|MESSAGE FROM THE OWNER
News (and new products)
Our spring catalogs (fence and clipping) are going to press. You should receive them within 4 weeks. Among the new products included in them are:
- PRS 200 solar energizer. The big (2 joule) brother of the PRS 50 and PRS 100. It will cost significantly less than similar sized solar units from other sources. Available late spring.
- PRS 100X and 200X solar energizers. They have larger solar panels (in size) and batteries are intended for situations with less hrs of sun in the day (northern 1/3 of the USA). Also available late spring.
- Feral HogNet for stopping wild pigs. They're a serious and growing problem in many areas. Because HogNet has not yet been properly tested in the field in an array of situations we're offering it at much lower (35%) prices this year (or until our supply is exhausted). In exchange for the low initial prices we're looking for users willing to try it and report back to us. We'll work with them to ensure that it does work (even if we need to redesign it for them).
- PoultryNet Plus and VersaNet Plus. These are new versions of existing net. They are offered in response to concerns about sagging between the posts of the standard product. Several users reported that they've added extra posts to their PoultryNet to prevent this. That's an expensive, tedious process—so it seemed logical to ask our manufacturer to do this for them.
- Xi versions of our Fine and Surgical clipper blades. They're an alternative to our normal blades. Differ slightly from standard blades in number of teeth and shape of the teeth. And initially, as with the HogNet, they're available at lower (15%) prices—for the same reason...to encourage feedback from users who are willing to test them.
- Braided show halters for sheep and goats. Better feel, appearance and function than twisted rope halters at almost the same prices.
- Halters and neck ties for show cattle.
Not included in the catalogs are these new products for backyard poultry that we will be testing this spring.
- Nest boxes. A novel and nifty new design. Made of tough plastic (steel rusts and wood rots). Takes only 30 seconds to assemble (no tools). Eggs are able to roll out from under the birds into a built-in enclosure that keeps them cleaner, reduces breakage and discourages broodiness in hens.
- Very high quality feeders and waterers from the British game bird industry (over 4 million pheasants and partridges reared annually—all outside). Several have built-in feet to hold them 4 in. above the floor or soil. All have a tough, rugged, durable look and feel.
- A unique add-on device that converts your existing buckets (and barrels if you wish to fill them once/week) into outdoor waterers for poultry. We are told that water can freeze in it without damaging the device.
We held a Winter Sheep Day on Feb 5th at the suggestion of, and in co-operation with, Iowa State University and the Iowa Sheep Industry Association. 120 folks from 7 states attended. Discussed minimal-care pasture lambing, using ethanol by-products, feeding baleage to sheep, the short and medium term demand for lamb in the USA. We provided tours of our sheep barns including our experimental heated lambing area (allows sheep to lamb without any attention from 5 pm to 8 am). It went well but involved considerable work by our folks.
Next week we shear our 600 ewe/ewe lamb pasture-lambing flock (only those that contain minimal hair genetics) to prepare them for spring and summer. Then we ultrasound them to find out which ewes are open, and which have singles, twins, etc. We continue to feed them on baleage that we made last summer. Despite a listeriosis outbreak (80% of those affected come from a flock of ewe lambs that were exposed to a recent blizzard just prior to the outbreak) we're happy with the switch from hay to baleage. The feed quality is higher than most of our hay and, as a result, the body condition of the ewes is very good (probably too good).
Best wishes to you and yours.
Stan Potratz, Owner
Premier's Fence and Clipping/Shearing Catalogs
Premier will be sending out our Spring Fence and Clipping/Shearing Catalogs. They are off to the printer and will be in your mailboxes by mid-March. Both feature new content as well as new products ranging from our feral HogNet and PRS Xtreme solar energizer units to new clipper blades and braided rope halters.
If you are not already on our mailing list, please
request a FREE Catalog »
Premier's France Sheep Tour
September 5-15, 2011
$3480 per person (excludes airfare)
Journey through unique, historic and beautiful France with 35 other USA sheep producers. The trip includes:
A full day spent at Tech Ovin, a sheep-tech fair in the city of Bellac. The French sheep industry uses this biennial event to exchange the latest ideas, news and innovations in sheep production.
Other stops and highlights:
- 2 days in Paris, including an optional guided tour of the city.
- Visits to sheep farms near Orleans, Rocamadour, Millau, incorporating both sheep meat and sheep dairy facilities and operations.
- Sheep auction at Requista.
- Chenonceau-a beautiful Renaissance castle built over water.
