs is typically about 6 months.
25 female chicks (26 actually, but 2 were roosters and one hen is deformed) – $100
Starter feed – 3 bags each 30 lbs at $90
Mixed feed about 1 gallon (or 4 lbs) per day: $2.20 per day times 120 days – $396
Labor for 180 days varies, but averages about 20 minutes a day at $15/hr – $900
So before 25 hens are even laying or producing anything at all, your backyard laying hen project has invested a total of $1486. That’s a lot of eggs you could have bought at $4/dozen. But now that they are laying, there should be about 1 1/2 years of good laying, but of course the feed and labor expenses continue. Labor will slightly increase because I’ll be moving the chicken tractor to fresh grass everyday and collecting, sorting, washing (if needed), and packaging the eggs EVERYDAY.
Total costs (not including building the brooder and chicken tractor): $1486
So figuring forward:
Feed for 1.5 years (540 days @ $2.20) – $1188
Labor at $15/hr for 30 minutes a day – $2025
Egg cartons if you buy them are at least 50 cents (281 cartons) each: $140
Assuming a lay rate of 1 egg per two days (this is an average including a harsh winter where costs will continue but few eggs will be laid) per hen (times 25 hens) – 3375 eggs
(270 days/2 = 135 times 25 hens – 3375 eggs)
Total costs during laying period of 1 1/2 years – $3353
Final costs of raising 25 chicks to laying age plus production for 1 1/2 years: $4839
Cost per potential dozen (281 dozens): $17.22
Value of spent hens is negated completely by labor costs associated with butchering.
All this assuming that in one night along any part of this route, a fox, raccoon, neighbour’s dog or coyote doesn’t come in an annihilate all your hens.
Now winter laying could be increased somewhat by keeping heat and light on the hens.
Certainly, i could be the typical farmer and say ‘well….if i don’t count my time….but that would be unfair, right? He’s taken ALL the risk, done all the labor, built all the infrastructure, and cared for them every single day. If i removed all the labor costs from the scenario, cost per dozen is $6.63/dozen.
Why am i doing this? good question. it’s ridiculous actually, except i cannot buy eggs from hens on pasture being fed non-gmo and mostly organic grains in our part of the world and they do taste better and have more nutrients (according to various tests).
These are real costs to produce eggs from hens on pasture, not inflated or overpriced. Lowering production costs is easy – stacked cages with 67 to 76 square inches of usable space per hen being fed well balanced diet of conventional grains and no chance of being eaten by predators. Automated egg sorting, washing, and packaging. Find employees who will work for minimum wage or less in dusty conditions. Tightly confined conditions allows for fewer employees. Hens will be allowed to lay for less than a year (until first moult) and then replaced to maintain high production year round. This part can also be done on pasture raised as well and would be a good idea. Production drops considerably after that first moult, so replacing them with younger, higher producing hens would reduce costs a little.
On Sunday afternoon, i threw a thawed 4 ish lb sirloin roast into a small electric roaster. I must admit, i use this little roast unrelentingly, yet only paid $5 for the thing! It was at a church fundraising bazaar and that is the price marked on it. I did not like the noisy little fan on the air roaster, so it was simply removed and the holecovered with tape. Done and done.
Day 1: Sliced roast with smashed sweet potato and fresh salad. Not much more to say, very delicious, simple, and filling. Pictured here is one small smashed sweet potato and about 3.5 ounces of beef roast and a ubiquitous power salad.
Day 2 – Beef & Vegetable Soup – was planning something else, but my husband came up croupy and sick with a cold, so switched gears to make a cold buster soup. Mix the broth created when the roast was cooking with the cooking water from the sweet potato preparation for a nutritionally powerful base for adding sliced carrots, diced scrubbed potatoes with skins, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced celery, then salt and pepper to taste. The broth is strong, but i added 2-3 oz of roast chopped into small pieces to this dish. All in all this yielded about 5 cups of deliciousness. Bring to slight boil, then simmer 20 minutes, but longer doesn’t hurt, just mind keeping on the lid so the moisture doesn’t get away. Feel free to add water for a thinner soup.
Day 3: Crumbled roast in Scrambled eggs (Egg Frittata)
This is my go to when i’m short on time for anything – don’t even need meat. Saute a finely chopped small onion in the saved fat drippings from cooking the roast. After a couple minutes, cut or chop fresh spinach into the skillet, stir those around until softened, then add as much crumbled roast as you want, then add eggs. This is one of the recipes where you can add as much or as little as you need to make the meal. Plus, dress it up even more with sliced fresh mushrooms, sliced black olives, shredded cheese. Or exchange the spinach with any leftover greens you have in the frig.
Day 4: Cubed roast beef with smashed potatoes and white sauce, steamed broccoli
Since i used all the broth for the sick day soup, white gravy made with milk will be a great substitute. Onions are for healing, so finely chopped and sauteed in the beef fat before adding flour and milk creates more robust and healthful gravy.
Day 5 – Roast Beef Salad – an old fashioned favourite
To squeeze out another power soup, use the cooking water from potatoes and steamed broccoli – chop onions, carrots, and the stems of the broccoli – add to the water and bring to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, and even parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to boost flavour if you like. Although i seldom use rosemary or thyme simply because i don’t like them!
