There are so many things I love about what I do!
The farming half of my life keeps me physical active and working outside. It makes me happy to be able to nurture diversity and watch the miracles of growth and development in our poultry and crops.
The business half of my life lets me share that love, with people who share my passion for healthier food and farming practices. It also allows me to hide behind my computer when the weather is too hot or too cold for working outside!
Balancing both gives me the flexibility to be the main caregiver and homemaker for my family, who is growing up quickly. (Insert small sign as i think about moving my eldest son to collage this fall.)
I also happen to love a challenge and thank goodness because there is never a shortage of problems to overcome!
My problems can include; the daily kind, like balancing family and work schedules or the unplanned kind like a over confident raccoon thinking he can make a meal of my chickens.
Some of my problems are more ingrained in the business of regenerative food production. It is a real challenge finding the best way to compete in the food market while maintaining quality and environmental standards.
Our poultry is a prime example of this dilemma. The poultry industry grows a breed of chicken that has been highly bred for fast feed conversion under specific conditions. These white rock birds are the best at putting on weight fast. Years of highly selective breeding has left them less suited to free range growing conditions.
The White Chantecler Chicken is the rare Canadian breed that I have chosen to work with. Our birds are good egg layer and meat birds with a wonderful temperament, great foraging ability and cold tolerance that makes them perfectly suited for small farms and pastured growing systems.
The drawback is that they take much longer to grow to roast size chicken. This means that the cost of feed required to bring them to full size makes the true cost of that roast chicken much higher then your grocery store chicken.
Now, I believe our chicken taste better and is better for you, but I also believe in balancing my account book and good food that is affordable for the average person, not just those with large food budget.
The problem, in an egg shell, is how do we grow great chicken at a fair price?
Finding the Solution
Insert the Ecological Farmers of Ontario. This organizations runs a fantastic program called the Farmer Led Research program. This program takes the trial and error learning that usually happens on farms to a new level. The EFAO help to design research protocol for the problem you are trying to solve on the farm. They hep connect farms with expert consultants, runs the analysis and helps to share the results of on farm research project.
My nerdy science brain has been in love with this program from it the first moment I learned about it. I have already benefited from research projects done on other garlic growing farms. This year I finally got up the nerve to apply for our own research design.
We are participating in our own ecological farm research program to help bring down the cost of raising our wonderful Chanteclers. Our project focuses on the feed requirements to grow chickens from chicks to adult birds. There is very little information available on specific feed requirements for heritage breeds and feed is the single larges expense for our poultry. The feed we use is specifically designed for optimal growth of the commercial breed of chicken it is meant to feed.
With the assistance of the Ecological farm research program we have set up a protocol to compare our regular feeding program with a reduced protein feed. The lower protein feed is also less expensive and the hypothesis is that the protein requirements should be lower for a breed of chicken that grows and feathers out slower then a commercial chicken.
There were a few new challenges created by taking on this project. Designing the protocol with the help of the ecological farmers was not too difficult. Designing extra housing took some thought. Convincing raccoons, hawks and weasels that these new houses were not restaurants for wildlife meant some extra work. Finding someone local who could sell me a specialized feed mix took many more hours then I would have imagined.
Now that we are set up there is a little extra work through the growing season. Each birds mush be weighed once a month and we need to keep good records of feed given to each group. On the whole our little experiment is now running fairly smoothly.
We have decided to run the project for a couple years to ensure we have enough data to draw some conclusions from, so stay tuned for our results!