- World-renowned Cahors vineyard and wine cellar.
- Mill used to produce oil from nuts (French experts tell us that this is well worth the time to visit.)
- The Roquefort Caves and their unique sheep cheese.
- INRA's research farm for dairy sheep at La Fage.
- Guided tours of the cities of Paris, Uzerche, and Rocamadour.
- A day in Avignon, rich in history and the door to the Provence region.
- Ample free time (as requested from prior trips) for shopping and sightseeing in unique French villages.
May we suggest...
Arrive in Paris a day or two early if you wish to "take in" more of the legendary city. Or if you would like, take a day trip to the Normandy Beaches. Additionally, an excursion further into the Provence region would be an excuse to extend your stay in France. Let Cheyenne or Stephanie know if you are interested, as we may be able to organize a smaller group expedition.
For more information contact:
Cheyenne Miller, 319-653-9636, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Sexton, 319-653-9632, email@example.com
Happy Hens, Healthy Soil
By Cynthia F. Amidon
Article appeared in Hobby Farms March/April 2009 issue
Small-scale poultry-raising is more popular than ever. And with new worries about the safety of our food supply, homegrown eggs are one of the best sources of high quality protein around, easily produced on limited acreages - and a guaranteed sell at farmers' markets besides. They just plain taste better, as well as being better for you. But what do you do with those nostril-stinging coop cleanings? With a little creative management, your hens can help you create a high quality compost that will send your soil fertility soaring - and they'll be healthier and happier too.
For several years I kept a farm flock of laying hens, the perfect complement to our small market garden. Not only did we get lots of delicious eggs, the hens were a key component of our soil improvement program. Inside their coop, a consistent depth of fluffy bedding absorbed liquids and kept the house dry and fresh-smelling. Outside, the poultry yard was kept covered with a layer of dry leaves or other carbon-rich organic materials, gathered in season and stored for that purpose. We threw unsold produce, kitchen scraps, and scratch feed on top of the dry matter, inside and out; it was rapidly broken down by the happily scratching hens. Periodically, we'd add the shredded materials from yard and coop to our compost piles, alternating them with "green" compost materials from garden and kitchen. Twice a year we'd spread several more cubic feet of compost on our vegetable garden that could truly be called "black gold."
COMPOST LITTER SYSTEM
This method of keeping poultry is really a simplified version of the traditional deep-litter poultry bedding system. As part of a farmstead nutrient-recycling process, the hens help to accelerate the process of composting waste materials from farm and garden, while contributing their own nitrogen-rich manure. With only a few simple changes to your current poultry management routine, you'll find yourself with healthier, happier hens and dramatically improved garden soil.
Everyone agrees that chickens are happiest when allowed to range freely in garden, yard and farm field. They get lots of exercise, eat a wide variety of bugs, worms, and vegetable matter, and take the frequent dust baths that help them rid themselves of external parasites. Sadly, it isn't safe, nor usually desirable, for chickens to roam. They are vulnerable to predation from wild and domesticated animals, hawks and other large birds. Their dust baths wreak havoc in garden beds, their droppings are messy, and they lay their eggs in places where it is difficult to find them. The compost litter system is the next best solution for happy and healthy hens: a system of confinement that still allows them to exercise freely, eat a wide variety of foodstuffs, and indulge their need to scratch and take dust baths.
The basic structural elements of this system are a chicken coop and adjacent yard. Existing structures can be adapted to serve as poultry housing, as long as they are light, well-ventilated and predator-proof. Plans for chicken coops are readily available on-line and in the plethora of helpful manuals on the subject; for this management system you just need to make sure there is ample floor space for the hens (5 square feet per bird is recommended), and access to their outside yard. It should also be convenient for you to feed and water the poultry, gather eggs, and remove and replace the bedding. An outside pen is crucial for the health and well-being of confined poultry.
The biggest difference between this system and conventional poultry management is one we can all appreciate: less time spent cleaning the chicken coop. The average laying hen produces about 140 pounds of nitrogen-rich manure each year. Improperly managed, much of this valuable nitrogen escapes into the air as ammonia, creating a terrible smell in the process. By maintaining a consistent depth of dry bedding (6"-10") in the poultry house and yard, the droppings are absorbed, their odor is minimized, and the nitrogen is preserved for later utilization in the garden. You should choose a bedding material that makes sense for you in terms of economy and accessibility; for this system to be successful it must be highly absorbent, non-matting, and reasonably light for easy handling. You can rely on your nose to let you know when you need to add additional litter; a strong ammonia smell means there isn't enough bedding to absorb the droppings and you need to add more.
