Harp Turkey Ranch

  (McCleary, Washington)
Where farming meets natural living
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Free Range vs Pasture Pens

We get alot of emails on how we raise our poultry here on the farm, so decided it would be a good topic to discuss on the blog.

 There is basically two different ways to raise your pastured poultry. We are going to discuss both ways.

 We raise all our poultry to the day range system and go by the European standards for the poultry as the US has none that fit the pastured poultry growers of America.

1) Free Range/Day Range:

This a non-confinement system that uses a perimeter fence to deter predators.   As defined, this means at least 150' between the skid house and the closest fence.   A variation of this system, known as Day Range,  uses an Electronet portable fence to keep the birds safe from dogs and coyotes during daylight hours.  Up to 300 birds are housed on an 8'x 18' wooden skid shelter that is towed to new pasture as needed.  Birds return to this shelter on their own each evening and are confined for predator protection.  During the day the birds are let out and the skid provides shelter from sun and rain when needed.  The large-scale access to pasture combined with the low stocking rate (400 chickens or 100 turkeys per acre) allows the birds plenty of area to exercise and deposit manure.  As a result, free-range birds develop excellent muscle tone.  Since the muscle is what we eat, this development is very important.  Combined with proper aging after slaughter meat quality is firm but smooth--second to none.

One of the first questions is about predation.  Because most predation occurs at night, when the birds are totally enclosed on the skid, there is normally no problem.  Hawks occasionally steal an inattentive bird, but this is rare.   Most birds are extremely wary of sky activity.

A real plus using the free-range system is the ability to "save" manure nutrients and make compost. We use our composted chicken/turkey manure to raise premium quality vegetables and fruits for our family and friends. People using the Pasture Pen system, have good fertility in the pasture, but are not able to save and transport the nutrients to other fields.   The free-range system is a large “farm-scale” system suitable for practitioners raising 500 - 20,000 chickens per year. 

 2) Pasture Pen/Chicken Tractor :

 Pasture Pen is a confinement system with a grass floor.  Using portable pens approximately 8 x 10 feet in size, this popular system is a big improvement over the broiler houses used by companies such as Tyson and Perdue, but  it is a confinement system just the same.  The pens, each containing about 80 chickens,  are moved by hand but  the lightweight construction means they can occasionally be blown over by the wind.  In hot climates, birds can suffer heat stroke on calm days.   The birds have a  limited space for exercise and manure that space heavily.  Therefore, the pens must be moved twice daily, a chore not always pleasant, especially after a heavy rain.  The birds benefit from sunlight, bugs and grubs,  and get minerals from the soil, but muscle tone is very different from birds allowed to free-range.  The Pasture Pen System does protect  against hawks, but is actually less protective at night against skunks, foxes, opossums and raccoons since it has no floor.  This system is very labor intensive involving daily movement of pens and delivery of feed and water,   but is well suited for those with limited space,  those desiring to raise less than 1000 birds per year or persons who  must work away from the farm during the day.

The Chicken Tractor was developed by Andy Lee and is a useful system for raising 50 or so birds for home use.  By placing these pens in the garden, soil is tilled and manure can be placed exactly where desired.  This is not a commercial sized system, and  is also a confinement system.  A recent refinement of the Chicken Tractor is the addition of a pop-hole door to allow the birds to range at least part of the day.

Farmers using both the "pastured poultry" and "chicken tractor" systems have reported leg problems with chickens.  While part of this problem can be eliminated by using the heavier strains of Cornish Cross chickens designed to be raised to roaster size, most leg problems are caused by the pens being pulled over the legs of the chickens when the birds are being moved to new pasture.  Neither of these two systems are suitable for turkey production.

Some farmers using the latter two systems advertise their chickens as “free-range”, but under European rules they would not qualify as the birds are too tightly confined.  Since, at the present time, there is no national standard for what "free-range" is in the U.S., I recommend that farmers follow the European standard that mandates stocking rates of 400 chickens or 100 turkeys per acre and that the birds truly are "free to range".
 


 
 

Animals have jobs too

Here at the ranch all the animals have jobs too. Their jobs are to do the back breaking work of clearing and tilling the land, at the same time fertilizing and spreading it too.

The pigs have gotten more done then I first thought they would. They have to till up about another 1/2 acre or so and then they have a date with the freezers. As we don't keep our pigs through the summer months. It is hot and the pigs need WAY too much water mud to wallow in and they start to stink no matterf what you do. So our solution to this is to raise them through the winter season, this way they are cheap to buy and all the growing is done for the year and they are allowed to till the areas we need tilled. Plus the ground is softer and they get more done faster. They need less water and they don't stink and the manure is washed in to the soil after all winter of rains we get here. 

