Remember when several weeks ago i commented on how fortunate it was that i could begin the grazing program as taught by Jaime Elizondo which he terms #total grazing or #nonselective grazing. Well, the easy street is well over. I went on a couple week getaway and came back to 8-10 inches of snow and single digit daytime highs and below zero night time lows with wind chills well be low zero. Although other producers who are much more dedicated than i am are doing a stunning job of total grazing right through the snow and cold as evidenced by the beautiful photos they post on Instagram.
But i cannot do cold – never could – so if i can get my cows on a 10 acre to 20 acre paddock with tall grass and running water in the ditch and provide them with protein tubs, kelp, and salt – i say ‘sayonara’ see ya in a week. Maybe it’ll be up to 10F by then.
Though Dallas and i recently returned from 2 weeks stay in Iceland, we did not have opportunity to visit the location where Thorvin Kelp is harvested, dried, and packaged. If i get the opportunity to go back, i will make a better effort to get there. However, it is a 3 hour drive one way from Reykjavik, so we’ll see. Driving is straightforward and fairly easy in Iceland, so it wouldn’t be difficult.
Thorverk hf. is a seaweed drying plant founded founded in 1986 on the remnants of the pioneering Þörungavinnslan at Reykhólar North of Breiðafjörður, Iceland. The abundnat seaweed grounds of Breiðafjörður have been harvested in the area since 1974 to produce geothermally dried algal meal. The geothermal heat comes from local boreholes. Thorverk is able to produce annually several thousand tons of pure, dry seaweed meal. The product has been certified as organic and sustainably harvested for decades..
Seaweed Meal Processing
Thorverk focuses on harvesting two species of seaweed: Ascophyllum nodosum and Laminaria digitata. The A. nodosum is collected between April and October using specially designed harvesting machines. They cut the plants obove the growth point. The harvested grounds are then left for regrowth for at least four years. L. digitata is harvested using a specially equipped coaster in late autumn and winter.
Harvesting schemes are deployed for the seaweed based on decades of experience and in accordance with surveys and consultancy from Icelandic and international marine biology experts.
Once landed, the crop is chopped and dried using a band drier. Clean, dry air is pre-heated to a max. of 85°C using hot geothermal water that is fed through heat exchangers. This gentle drying procedure ensures that all minerals and organic substances are preserved in the raw material. The drying heat also prevents surface oxidation and browning or burning. Its colour is therefore delightfully bright. The use of the geothermal water also means the production process is environmentally benign. The geothermal hot water flows freely from the wells and emits next to nil of CO2.
Tuesday i took another pallet shipment of Thorvin kelp which i offer free choice to my cow/calf herd as well as offer for sale to those who don’t need a pallet at a time. Thorvin Kelp is offered in 50 lb bags at $60 per bag picked up at Powell Seed Farm, Linneus, MO.
Iceland is a beautiful but sparsely populated country with natural resources including geothermal heat just spouting up all over! and the sweetest tasting just-off-the-glacier water in the world. More about our journey in Iceland in future blogs.
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.