Amish Poultry: Before starting his Organic Grass Farm, Melvin Fisher grew pasture-raised fowl there. Melvin ordered Herman Beck-book Chenoweth’s Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing in 1998 after reading about the free-range poultry system in a magazine. Later, he attended a workshop on the development of range poultry. With the help of the book, Melvin erected and filled six poultry skids with 400 Cornish Cross broilers in 1999. The pastured poultry cages were his last business venture, and he hasn’t looked back since. Over 6,000 chickens and 150 turkeys were raised, dressed, and processed there in 2002, making it the only non-electric operation of its kind in the United States. As a result, he intends to breed, sell, and prepare twice as many birds for restaurants in Indiana and for the numerous customers who visit his Park County farm to pick up their orders.
In many respects, Melvin’s business stands out. Every week, he moves the skids to a new range (short-grass pasture) using horsepower instead of diesel power. A 16-year-old apprentice pulls the skids on a Belgian-Percheron hitch. It takes him roughly 100 feet to load the skid with the float-valve waterers and feed containers.
Melvin spends roughly three hours a week moving the eight skids containing more than 3700 birds (Melvin also keeps 500 laying hens in skid homes and begins pullets on the range). Melvin claims that this method of operation is more efficient than relocating grazing poultry enclosures by hand. In reality, 46 cages holding 80 birds each are required for a facility of this scale and scope.
In addition to the perimeter woven wire fence around the pasture, the broilers are guarded by a single solar-powered electric fence, two Great Pyrenees dogs, and a llama heifer. To scare away predators, these animals are deployed around the skid dwellings. Predator concerns have been minimal with the installation of guard animals. A single strand of electric fence protects horses and cattle living in the same field. Broiler hens have a smaller range; therefore, electric poultry netting is used to confine them near home.
Forage legumes and grasses like white and red clover, orchard grass, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and alfalfa are good choices for pasture. Forage is an essential part of chicken and turkey diets, even though academic study reveals that only 10-15% of their dry matter comes from pasture and up to 30% from forage itself. To top it off, pasture soil and the bugs and grubs that live in it provide nearly all of the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements necessary for a healthy bird. In this way, there is no need for preservative-laden vitamin pills. Many people who think they are allergic to meat are allergic to the preservatives used to preserve it in the first place. Because of this, Melvin buys organic grain from other farms in the area and has its ground and combined to his specifications without using any preservatives.
It’s Better to Eat Free-Range Poultry.
Animals grown on pasture have more significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and beta carotene than animals raised in confinement. As a result, these animals are less likely to be overweight or obese. Jo Robinson, Sally Fallon, and others like them are helping create a new breed of customer that is more informed about the health advantages of grass-fed meats.
Operational Activities on the Ground
There is an eight-by-16-foot floor space on each skid. Wood flooring and chicken wire walls are standard on all of the skids. In the beginning, Melvin used tarps for the roofing of the skids. Adding fold-down combined shade and storm panels to the Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing skid layout was necessary since he grows chickens far into the season. A man door is shown on either end of the skid in the book, but Melvin has replaced one of the doors with a walk-up ramp that spans the whole width of the skid. This makes the skid more accessible to younger birds and decreases the amount of wear and tear on the pasture. The author has suggested this change. And the improved ideas are included in the latest version of Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, which may be purchased from the Back40Books.com website or by calling 573.858.3244.
The flooring of the skids is made of rot-resistant wood coated in sawdust litter. The cost of transporting garbage is included in the purchase price. A superior compost is made from the manure dumped on the skids at night, and this compost may be used as an excellent fertilizer. Waste from The Organic Grass Farm has long been utilized in the Melvins’ family garden; but, with an increase in output, the farm plans to expand into berry and fruit cultivation soon.
Operations on a layer
Roosts and nest boxes have been added to the laying hens’ skids. Each of these skids holds 250 chickens. Melvin uses Egg-Layer hybrids like Golden Comets.) He buys new birds each year to distinguish the flocks by age and color. When his offspring take over the farm, they will know which strains worked best, thanks to extensive egg-laying records kept by their father. He raises rabbits and chickens in a hoop-house construction, which he also uses for brooding the layers.
An electric poultry netting and a Great Pyrenees’ guard dog protect the layer-hen complex. Eggs are collected twice a day and refrigerated in the farm’s diesel-powered walk-in coolers during the hottest months of the year. The eggs are sorted and graded according to size in new fiber or Styrofoam cartons. Melvin’s wholesale customers pay between $1.75 and $1.95 a dozen for his goods. According to the size of the dozen, his eggs in Indianapolis cost between $2.59 and $3.00 a dozen.
Processors on-site at the farm
Melvin and his family built a new agricultural processing facility in 2000. The Indiana Department of Agriculture gave input on the design of this facility, which began in 1999 and needed six months of meetings. The final three months of the planning stage saw construction begin. Bird-by-bird inspection was included in the structure, which was finished in time for use in the middle of the 2000 production year. Attitude is essential when working with inspectors, adds Melvin, who believes that “respect for authority is necessary” when working with them.
A 20′ by 30′ processing space, walk-in coolers and freezers measuring 12′ x 16′, and an office and restroom measuring 8′ x 24′ round out the facility. On bright days, sun tubes illuminate the workspaces. Many food processing businesses and dairy milk houses are required to use Glasboard (a form of water-impermeable paneling), and the walls are painted steel and Glasboard. A floor drain system is included with a concrete slab that has been laid. A deep well verified for purity provides the water needed to process raw materials. The facility was completed at $50,000.00, which included secondhand Pickwick and Ashley equipment. We slaughter hens from 3 to 5 pounds in weight at the Organic Grass Farm. They can also handle turkeys weighing between 14 and 30 pounds.
Operation of the plant
About 250 birds are processed at the plant’s current capacity in a four-hour shift. Additional time is needed for bagging, cutting, weighing, and cleaning up the plant. Melvin, his wife, and three adolescent assistants make up the standard crew of five. The walk-in nature of the skid shelters makes harvesting the birds a breeze. The birds are confined within the skid since the doors have been locked. The containers are subsequently taken to the processing factory by horse-drawn carriage.
This year’s production is expected to be doubled, a task that the plant can readily manage. To fulfill requests, Melvin uses overnight express services like FedEx and UPS in addition to the hired vans that now bring most of the birds to the Indianapolis region. The US Department of Agriculture has examined his goods means that he may ship to any address in the United States.
The Organic Grass Farm has a promising future. As a result of Melvin’s dedication to sustainable farming and animal care, he has a steady market for his high-quality products. His accomplishments should serve as an inspiration to all of us who want to play a significant role in meeting the food security demands of our communities.