 Pinky & Maxx enjoying a fresh green salad

 

 

The goats are very important on the farm as well. They help keep the brush and weeds in check all year long. They clear out the thickest parts and they don't even complain one bit. The boer goats are the cows of the goat world. They never stop eating and they are good to eat. As the year goes on they will also help keep the grasses from growing too tall. After a batch of broilers are done let the grass rest for a week or two and then let the goats graze through it till they get it back down to 3-4" and repeat as it warrants.Doing all this work you would think they would complain at some point, but they don't they actually love you for letting them do all this work.

Goat Kids Growing Fast


The chickens and turkeys have probably the specialist job of them all. They help restore the nitrogen back into the soil. They eat every bug and grass hopper they can come across. If it flies or crawls on the earth and they can catch it and fit in their mouths they eat it. This eliminates all uses for chemicals and pesticides for bugs. They even hit the bugs were it counts, in their eggs and larvae. After you move the chickens and turkeys to a new area the worms move in and help break their manure down and leave all their valuable castings. Plus they really go after the seeds that the weeds leave behind and the ones that are hidden in the ground, they can seek and destroy them with great ease. The turkeys even keep the grass lengths in check as well. They do need help from the goats from time to time.

Here is some before and after pictures of what the pigs and goats have gotten done, so far this year, even collected and spread over a ton and half of chicken/turkey manure and spread it on the fresh tilled areas and let the rain wash it in to the soils to help rebuild them for the grasses and legumes to thrive in.

 

 

 

  


 
 

Happy Easter

Wanted to wish every body a happy Easter Holiday.

We finished our first batch of Poulet Rouge Broilers last week. Everything went great and the chicken tasted great. We were able to fill every order that we pre sold, leaving only 2 chickens for us to enjoy till next month. We are looking at selling out of the entire next batch as well, and have a list of people going for the other months.

 

Wanted to thank all the people that bought our chickens and supported our smalll family farm.

 

Thanks Again Everybody !!!!!

 

Harp Family

 
 

Poulet Rouge Broiler Update - 3

Would just like to share some photos that i had taken this afternoon of the poulet rouge broilers. They are going to be processed on Wed. April 8 th just a few days away. I'll report dressed weights.

 

 The farm is buzzing now. I start at daylight and go to bed at dark. Seems like nothing really ever gets done. LOL Hatching out turkeys now and the incubators are starting to get full of turkey eggs.The goat kids are nothing short of a handful. Pigs are still at work rototilling away.

 

 


 
 

Poulet Rouge Broiler Update - 2

The first batch is now 9 weeks old. I weighed four of them today as the suspense was killing me. 1@4lbs - 2@5lbs - 1@6lbs, Keep in mind that was on a cheapo scale, but I did calibrate it with a 10 lb weight before I weighed them so they should be pretty close numbers. They are growing good. No problems to speak of since last posts. This time I did take some pictures of them next to a 5 gallon waterer so you can judge the size of them. They are right on target with their feed intake. I was thinking they were going to be higher, but after the weigh ins this morning, it explains it all. And that was the biggest I seen the mediums and the smallest I seen, to give an average number.

  Last week I also moved the 2nd batch outside into their new home at 4 weeks old. I have them on a move schedule of every 4 weeks as this is when I get my new orders so everything works out excellent. oldest ones get processed, next to the oldest just get fed,the next get moved out side and the new ones start their new life.





 
 

A set of twins

Our third doe had her new kids this morning. Went out for feedings and there they where. A beautiful set of twins. 1F - 1M. So that puts us at 8n ew goat kids this year. 2 more then expected. All in all we have 4F-4M kids. Now means we have 4 new does to add to our herd, as all three does were not bred from our buck, but an outside buck. What a great start to the new season.

 The new twins

 

 Proud new owner

 

A mess of new kids


 
 

Another set of triplets !!!!

Wow we just had a second set of triplets yesterday. 1F - 2M. What a start to a new season on the new property. We have now have what we expected to get from all three does, but we still got one more doe that is due any time now. Will it be another set of triplets ??? If it is this just might be the year to head to Vegas, LOL The mommas are just woofing the Alfalfa down like it is nothing, but they need all they get eat to help supply the triplets with all the milk they need to grow big and healthy. Hopefully they can maintain and feed all their kids so we don't have to interfere and bottle feed some. For now we just keep all the Alfalfa they can eat in front of them and give them about a pond of grain, for each doe in the mornings. As it takes alot of protein to make the milk, much less to produce enough to feed three hungry growing kids.

