I’d hoped to run this essay past Kat Hosinski before posting it. Most of this was written near the end of October. Unfortunately my Compatriot in live homesteading discussions passed away November 1st. I’d seriously like to hear from homesteaders or those hoping to go on a homesteading path – about what you think on these thoughts here. Thank you.
Well…. it depends… AND I am not going to provide a definitive answer in a one-size-fits-all sort of thing, My goal is to discuss what I did, and what YOU may wish to do – which may well likely not be the same.
Actually, I’m going to start out this discussion by noting that there’s a matter of terminology here. “Organic” in the US (and in many countries) has a legal definition when it comes to raising and selling crops or livestock. And sometimes that definition will change, depending on advances in the scientific study of crops and livestock; and alas, way too often due to prevailing politics at any given time, once the sluggish regulatory wheels start churning. (This is not ever a political site, but this brief mention must be made since we are discussing “organic” as a legal aspect of agriculture/livestock management). I refer you to Joel Salatin if you want one very valid and reasoned-out set of thoughts on the topic.
Back in the 70’s when I was in college, I took a course titled “Organic Chemistry”, in my pursuit of a biological major. A lot of that stuff was NASTY! Organic: In chemistry, a term used to describe any molecule held together by a chain of carbon atoms. So, chemically-speaking, the petrol or gas you pump into your automobile is organic or close enough… But for some reason or another, the word “organic” took off and for the layperson, indicated healthy eating. After all, all living matter does contain organic constituents that fit the scientific definition. And of course, it’s now pretty much accepted that one should find organic (food) alternatives for the “Dirty Dozen” in the world of pesticide-laden veggies when possible. AND, it’s one reason I want to grow most of my own food down the road. The upshot is that “organic” is now a word with multiple definitions, and I have to draw a close on that Organic Chemistry class unless I’m specifically discussing chemical properties…. but to be honest, I haven’t yet gotten around to worrying about chemicals in my food unless we are discussing SPECIFIC chemicals. It’s
turtles chemicals all the way down, folks. H20, after all… keeps me wet, washed and clean (most days).
So, anyhow, while I intend to use organic practices for my fruits and vegetables (without going for legal certification) – and some of my practices may well be part of the “Beyond Organic” movement – the chickens here at my homestead are not even technically raised organic.
As of now, none of mine have ever needed antibiotics, and I don’t plan to give them any. Note that in the supermarket, NONE of the chickens sold as meat, and NONE of their eggs supposedly have ever had antibiotics, organic or not. Yes, you see big notices on all the packages declaring them to be antibiotic-free – but at least in the US, they legally HAVE to be. (The label is intended to sucker-punch you to be drawn in to purchase.)
However, the land that mine are raised on has not had non-organic amendments any time since I’ve owned it – well, the house proper and immediately-neighboring soil I can’t speak for, since the builder here had to do his own thing – but the chickens don’t come that near to the house proper. (Although they did start off life as day old chicks in my basement…) So, technically the land they’re on itself fits the organic definition (minus the paperwork), and I’m happy about that. I have owned this property for 20 years. I have seen what happens here.
These birds mostly eat organically-sourced feed – I think it is worth my while to give them the best foods available. Should you do this? As much as possible/practical, I think.
My chickens get to free range when I am home out on open pasture – although not so much in winter. And at night they get closed in their coop. When it rains, they don’t want to go out. Also, should you do and raise your poultry like this?
I give my chickens kitchen scraps, and I buy them crickets and mealworms. Some of my kitchen scraps are organic, others are not. I’ve only recently discovered a source of organically-raised mealworms. Eventually, I may raise my own, but right now…. no. (Too much else on my plate.) Should you supplement your chickens with only-organics from your kitchen?
Well, if you plan on certification, the answer is YES. You basically HAVE TO, and you have to keep tons of documentation. For me – I am not going to command a higher price for my eggs if I go truly organic or not – NOT in this region I live. (Yeah, I could truck them into Boston or something – but 1) I don’t have the volume to make that financially viable, 2) I loathe driving in Boston or anywhere around that traffic-congealing horror of a metropolis without severe cause, 3) Time is more valuable to me than the pittance of money I’d potentially make assuming I’d up my scale to attempt to do that.) YOUR OWN logistics for where you live may vary.
