Planning 2014, part 2

During this winter planning time we evaluated the pros and cons of all farm ventures, especially poultry with its high labor and feed demands. Buckeye chickens Beyond their eggs and meat, our heritage breed Buckeyes earn their keep by voraciously seeking out pests, avidly tossing around the compostables and efficiently setting eggs and rearing the next generation of birds. In an effort to increase the size of our Buckeyes for the table, we purchased another breeding line this year (ordered chicks to start another for 2015) and will follow the protocols of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s, Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity, . Heritage breeds grow slower, do not need higher protein, more expensive feed and raise their own replacements. Buckeyes work year round, allow me to control more of the input costs and if correctly managed, I can add breeding stock to the list of products we can sell. My biggest challenge will be in finding a market for non-broad breasted heritage breed chicken meat. So, the Buckeyes stay on the farm with a plan to improve the quality of our flock and add breeding stock to the products we produce.  

During this winter planning time we evaluated the pros and cons of all farm ventures, especially poultry with its high labor and feed demands.

Buckeye chickens

Beyond their eggs and meat, our heritage breed Buckeyes earn their keep by voraciously seeking out pests, avidly tossing around the compostables and efficiently setting eggs and rearing the next generation of birds.

In an effort to increase the size of our Buckeyes for the table, we purchased another breeding line this year (ordered chicks to start another for 2015) and will follow the protocols of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s, Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity, . Heritage breeds grow slower, do not need higher protein, more expensive feed and raise their own replacements. Buckeyes work year round, allow me to control more of the input costs and if correctly managed, I can add breeding stock to the list of products we can sell. My biggest challenge will be in finding a market for non-broad breasted heritage breed chicken meat.

So, the Buckeyes stay on the farm with a plan to improve the quality of our flock and add breeding stock to the products we produce.

 

Cornish Cross meat birds The Cornish Cross meat chickens I raised last year were delicious and added to the fertility of our fields but  after 8-9 weeks of daily moves of the open bottomed pens and organic feed, they were not large. Cornish Cross birds are very efficient at converting grain to meat, but with the slower weight gain, possibly due to their consumption of lower calorie grass and exercise in the uncrowded pen, and the fixed costs of purchase and processing, they did not pay for themselves. I am on the fence about raising Cornish Cross chickens again. The meat was tasty and the bones produced beautiful stock, but there are plenty of local farms raising broad breasted hybrid chickens more efficiently than Lilac Hill. If I have enough customer interest, I will raise one batch of meat birds but will  commit to raising them for 10 weeks to attain a larger size rather than crowding them in a pen or restricting their access to pasture.  

Cornish Cross meat birds

The Cornish Cross meat chickens I raised last year were delicious and added to the fertility of our fields but  after 8-9 weeks of daily moves of the open bottomed pens and organic feed, they were not large. Cornish Cross birds are very efficient at converting grain to meat, but with the slower weight gain, possibly due to their consumption of lower calorie grass and exercise in the uncrowded pen, and the fixed costs of purchase and processing, they did not pay for themselves. I am on the fence about raising Cornish Cross chickens again. The meat was tasty and the bones produced beautiful stock, but there are plenty of local farms raising broad breasted hybrid chickens more efficiently than Lilac Hill. If I have enough customer interest, I will raise one batch of meat birds but will  commit to raising them for 10 weeks to attain a larger size rather than crowding them in a pen or restricting their access to pasture.

 

Ducks We like ducks. They are comical additions to the farmyard and with less feed than chickens, produce meat and eggs that  are tremendous. As a saleable product, duck has drawbacks. With their 28 day incubation period (chicks incubate for 21 days) and sometimes seasonal laying period, hatchery purchased ducklings cost at least $2 more than chicks. Processing a duck costs $3.50  more than a chicken and if the timing is not correct and the bird is starting to molt, the product is not as pretty. Beyond cost, many cooks do not have experience with preparing duck meat so finding a market for pasture raised duck is harder than for chicken or turkey. My kitchen has been my lab as I search out approachable recipes for cooking duck that is tender, crisp skinned and not greasy. Thanks to my latest recipe book purchase, Duck, Duck, Goose, my cooking  results have become more foolproof. Locally sourced, pasture raised, organic grain fed duck meat is limited, so if  I can find cooks interested in trying duck, ramping up our duck flock may be a good venture for Lilac Hill. As much as we appreciate our rare Saxony ducks, they may not fit  our future production needs. As much as I would like to continue in conservation efforts for Saxony ducks, I am not sure if I can afford to keep a purebred flock.  I do have a new Saxony drake who should give us a few years of service, which combined this year’s best Pekin drake, selected from the meatbird ducklings I ordered for this season, I may be able to breed a “farm duck” that lays reliably and hatch out our own Pekin x Saxony duck eggs in an effort to control costs.  

Ducks

We like ducks. They are comical additions to the farmyard and with less feed than chickens, produce meat and eggs that  are tremendous.

As a saleable product, duck has drawbacks. With their 28 day incubation period (chicks incubate for 21 days) and sometimes seasonal laying period, hatchery purchased ducklings cost at least $2 more than chicks. Processing a duck costs $3.50  more than a chicken and if the timing is not correct and the bird is starting to molt, the product is not as pretty.

Beyond cost, many cooks do not have experience with preparing duck meat so finding a market for pasture raised duck is harder than for chicken or turkey. My kitchen has been my lab as I search out approachable recipes for cooking duck that is tender, crisp skinned and not greasy. Thanks to my latest recipe book purchase, Duck, Duck, Goose, my cooking  results have become more foolproof.

Locally sourced, pasture raised, organic grain fed duck meat is limited, so if  I can find cooks interested in trying duck, ramping up our duck flock may be a good venture for Lilac Hill.

As much as we appreciate our rare Saxony ducks, they may not fit  our future production needs. As much as I would like to continue in conservation efforts for Saxony ducks, I am not sure if I can afford to keep a purebred flock.  I do have a new Saxony drake who should give us a few years of service, which combined this year’s best Pekin drake, selected from the meatbird ducklings I ordered for this season, I may be able to breed a “farm duck” that lays reliably and hatch out our own Pekin x Saxony duck eggs in an effort to control costs.

 

 

White Pekin Ducks

In spite of the greater costs of raising duck, I have ordered Pekin ducklings with the hope of finding interested customers. With daily moves in opened bottomed pens, the ducks will fertilize the pastures as they feast on bugs and greens. I’ll feed the ducks organic feed. I assume that  like the meat chickens I raised last year, our grow out time will be longer than advertised due to our ducks’ exercise and varied diet. Unlike the Cornish Cross hybrid chicken whose quick growth limits its longevity, a Pekin duck is a sustainable breed that can be kept as part of a home flock. As the ducklings grow I will select the best Pekins to add to the Saxony flock. If all goes well we can experiment next year with crossing the faster-growing-Pekin with the more-egg-laying Saxony.

 

 

If you have any interest in poultry from Lilac HIll Farm, please contact me.