 

 

 

 

 
 

2009 Boer Goat Kids

Last night we had a doe give birth to 3 new kids !!! 2 girls and 1 boy. Been waiting for her to have her kids for the last 2 days, finally last night sometime she did. Woke up this morning went outside to do my chores and heard a very weird sound. Oh yeah that is the sound of new babies on the ground. Dropped what i was doing and took off over to them and there they where all cuddled up in their hay bed. Mom looks good, and the new kids look nice and healthy. Now we only have 2 more does to go. Hopefully we get a week or so break so the new kids can be on their way before new ones arrive ???

 

 

 

 
 

Marans Chicks have Hatched

Just wanted to update you on the new Marans chicks that have hatched out in the last few weeks. These are a mix of a few different kinds of Marans. There is Black Copper,Cuckoo,Splash,and Blues in this brooder. I just took out 30 chicks that had hatched that day and placed them all in this brooder. I'll be separating all the different kinds,but for now a mix. 

 A little on the Marans, for those that don't know about them........

The Marans is a breed of chicken originating in France They are popular for poultry shows and dark colored eggs, rather than for its meat.Marans are historically great dual-purpose bird, prized not only for their dark eggs but for their table qualities as well.Marans will lay around 150 dark brown eggs each year.There are 9 recognized colors in the French Standard: Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, Black, Birchen, Black Copper, Wheaton, Black-tailed Buff, White and Columbian; other colors not officially recognized (such as Blue Copper) also exist. Black Copper and Cuckoo are the most common of these.All have red or orange eyes and white feet.The original Marans have feathered legs but this has been bred out by many.Marans are quiet, docile, gentle birds, but they are quite active, taking well to free ranging in rough terrain and are also tough and disease-resistant. They were originally bread in the marshy areas of France and can cope with damper conditions. They are perfect for us here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

 
 

Clearing land with chickens

Well it is still not spring here and the grasses have not really started to grow, there are some new shoots but not alot yet. So since the broilers were tearing up the grass and it was not re-growing we figured to move them over to where we are clearing to be able to plant grasses. Before I moved them on to the area I went through and removed all the bigger pieces of wood and branches. Then I put the broilers on it to let them grow and help clear it. They have done a great job so far. They will not only help clear the under brush, but they will scratch up the seeds of the weeds and eat them help eliminating alot of weed re-growth. They are also helping to fertilize the land as they grow. They have also knocked down all the mosquitoes,gnats & etc. in that area. When I was removing the bigger stuff, the mosquitoes were eating me alive. Now you go in there and nothing. When they are done I will be planting white clover and rye grass to help balance out the soils and to give the others food in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Certified Naturally Grown

Our Certified Naturally Grown application was accepted today. 

 For those of you that don't know what  Certified Naturally Grown is let me explain...

Certified Naturally Grown was created to ENCOURAGE people to purchase from the small diversified farmers

 Since congress declared that after October 21, 2002, any farmer selling over $5,000 worth of produce may NOT refer to their produce or growing methods as "Organic" unless they have been certified by a USDA accredited certification agency. Failure to comply with this order is punishable with fines up to $10,000 per violation per day. [NOP Final Rule: 205.100]

While the newly created certification process is affordable and pleasing to the huge organic agribusiness farms - especially those that specialize in growing only a few varieties of vegetable, its implementation has been counter-productive for the thousands of small, diversified family farms using natural methods and growing many different varieties of crops (a necessary and recommended practice for disease and insect control).

Diverse crops mean significant record-keeping burdens, as each crop requires a paper-trail from purchase of seed to sale of every pound of produce. Mounds of paperwork, plus high certification fees, make it unlikely if not impossible for many small farms to become certified organic. Some of the nations best organic farmers are ironically no longer able to call themselves "organic" anymore!

Certified Naturally Grown provides these small, local growers with an alternative label and certification system that consumers can quickly come to trust and understand.

  USDA Organic is really designed to serve the larger farming operations. Most Organic food you buy in a grocery store is produced on huge factory farms owned by corporations that are more interested in earning profits than producing safe, sustainably grown food. The biggest organic food companies are now owned by Dole, Kraft, General Mills, Unilever and even Coca Cola!

 Every aspect of the Certified Naturally Grown certification process is transparently open for the public to see and investigate - you will find every farmer's complete certification application on-line. Public access to scanned copies of Inspection Reports goes even further to ensure consumer confidence in this grassroots movement. Even the USDA program doesn't allow for this kind of public scrutiny.

 

 
 

Poulet Rouge Broiler Video

Wanted to post this video I took this morning of the chicks out doing their thing on the grass. They are very active and run, if you watch close in the corner you'll even see one flying up about a foot in the air. 