So: why should I bother with organics at all?
I think it is better quality feed for my chickens. I’m not so much worried about GMO as a technique as about the pesticides that are in today’s GMO feed. The actual principle behind making things GMO – and it does differ in procedure from the way we humans have modified our food over the millennium – does not disturb me. The concept of “golden rice” containing beta carotene is awesome, and I hope someday they can make this viable enough to provide sources of this nutrient in regions of the world that are deficient in this. It’s the pesticides the researchers have incorporated into so many foods, such as in most of our corn and soy. Or the resistance to those pesticides / herbicides that is also often incorporated. (This is already coming back to bite farmers, as resistance in unwanted insects and weeds becomes more prevalent.)
I’m currently not selling meat. 1) My volume of chicken meat only works for my personal consumption (and the occasional guests over for dinner or so). Were I to gear up my operation for the selling of meat, I’d need to go through USDA slaughterhouses – an extra fee I’d have to add to the cost of each bird – this would be fine should I ever decide to expand like that, but that certainly is not now. 2) If I would do that, yes, I’d have to determine whether it would be cost effective in my region to make them legally organic through and through (could charge extra?) or whether to simply bow to fate and sell pastured chicken that got conventional feed along with whatever they obtain from the pasture. Volume counts when it comes to feed. If I were to do this, yeah, I could see moving to conventional feed for a large number of chicken – and getting the value back because they’d be pastured as often as possible. Many of us may well be more impressed by pastured chicken over battery-raised chickens, with less concern about what they’ve been fed, anyway (within reason).
I’d also have to consider doing Cornish Cross (8 weeks grow out time), broilers (12-15 weeks grow out time) or heritage birds as I have this year (20 weeks grow out time) were I to switch to raising meat for sale. Personally, I’d stick with broilers / red rangers / Freedom Rangers anyway… well at least for MY consumption. (I’ve done my own personal taste comparison between Cornish Cross and red rangers grown on the same farm back in Connecticut with similar conditions run in moveable chicken tractors… the latter gave me better taste value. Your taste buds might differ. Oh, you do have to cook both slightly differently, which many of the online taste-comparisons I have stumbled across have failed to do.)
Having done hybrid broilers last year, and heritage cockerels this year, my plan for the future years is to raise a limited number of broilers for myself. The turnaround is faster than the heritage; they are more flavorful and overall more healthy than the Cornish Cross (whom are subject to heart issues and leg issues if allowed to over-grow). I will let the heritage hens and their heritage rooster foster up baby chicks, and I may even try raising some eggs indoors in an incubator. The lasses will become future layers and the lads… well, mostly future inhabitants of my freezer camp. (Unfortunately none of those I hatch here in 2020 will end up being heritage, because the heritage rooster I will have will apparently not match any of the hens’ specific breeds… Um, but maybe I’ll develop something new??)
And they’ll all continue to eat as I’ve been feeding them. Organic feed (95%), kitchen scraps (organic or conventional), pastured greens and ticks (YES PLEASE, CHICKS, EAT THEM TICKS!), mealworms, crickets, home made suet/lard cakes, which I make from pork or lamb fat… Your needs and purposes and locale may well vary! I think the main thing is to let the chickens outdoors in daylight hours, often! Don’t over-crowd, and give them quality feed, kitchen scraps, calcium sources, and extra protein.
Past Posts in this Series:
- Raising Chickens Part I: Intro & Overview
- Raising Chickens Part II: Welcoming Baby Chicks
- Raising Chickens Part III: Trekking to My Chickens in Zone 5 Winter
- Raising Chickens Part IV: My Chicken Run and Coop
- Raising Chickens Part V: The Bin, or Storage at Your Coop
- Raising Chickens Part VI: Feeding Those Layers
- Raising Chickens Part VII: Predation!
- Raising Chickens Part VIII: Is Organic the Way to Go?
- Medical supplies and treatments for your chickens.
- Broody or Not?
- Recommended book, magazine and online sources for chicken learning!
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