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Achieving Food Independence

Table of Contents

1: Industrial Food and the Homestead Alternatives2: Soil Fertility3: Organic Matter4: Minimizing Tillage5: Garden Year--Spring6: Garden Year--Summer7: Garden Year--Fall8: Garden Year--Winter9: Orchard and Woodlot10: Forest Garden11: The Lawn12: Livestock13: Poultry14: Ruminants15: Closing Thoughts on Livestock16: Local Foods17: Bringing It All Together

Silver-spangled-hamburg-hen

Silver Spangled Hamburg

13. Livestock: Poultry

Poultry are among the easiest of all livestock, and I commend them to beginning homesteaders. Even a small flock of laying hens will keep the family supplied with the best eggs they’ve ever eaten for much of the year. As said, I prefer to keep the birds on pasture during the green season. If your only option is to keep them in a hen house, I recommend bringing fresh-cut green forage every day of the year. Grass grains and crucifers are good cold-weather crops you can grow as cut-and-come-again forage for your flock. Dandelion and yellow dock stay green longer than any other plants where I live, and both are palatable and highly nutritious for poultry. I dig them by the roots with a spading fork until the ground freezes solid, and throw them to the chooks by the bucketful. If there is no greenery in winter where you live, you can sprout grains and other seeds for them. You don’t need to feed much greenery. Even a small amount will boost not only the vitamins and minerals they are getting, but the enzymes as well, resulting in more thorough utilization of whatever else you are feeding them.

Cuckoo-marans-trio

Cuckoo Marans Trio

I don’t like the conventional static chicken run—within a week, it is de-nuded of the last blade of grass and looks like the surface of the moon dotted with chicken poops. In the absence of a living sod to “digest” the manure, as happens on pasture, they accumulate on the site, with the potential to transmit pathogens, and to be a point source for pollution of groundwater when it rains. If your only option for releasing your flock from the hen house is a chicken run, I recommend you make a covered run and utilize on it the same deep litter system we discussed earlier. That will avoid the negative effects of manure buildup and leaching. An exposed deep litter, however, would get sopping wet after rain. Not only is the resulting mess unpleasant beyond belief, the anaerobic conditions thus created foster growth of pathogens.

Old-english-trio

Old English Game Trio

For keeping poultry on pasture, I strongly recommend electric net fencing.For many years now electronet has been a fundamental management tool for me—it allows the birds to free-range, but within the limits I set for them; and it protects them from anything on the ground with a nervous system. (A friend of mine has seen it turn back a bear on two occasions.) The initial investment in the netting and the fence charger (both AC and solar-powered units are available) is significant, but both will last for years with good care. Note that a key component of use of electronet is keeping the fence line mowed. As grass grows over the bottom charged wire, the charge in the net begins to ground out, and at a certain point the “spark” is not sufficient to stop a predator.