View My Video

 
 

Poulet Rouge Broiler Update

The broilers are now 5 weeks old and they are escaping their area. Today my daughters and I where out taking care of the place and the chicks seen me and run towards us till they hit the fence, They then started squeezing through the holes in the poultry netting and getting out, not one but about 50. They ran start towards us and started peeping. My daughters thought it was funny and great and the chicks all followed us around for about an hour then had to put them back. I have been very impressed with the way the energy of these broilers. They act just like a normal chick, but grow WAY faster. They are all over the place,nothing like the Cornish X's. These broilers will live out a full and adventurous life.

 

 

Tomorrow we will be setting 8 more Cuckoo Marans eggs that we got from a breeder out of NC into the hatcher. We where not pleased with the color of the eggs. Marans do start to loose darkness to the egg colors as they get in to laying season, but they should still hold some degree of color. At any rate we will be hatching out the eggs. They where sent to us in the mail and we candled them at day 10 and day 17 we had about 1/2  not fertilized 4-6 out of 12, but shipping can have this affect too. Shipped eggs are hard to get a good hatch rate and they are just plain hard on the eggs themselves. But we recieved darker Cuckoo eggs locally and we are more pleased with them, so we will be selling off any if any hatch from the shipped eggs, as we only want Marans that will lay a dark egg and not pale out that far. It could be that these birds have been being pushed real hard in laying as a lot of breeders do this to try and make the almighty dollar.

The Narrgansett hens laid another egg today, so they are getting into the mood. We have set the two in the incubator to check fertility on them. You do this by candling the eggs at day 7  to look for an growing embryo in the egg, which looks like a small dot with viens coming off it. If it is not fertile it will glow bright from the light all the way through the egg, with nothing,a small dot no viens or a ring(death ring).

 
 

First Turkey Egg of the Season

 We got our first Narragansett egg of the season. This egg is about a month earlier then last year, hoping that marks a start to a great laying season ?? The young hen just laid it in the middle of the pen instead of the nest box, this is not unusual with a new laying hen.After a few eggs they usually get the idea to lay them in the nest box. The nest box really helps the eggs stay clean and not at a high risk of getting broke. 

  Tomorrow we will be placing 12 Cuckoo Marans eggs in the hatcher. They have been in the incubator for 18 days. On day 18 they get moved to the hatcher with higher humidity to help soften the eggs shell. Then with luck on day 21 they should start hatching. I candled them tonight and have 3 unfertile eggs out 12. We also have 30 Black Copper Marans, 24 Splash Marans and 12 more Cuckoo Marans eggs in the incubator.We are working on getting Golden Marans eggs in the next few weeks. Marans are the chickens that lay the dark brown to dark chocolate color eggs. More on marans in another post.

 We moved the 4 week old broilers outside on Friday Feb. 13. They have a 250 watt heat lamp in their brooder box. It is still freezing at night so they need all the heat they can get at night. They are still eating and being very active so as of now it has not affected them to much.

The pigs have completly destroyed their house the other night, so now got to build them a new bigger house. It look like they tried sleeping on top of it. Today I was looking at it and they have completly tore it apart, just pieces of lumber scattered in their area. They have made a new home under a tree, so they are staying dry and warm.

  Boer goats are starting to fill with milk. One doe looks like she will be giving birth this week or next, udders are filling in. She is also the biggest one. LOL They have been getting grain in the morning and free choice of 3rd cutting Alfafa. So they are getting a high protien diet to help make all the milk the new kidds will need. Withn out the high protien diet they would not make a high quanity and quality milk to feed their young.

 
 

How Fast Time Goes

  WOW how fast 4 weeks goes by. This morning we where woke up by a phone call from the post office letting us know that our broilers where there. (we are set up for every 4 weeks delivery) I was so tired I asked the postal worker are you sure ?? LOL It just seems like yesterday that the other order got here.

  Our first order we moved out outside today. They do have a hjeat source for the next week or two due to freezing wether here at nights. They are feathered out pretty good so they should be fine. 

   Turkeys are starting to mate. We have been penning the ones that show the most signs of wanting to breed first and working our way down, only two more breeds to go. After free ranging they whole lifes they hate being penned up. They fly wildly thinking they might be able to find a hole for the first day. Then they get settled down and get to business. After I get them all penned up hoping to fiinish the run off their pens so thay can at least get out of their pens when they want to a run. BUt for now they are locked up and they get out for about an hour or so a day, one breed at a time.

  Goats are getting bigger everyday. They are starting to fill the utters so they are getting real close to due day.

   Pigs have ruined their house last night. I went out to feed them this morning and they had just demolished their house and they where sleeping outside next to it ?? What they where doing ?? What where they thinking ?? Now they are homeless LOL

  


 
 
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