Mob Stocking: Chicken Style – Carbon and Crap Make the World Go Round.
I only do one batch of chickens per year these days. And we’re in week six. Almost there. That means the dwindling supply in the freezer doesn’t look so small. With that in mind I cooked two chickens Sunday, Oven Fried for dinner and the usual Sunday Chicken.
I still raise the chickens the same way I did when we sold chickens. Now here comes the scolding… I think the single biggest mistake chicken wranglers (newly minted and old timers alike) make is not utilizing the fertilizer that comes out the back of a chicken. Or any livestock for that matter. It doesn’t matter what breed you choose to raise, not making good use of that chicken shit is bullshit. I can’t say it any plainer than that. A pasture is like a marriage, if you don’t take care of it and work it in the proper way you end up with, well. What do you end up with? Not much.
People really shy away from Salatin’s floorless pasture pens for chickens, but I think it is the best way. It is mob stocking just like you do with cattle. The animals apply the fertilizer, eat a little grass, and trample the rest which is your carbon. Carbon and crap are the soil builders, not you and your tractor and the amendment bag. It is so simple, yet people make it so complicated. You have to look at the big picture. Many people start to grow their own food for a myriad of reasons, saving the earth, saving money, saving_______. If you look at your food raising endeavors in holistic way, you must have complimentary factors. If you’re growing vegetables only (soil depleting) without livestock to help with your inputs, you are using up resources from somewhere else. Having a total closed system is nigh impossible unless you’re the barest of bones operation, but letting animals help you enhance your food system is a great way to go. Going whole hog isn’t the answer, lessening our impact is. Every decision you make has a pro and con. As a society we are so good at anthropomorphizing that we no longer want to control, castrate, euthanize, de-horn or farm and eat our friends. Free the Dumb Rangers is the cry, too many chickens are cooped up, let them out. But, it’s a freedom we can no longer afford. We need to be frugal with resources that are at our disposal, and if you keep livestock one of the best resources you have is prodigious amounts is manure.
Management is the key with manure. Too much of a good thing is bad, not enough is almost as bad. Both have a long recovery period. One is too strong, the other is too weak. Unfortunately all we hear these days are the doom and gloom, we are damaging the earth, depleting the minerals and natural resources, and on and on. I don’t dispute any of that, but then why the lax free-range mentality when it comes to really enhancing our landscapes? Guilt? Do I not have that because I was raised on a farm? I don’t really get it. Depending on the size of your “range” it gets pretty stale after a few days, and parasites can set up shop since they will have a ready host for infinity. So what is better? A fresh patch of rested range every day or just for a few short days of your short life. Think of your own meals. Do you want your weeks worth of meals all put out on the same day or do you want a new meal every day at meal time? After a week of picking at the salad bar the pickings would be pretty slim, yet that is what free range chicken raising is. Sometimes even to the point that the free range is a mud hole or dirt bath.
I am raising my own meat, but if you’re a buyer ask to look at the chicken’s living quarters, pasture or range. And really look at it, don’t just fall for the marketing spiel. And if you’re here in the Pacific Northwest, shy away from people who have their chickens on pasture year round. We have too much rain during the winter and if you want to talk about pollution? Well there you go. The soil is cold and dormant during the winter, adding nitrogen in the form of livestock manure is a huge waste. Better yet, find someone who utilizes deep bedding in the winter and keeps their chickens in for the winter, on deep bedding. There is not much vegetation, let alone insects to be had in deep winter. Better to be shepherding all that output and using that as your input. The same with pigs – if you must keep pigs in winter, please follow Salatin’s (and others) model and keep them in during the winter on warm dry bedding, you will reap the rewards in additional material to replenish what you take from your land, and your pigs will be healthier.
