For people looking at ways to make an extra income, Pastured Poultry is quite possibly one of the best ways to get the most of raising a quality product that will get customers coming back time after time, building customer loyalty and enabling you to up-sell on other seasonal products that you may make, grow or raise. (Think veggies, eggs, cheese, soap, fruit, preserves etc etc)
Entry into the pastured poultry business is easy and one can start with as few as 50 or even 100 birds. The beauty of this is that you get to set the pace of your expansion, you stay as small or go as large as you wish (and have space for) also allowing you to grow with your customer base and budget.
A good example is here on Livingseeds Farm, we only do small batches of 200 birds every 8-10 weeks in spring and summer. We service a purposefully limited client base and the majority of the birds are for our own consumption. We have no plans to expand this beyond what we currently do, so as you can see, this is perfectly suited to allow you to decide how large you want to grow.
My very first piece of advice would be to get the book Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin. This is literally a textbook on raising ordinary broiler birds on grass and will be critical to your success. The information in this post is mainly for you to get a rough idea as to what you are getting yourself into.
We started rearing Pastured Poultry to get away from the toxic chicken that is regularly passed onto the consumer by our large poultry processors. (This is a good question for you to answer: How often do you get the runs after a takeaway or a meal out? ) Processors are allowed to inject these birds with what they euphemistically like to call “flavour enhancers” The scary thing is that if they did not inject the birds with this junk, most consumers would probably not eat the birds as they taste so bad. Ever smell chlorine or fish meal on your “fresh” chicken? I’ll do a blog post on why your chickens smell/taste funny in the future. It might even push you to start producing your own Grass Fed Chicken.
I did not like the idea of eating “recycled animal protien”, I also did not like the idea of eating meat that was laden with “Growth Promoters”, antibiotics and “precautionary medication” just in case the birds got sick. Our Pastured Poultry operation is specifically designed around supplying our family with quality chicken and any excess is sold to customers.
We start off with day-old Ross broilers and they spend the first 2-3 weeks in a specially prepared raising area that is indoors. They get fed broiler finisher from day one, as by law broiler finisher may not have any medication in the feed. We also feed the day old chicks river sand and/or pool filter sand. This is because they need grit to act as teeth inside their gizzards. The sand also releases minerals into their systems as it passes through their highly acidic gut.
Our finisher mash is produced by Hi-Performance Feeds in Meyerton and is free of GM maize as they have contract growers that grow for them and they specifically request that these growers use GM free maize. Hi-Performance exports maize into Africa and need to supply a GM Free certificate to proof as much. I speak to the guys there and I’m am more than confidant with the feed that they supply us.
From day one we also add a Probiotic and an Amino acid supplement to their water, this is to make sure that along with the sand in their diet their digestive system is brought up to optimal functioning to ensure the strongest and healthiest chicks, as well as good feed conversion. We will also add cut grass to their feed every day to give them a natural chlorophyll boost (and goggas and other cool things for them to eat) and also so that we don’t stress their systems when they get moved permanently onto grass.
The modern broiler is not designed to be subjected to the stresses of outside life, and has been bred to live in a permanently medicated, temperature controlled, light controlled, sterilised, confined space, eating a high protein diet lacking any semblance of proper nutrition. What we do is go 100% against conventional poultry rearing wisdom and raise them outside on grass, in natural sunlight, with no medication, subject to weather, they eat … well almost anything available, nothing is sterilised….. EVER!
And Wow do they make fine eating birds.
At around 2-3 weeks depending on the chicks and the weather forecast, we take the birds outside and they get placed into cages that are on grass. This is a bit of a knock for the birds and we find that it takes them a day or two to adjust. So if there is any bad weather forecast for the next day or so, rather postpone the move to grass. That said, after a few days on grass you can literally see the birds take off and the outside adjustment is complete.
Just watching the birds on fresh grass is a real treat, they actively search out new bugs and eat the fresh green grass like sweets. We continue to supplement with amino acids and Probiotic once or twice a week, but we find that there are plenty of natural minerals and vitamins in the grass and bugs and other things that the birds consume.
We move the birds onto fresh grass every morning, in the last week before slaughter they get moved twice a day as they really start to hammer the grass. They don’t get moved to spare the grass they get moved to allow them access to more fresh grass, as they practically denude the soil, leaving a bare patch after we have moved the cage.
The soil and grass bounces back very quickly and you can definite see an improvement in the quality of the grass as well as the colour of the grass, as it makes use of the nutrients in the chickens waste.
We typically slaughter at 7 weeks and this takes place on a Saturday morning where we set up a temporary abattoir. A few friends come around to help and we make social occasion out of the unpleasant disassembly process. Sometimes a customer wants to help out and we often allow this as people want to see how their food is treated.
Slaughter is a necessary part of getting meat onto ones plate, I would prefer however, to have that meat come from a farm where I knew that the chicken had a good living, eating what it was designed to. Not, medication and recycled animal protein.
I make no apologies for being an omnivore. I just believe that it makes a lot more sense to eat a humanely produced succulent chicken breast. The fact that one cannot buy one in ANY store necessitates that I produce and slaughter the birds myself.