Tag Archives: Organic

Organic: what it is.

26 Nov


I stumbled across this article some months ago about organic chicken production in Delaware.  This article is the perfect illustration of the organic livestock industry.  The reporting is inaccurate, the customers are confused and the big-ag companies are finding ways to exploit the organic market.

Lets get the problems with the reporting out of the way first.

Here’s the first photo from the story, complete with original caption.


Mark and Kathy Maloney raise organic chickens for Perdue at their Harrington farm. The chicken houses have windows and doors on the outside and perches and boxes on the inside//Photos by Maria DeForrest.

These are broiler chickens, chickens raised for meat.  They have no roost bars (they’re too big to roost properly) and no boxes (they don’t lay eggs, so no need for boxes).  While these inaccuracies may seem nitpicky, they do contribute to a false sense of “environmental enrichment” that belies the photo.

Indeed, the chicken shown in the above photo is probably not what anyone thinks of when they hear the word “organic”.  Later in the story the reporter briefly touches on the organic chicken’s outdoor access, noting that:

“On nice days the doors are open and the birds are allowed to go outside to peck around in the organically planted grass. Outside there are water troughs for drinks and overhangs to provide shade and shelter.”

Now if that first sentence has got you thinking of happy birds rollicking around on pasture, at least the photographer was kind enough to include a photo that will disabuse you of that notion.


Look right over this nice fella’s hand.  See those red blobs?  Those are the outdoor water “troughs” they just talked about, situated cozily in the shade and shelter of an overhang.  See the few little white blobs by his fingertips?  Those are the chickens.  All half-dozen of them.

Suddenly the pastoral fantasy of chickens who get to “peck around in the organically planted grass.” seems a bit absurd in this context.  Worse yet, I fear (though this is blurry-photo-based-speculation) that these chickens may have no actual access to grass at all.  The platforms below each overhang suggest to me that we’re looking at an organic barn with “porch” style outdoor access, which allows chickens outdoors only onto a small “porch” area which is either floored completely in wood/metal/concrete or bare dirt.  Sad to say, but this kind of spirit-of-the-law flouting is entirely common in most organic production.

So with reporting like this, is it any wonder that consumers are confused, even the well-informed ones who care about their food?


Chicken Feed Equipment

1 Dec

So as I discussed earlier, we’ve run into a bit of a problem with our chicken feed.  It’s chock full of nasty stuff that I don’t want to feed to the chickens, and it’s going to take some planning to get this particular problem solved.

First, what I’ve been using is the “Duck and Goose Starter” from the local feed store.  This stuff is 20% Protein, no antibiotics, but full of animal protein meal.  Yuck.  It’s only positives are that it’s available locally (2 miles from home) and it’s relatively cheap at $15.47 per 50lb bag.

I just got back from Rochester tonight with two bags of Purina Flock Raiser (20% protein, no antibiotics, no animal by-products) for $17.99/50lb bag.  That price is gonna hurt if I have to keep this up, not to mention the 40 mile round-trip drive to get the feed…

Out of curiosity I asked them what the price was for the 16% Organic Layer Pellets they had in stock and let me tell you: that’ll put high feed costs into perspective for you.  $28.99 per 50lb bag!!!


Anyway, I’ve been mulling over the option of mixing up my own non-GMO feed for the chickens.  I’m sure that finding the base ingredients won’t be a problem.  And because our chickens are outside on pasture for most of their lives, getting the critical amino-acid Methionline won’t be a problem. Mixing the feed is a small problem, but nothing a few buckets and feed scoops can’t handle.

So what is the problem?

Grinding up the feed so the chickens (especially the smaller chicks) can more easily ingest and digest it.

There are plenty of grinders out there, but most of them are this type: the huge PTO-driven mixer-grinders for large-scale operations.


At a cost of $3000 on up (not including the tractor to power them) this is not a viable option for our farm.

Next up we have the antiques, like this Hit-and-Miss Grist Mill.

It’s old, hard to find and supremely dangerous by today’s standards, but it looks like it’d get the job done.

There are even some similar mills on ebay that look like they’d be easy to power with a v-belt and electric motor, negating the need for the old Hit-and-Miss engine.

Picture 4

But at over $150 plus shipping (which will be very pricey for such a big hunk of cast iron) it’s best to keep looking.

Finally we move on to my old wheelhouse: home brewing grain-mills. You see, in order to effectively brew beer, one needs to crush up all that barley (and/or wheat) to extract all the sugars within.  Being crafty cheapskates, homebrewers are masters at getting all that grain crushed in a hurry for a minimal outlay of dollars.

Most intriguing is the homebuilt Roller-Mill

It looks pretty effective, and with a little scaling up it could probably handle the volume of grain that I’d need.  It’s just a matter of getting the time and energy to build one from scratch. With all the other work that needs to be done around here, I’d better keep looking.

This leads me to my likely solution (at least for the time being): The Corona Mill.

I had one of these before, so it’s a known quantity.  These mills are not pretty.  They’re some of the ugliest hunks of cast-iron that you’re likely to see on a store shelf, but they do work, especially if you’re just roughly grinding grain. Don’t try one of these for grinding flour unless you really want to set yourself up to be disappointed.

At $25-$30 I think I’m going to have to pick one of these up pretty soon. They take a fair bit of modification to get into usable shape, but there’s plenty of info out there on modifying corona mills.

And not to mention this sweet mod that really appeals to the tree-hugging-bicycle-enthusiast in me: the Mayapedal.

Now to track down all the grains that I’ll need…

Organic at what price?

22 Aug

Hey there folks, just a quick post today, It’s my last day at home with Callina and the new baby before I head back to work. On the plus side, I did get in a nice new-baby-photo-shoot that resulted in some of that extreme cuteness that I promised earlier.

Anyway, I ran across this article the other day, and couldn’t help but to hold it up as an example of what sustainable agriculture is not.

What’s not to like?

A guy growing 70 acres of organic, non-GMO corn that he sells directly to his consumers.  Sounds like everything that a small, sustainable farm should be right? But what, then, could this guy possibly be doing wrong?

“They don’t know what I spent growing the crop, it’s a question of how little or how much money I lose on it.”

But maybe this fella got hit by the drought too.  After all, everyone doesn’t have to turn a profit every year, you can make changes and try to return to profitability next season.

“It is a magnificent experience to be out there with the corn; As long as I can sustain the ongoing losses of growing it, I will keep doing it.”

Oh boy…

So there you have it, organic does not equal sustainable.  Go take a look at John Ikerd’s thoughts on what sustainable ag really is.

A sustainable agriculture must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible. Furthermore, I contend that these three dimensions of sustainability are inseparable, and thus, are equally critical to long run sustainability.

Two outa three just ain’t gonna cut it.