I don’t have time you say? We move our animals every day unless they are on deep bedding. Anything other than that is too long in one spot. I spend 15 minutes a day to service this pen of chickens twice, morning and night. I spent the same amount of time doing chicken chores when they were in the greenhouse/brooder. So for 14 hours of my time spread over 2 months, not counting butchering, I will have chickens to fill my freezer, and I will have gained lots o’ manure for the garden and the pasture. The more pens you have, the more ground you can cover, the more grass you can grow to feed something else. That is healing and this is what Salatin preaches and so many get wrong. You must put in the effort. It sounds crass to say I see the chickens as a tool, but they are, as Holistic Resource Management teaches. In good conscience I can’t let these chickens free-range, I need to keep them safe from predators, and provide them with shelter, food and water. In turn they provide meaningful work for me and food for my land and my family.
All the environmental stuff aside, I have to be frugal with my money and resources too. The chicks cost money. It boggles my mind that you can go to Fred Meyers and buy a cooked chicken for about $6.00 A chick costs around a $1.50, the food to get the chick to butcher weight maybe $7.00 or double that for organic feed. That does not count my time and worry to get the chicks from day-old stage to dinner-ready stage. Homegrown food is great, but it is not cheap. How do I mitigate these costs? By making sure I use every bit of that chicken from the poop to the bones. I don’t see sickly, poor chickens when I do my chickens chores, I see a hungry, worn out piece of pasture being rejuvenated before my eyes. The chickens know the drill, yes even the Cornish Cross, the routine is the same.
♣ Take out feeder(s).
♣ Insert dolly.
♣ Move pen ahead to fresh grass.
♣ Fill water bucket.
♣ Replenish feed & grit, place feeder(s) back in.
♣ Repeat in evening if necessary.
Not hard at all, and the chickens are well. They feel safe, and they are well fed. Not that you can’t have problems, and we have had our share of problems over the years. But we got good at raising chickens. But like everything it takes practice and keen observation.
As soon as the fresh grass is revealed during the pen move, the chickens get to work.
In mob stocking its every avian for himself. The early bird gets the worm, or clover so to speak. You get my point. A young meat bird will only forage for about 10% of its diet, so it’s my job to allay my costs and make a healthier bird (it is my food after all) to spend my 7.5 minutes morning and night making sure that happens.
The other 90% is feed provided by me. I learned a long time ago, that if I am going to raise meat birds I can’t mess with the food too much. They need high protein and energy feed and that’s what I provide.
You’ve heard the saying, “Scarcer than hens teeth.” Fowl don’t have teeth. They have gizzards, and despite popular belief, the gizzard isn’t just in there to make giblet gravy with. The gizzard is the grinder that grinds the feed and forage. It must be filled with rocks. Since I am not pasturing my chickens in the driveway, but in the pasture, I need to supply grit to them. You know, that pesky nurture stuff. Cheap insurance to insure that they make the most of their feed.
And fresh water too. I don’t let them run out. They drink a lot. Would you believe me if I told you that my herd of 20 cattle on a rainy day might not drink 5 gallons of water, and this pen of chickens will drink 10 gallons? That’s why I never believe those wild figures about how much more environmentally sound chicken is compared to beef. It’s not true, but it sure has been repeated enough to make it set in stone.
And then chicken dinner. The cycle is complete, and even though they lived the short life that is the meat bird’s destiny, I will remember them every time I see their healing effects on our patch of earth. In twelve hours these birds will have left a legacy of feeding the soil that will last for several years. I wish I could make such an impact as one of these simple guys.
OVEN FRIED CHICKEN
One fryer, cut up
1 cube (4 oz) butter, melted
1 c flour
1 t salt
2 t pepper
2 t paprika
1 t garlic powder
1 t sage
1 t marjoram
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place melted butter in roasting pan. Combine flour and spices in a large paper bag. Roll chicken pieces in melted butter several at a time, then drop chicken pieces in the sack and shake to cover.
Place chicken in the roasting pan, skin side down. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake 10 minutes longer or until crust is bubbly. Use the pan drippings and leftover dredging flour to make gravy for…