Friday, March 16, 2012

Worth every penny: The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery

I came across a fabulous resource for the small residential farmer, it's called The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers. I try to buy affordable books, especially when I haven't read and handled it before. I saw the title on a post by The Harried Homemaker, a fellow prepper, and I sort of dove in and got it for myself for my birthday. At $26 I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, and how well worth it the price is.

There's a whole lot to love about this book. I will try to tell you what I think other preppers and/or chicken owners will like out of it:
  1. chicken anatomy and behavior
  2. breeds to consider (breed conservation)
  3. brooders, chicks, basic care, coops
  4. nestboxes, dustboxes
  5. electronet/ mobile shelters
  6. chickens as partners in farming and composting
  7. feed: greens, seeds/fruits, insects
  8. buying feed, grinding your own; organic vs regular
  9. section on worm farming- chicken feed AND soil builders!
  10. maggot and black soldier fly farming: free chicken feed
  11. Roosters: how, why, which ones
  12. predator protection: it's your fault
  13. health is about prevention
  14. winter flock
  15. other fowl: ducks, turkeys, geese, guineas
  16. broody hens
  17. culling and killing
  18. how to process (lots of photos)
  19. serving local markets
All 19 of those topics, and many more I didn't include, make this book a fabulous resource that I'll be pulling from the shelf for a long time. However, the three things I took away from the book that I learned, that stuck in my head, follow. I can tell he has really educated me and helped form my beginner attitude toward chicken raising.

Straight run or sexed?

Buying sexed chicks, like all pullets (which grow into laying hens), is convenient and an easy way to begin a backyard flock. However, few stop to think... where are all the roosters?! If you buy straight run (meaning, no one checks the gender of the chicks, you get what nature gave) you may end up with at least 50% roosters. Which few egg-coveters want.

We may gasp over the treatment of the male chicks in a conventional egg-laying production plant- many of us have seen the footage of the ambivalent gender identifier tossing the male chicks into a shredder and allowing the pullets to continue down the conveyor belt to their future as incarcerated egg producers. But where are all the males when we buy all pullets? Where do they end up?

Harvey Ussery says we should man up and be real farmers. Buy straight run, and see how many end up as pullets. Let the males grow a bit, see which ones dance and treat the hens right. Cull the rest for the freezer. He really walks you through the chicken processing step by step, and I can tell you I learned in person how to do it and it's not as bad as you think it might be, especially when you use the cone method.

Breeding made easier

After my first experience having a backyard flock, I realized the value of a rooster in the flock. I had initially purchased a bunch of cute chickies at the local feed store and raised them in a coop and run setup. Then I learned a lot about endangered breeds, free ranging, and the benefits of the right rooster. I chose three endangered chicken breeds that were dual purpose (good layers and decent meat birds) and also would thrive in the Texas heat. I knew that you could have eggs without roosters, and I knew you could have fertilized eggs with roosters, but I couldn't quite figure out how, if I had three breeds, could I ensure that the roosters bred with the right hen breed to continue the genetics instead of making a cross.

Well he explains all about all of that, including scintillating details such as how exceedingly long sperm survive in the hen. So now I feel much more confident about getting a clutch of the right breed of eggs together for my broody hen.

Heavy mulching or deep litter

Another thing I learned is the value of deep litter in the coop. Putting inches and inches of leaves, grass, etc on the floor of the coop makes so much sense when he lays out all the advantages. Not to mention the bacteria which actually help new chicks survive, but it makes cleaning the coop easier and helps build your compost pile.

Harried Homemaker had a less-than stellar experience with Meyer Hatcheries. I haven't tried them (yet) but I'm thinking of ordering from Cackle Hatcheries, who have a big selection rare/heirloom/endangered chicken breeds, take a small minimum order, and let you order straight run, just pullets, or individual roosters.

A small, family-owned and operated hatchery called Sand Hill looks dedicated to heirloom and rare breeds. They have a huge variety of chicks for sale straight run.

We're so pleased you are reading Farming Salt & Light! Choose how you live!

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