So, there’s a small example of roast flexibility, whatever it’s worth!
Final three days of testing for chooks verifies eating/trampling about 3/4s of a pound of grass per chicken per day. We’ve had about 7 inches of rain, however, on the last 6 days of testing and they really had scratched out some mud holes. In weather like this, they really need moving more often to avoid bare spots. Open soil not protected by forage will invariably be eroded by weather.
Egg production has stayed at 7 eggs per day. After this trial, their grain offering will increase up to whatever they’ll clean up in a day – probably close to 3-4 lbs per day for the lot of 14 hens.
They are over two years old, so that may have something to do with decreased production as well as the constant rain and no sunshine will also cause stress. That has certainly caused stress to all of our livestock and people as well. However, our hearts go out to those who are flooded beyond imagination.
Next project is to build a 7 ft by 16 foot low profile chicken tractor with little wheels light enough to be pulled by hand. Hopefully, this will take out the chore of moving all that electric netting!
Next 3 day replication started morning of 5 Jun 2015 with Dallas moving poultry netting to fresh pasture before letting the chooks out of their tiny eggmobile. Day 1 egg collection – 7 eggs. Day 2 egg collections: 7 eggs. Day 3 egg collections: 7 eggs. We’ve continued with one pound of the wheat screenings cleanout, but that is really not enough for them since they are eating it all and still seem like they want more. However, for the next replication, we will continue with one pound and increase it after the grazing trial.
We have discovered that this size paddock with this much forage results in far too much trampling of quality forage and not enough eating. Now that we are getting an idea of how much chooks eat in a day, we can determine how many chooks can be managed in smaller, more easily handled housing. A full length 164 foot poultry netting fence is too much work for only 14 hens eating .75 lb of grass per day. In other words, to be more cost effective, the 41′ by 41′ enclosure allowed with a poultry netting should allow about 41 hens, of course depending on forage quantity and quality. This would include realising that the taller forages would be unavailable for chooks to eat.
We realise that, by the book, chooks typically eat only 4 ounces of feed per day. However, i think that is a purely grain diet which would be more dense than grass, legumes, and forbes. Probably, most of what is being utilised, however, is actually scratching and trampling. Nevertheless, this needs to be considered to keep a healthy sward.
The opportunity cost of owning land is next to nil since the government insists on stealing our savings by keeping interest rates near 0% and printing money (inflation), so the easiest way to determine the cost of the grass consumed is by using current pasture rental rates, which in north Missouri is about $60/acre.
Too many times I read (even from producers, sometimes!) that grass is free. Whoa, Nelly! It is not free and, in fact, the cost of grass has sharply increased due to so much of it being ploughed up to raise more corn and soybeans. Folks, that is not sweet corn nor edible soybeans. This is commodity, GMO crops raised to be fed to animals like cattle, chickens, pigs, fish, horses, buffalo, and even lambs and deer!
But I digress – how much grass do pastured hens eat and how does that relate to a dozen eggs? Hopefully, these questions can be answered at least for our management style.
By measuring the amount of forage in a small paddock before the chooks are moved in and then again after they are moved out in 3 days (during the growing season, it is imperative to move stock at least every 3 days to prevent removing too much forage, however, if you need to improve the diversity, overgrazing is a good tool to use for establishment, but it must be part of the plan). As with any research, there are variables that are hard to control. While we will measure the amount of feed we give them and report that, there is no way of knowing how many bugs they will eat. We plan three replications.
Day 1 – Fourteeen mature egg laying Barred Rock hens – .039 acres with mature fescue and about 40% red clover. Estimated forage available is 4 inches times 200 lbs of grazeable feed is 800 lbs per acre or 31.2 lbs (800 x .039). I’ll measure what is left when we move them in 3 days to obtain what they actually consume. Chooks will mash down a fair bit, but that is okay since that will feed the soil microbes and organisms. We are offering 1 lb of seed cleanout consisting of wheat screenings – unsprouted. Sprouted would be better, but for this trial, we want to know how much forage they are eating out of the pasture.
Results: Eggs laid: Day 1: 12 eggs, Day 2: 11 eggs Day 3: 7 eggs. Indications are that without more grain – production decreases markedly, this may not be a bad thing – pencil out the costs and needs.
Grazing equivalent: The 14 chooks grazed in 3 days what 1 cows would grazing in one day
Bear in mind, however, the trampling/mob effect would be entirely different since cows would likely trample more and certainly put more poop in large piles which will then cover up more grass. With so much rain, even more grass would be destroyed. There would also be a considerable difference in mob effect with 500 or 1000 chooks vs 14 as well. Chickens range only up to 250 feet (extreme outer limits) from their nesting boxes, so more trampling would occur due to concentration. I would think with that many – chooks would need moving everyday vs 3 days.
Chooks will eat far more bugs than cows.
There are several differences in the grazing impact, so just comparing the potential grazing is just for fun.
Neverthess, this experiment demonstrates that no matter the species – pastures MUST BE ALLOWED ADEQUATE REST PERIODS TO IMPROVE AND ALLOW FUTURE GRAZING! Animal movement must be controlled and their keepers must balance animal performance and pasture production effectively.