Lisa and I both noticed that the eggshells have been getting a bit thin in the last week or so. I hypothesize that this is because the hens have switched from living on layer pellets to foraging which they find far yummier. However layer pellets are fortified with calcium while bugs are apparently not. I excavated their oyster shell tray and refilled it. We’ll see if that solves the issue.
The ducks are growing like weeds, and sucking down the food to do it. The surplus drakes should be ready for the freezer right on schedule at 8 weeks or so. Feeding three species the same food (turkey grower pellets) I haven’t kept good enough records to figure out what each is costing us. This really applies most to the ducks. We bought a commercial rather than heritage breed, and sure enough, we could actually just buy ducklings and pellets and sell table ducks. Whether it would pay at $13/bag for feed is as big a question as whether we want to farm that way.
Both species would love to have much more pasture to eat than we can give them right now. The grass really only started to grow this week, and thus had no chance to get ahead of them. If we ever do raise hatchery birds again, we will get them a couple weeks later than we did this year. More warmth and natural food would make life far better for both them and us. I suspect it’s no coincidence that Agway got their birds this week.
The turkeys by contrast are a heritage breed and acting more like our chickens that like the waterfowl. The actual breed (White Midget) is actually younger than I am, but the definition of heritage turkey is very loose. Any breed that can mate naturally and raise poults is a heritage breed. I find that a tad scary. These guys however are living up to what I expect from a heritage breed. They fly, and they ignore their pellets to forage, just like the chickens. They’ve also moved out of the hay house and in with the chickens. That does free up the hay house for greenhouse duty, but they need their own coop soon.
We do however have a growth issue now with both chickens and turkeys. Last year the cockerels we slaughtered dressed out at just over two pounds. That’s actually fine with us. It will feed a couple and we hadn’t actually given them any purchased food for months, so we won both on dollars and on ‘green points’: We got a pound of meat for less than a pound of grain, which the vegans claim is impossible. They were also delicious, far better than regular supermarket chicken. Unfortunately they were tough even with aging. This isn’t really a surprise. They’d had ten times the exercise of even a “free range” supermarket bird. This year we’re trying a compromise: We’ve got seven cockerels in a chicken tractor and we’re feeding them the same grower pellets as the ducks and geese. We’ll see if this will get us the three to four pound birds that the Icelandic websites say they should be. Hopefully they will also get flabby and out of shape and thus tender.
The free meat thing works for eggs too. For five months of the year we get eggs for a negative investment of human-edible food. Not only do we not feed them, but many of the bugs they eat would otherwise be eating our garden. We’ve also beaten the University of Rhode Island to a biological control for lily beetles. The few lily plants that survived to 2007 had their best year since 2002 last year. The only downside we’ve found is that the hens will spend the month of October having a tantrum because they want bugs dammit, not these ucky pellets. Which means few to no eggs for a month until they give up and eat the pellets after all.
I’m wondering if the extra tom turkeys will have the same tenderness issue. The good news is that the toms have already started to display, which makes them easy to identify. The Icelandic cockerels wait until eight weeks or so. I’ve also seen many claims that even heritage turkeys can only be raised on high protein feed and lots of it. They have free choice pellets, they’re just not choosing them. We’ll see what happens.
Finally, this post is probably going to get lots of antimeat Google ads. All the ones I’ve followed are sponsored by PETA. I could ban them from the site as I’ve done with the ones from Chemlawn. That company makes me actively nauseous. On consideration I’m going to let PETA’s run. PETA is going to pay me money to show people that their claims about meat eating are untrue. How can I turn that down?