I recommend that you feed your hens a nutrient-balanced complete ration, using a traditional hopper suspended from the ceiling of the coop. They'll be able to help themselves to the vitamins, minerals and protein they need for optimal egg production and good health. At least once a day you should supplement their mash or pellets with "scratch feed," a handful of cracked corn or other grains thrown on top of their bedding, along with a variety of "goodies" from your kitchen and garden. Chickens love to scratch; in the process of scratching they'll turn and aerate their bedding, incorporating their manure, spilled grain, vegetable remnants, kitchen leftovers, and discarded feathers. All you have to do is be sure the bedding stays dry, occasionally use a garden fork to break up any clumps and spread out any damp areas, and add additional litter as necessary. In Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock Jay Rossier recommends a wooden frame of 2x4's with hardware cloth stapled to the top to raise the water dispenser and help keep the bedding around it dry and tidy.
In the hens' outside yard, the process is essentially the same but there is less restriction on the organic materials that can be used. Here you can throw leaves and grass clippings from your yard, old hay or straw to "bed" the pen and keep it dry and fresh. The hens will break up the organic matter and make it easier to compost, while enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and whatever delicious small insects, grubs and worms they turn up in the scratching process. The outside pen is also a good place for the large or messy leftovers from yard and garden that you might not want to put inside the coop - halves of giant zucchini or cucumbers, for example, or maybe the pomace from your home cider mill. Again, how frequently you add additional material depends on what is needed to keep the pen dry and odor-free.
Compost is considered the perfect soil-builder, providing plants with most if not all of the nutrients they need for optimal growth and production. Although there are many different ways of making compost, the basics are very simple. Carbon-rich, dry material is mixed or layered with nitrogen-rich, green plant material, manure, or kitchen waste. The heat produced by the decomposition process helps kill weed seeds and harmful bacteria. Over time, the materials break down, yielding a richly fertile, dark-colored, odorless, organic material often referred to as "black gold" because of its value as a soil improver.
In a traditional, deep-litter poultry bedding system, the litter is removed from the poultry house only once a year. Since I was using the discarded bedding from my own chicken house as part of an ongoing composting process, for most of the year I found it more convenient to remove a wheelbarrow-full whenever I was ready for another layer of carbon-rich materials in my compost piles, replacing it with clean bedding material as needed. I alternated layers of fresh organic materials from my garden and kitchen with the discarded litter as I went along, which kept me from having to store piles of fresh sod, clippings from flower beds, and household waste not suitable for hen consumption such as coffee grounds, eggshells, teabags, banana peels, etc. And because the high-nitrogen manure was already incorporated into the carbon-rich bedding, my piles heated up and began actively composting right away.
According to Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin, authors of The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, although it is possible to make perfectly respectable soil-amending compost without incorporating animal manure, compost made with animal manure is much more valuable for plant growth because of all the additional nutrients it contains. Along with the nitrogen from the manure, the bedding from my chicken coop was rich in trace nutrients from the discarded grain, feathers, and organic materials that had been incorporated into it by my helpful hens. By the time each bin was full and ready to be turned, in approximately four weeks, the pile's component materials were already breaking down, and it was well on its way to finished compost.
HOW IT WORKS
Now that you understand how this system of poultry management contributes to a soil improvement program, I'll review how it worked for us in our New Hampshire garden over the course of the agricultural year. In the spring, we uncovered our multi-bin compost piles and spread a 1-2" layer of year-old, "finished" compost on the vegetable garden beds scheduled to host warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and corn. We raked out the ground litter that had accumulated over the winter in the outdoor poultry yard; it became the dry layer in a new compost pile, alternating with layers of garden detritus, soil, and fresh green weeds.
Over the summer we continued adding 4-6" layers of green materials and poultry litter to our compost bins as they accumulated. A sprinkling of garden soil between layers introduced important micro-organisms and kept the compost sweet-smelling. We turned all the piles at least once a month in warm weather, and were careful to water them during dry spells to promote the decomposition process. The hens enjoyed scratching around in and consuming grass clippings, overripe vegetables, kitchen leftovers, and other delectable goodies from house and yard, in addition to their regular feedings of mash and scratch feed.
By autumn, the compost bins were full and covered with an insulating layer of straw and the outdoor chicken pen was deep in dry leaves. One pile of finished compost was spread on the garden to prepare the soil for early spring crops of peas, lettuce, and spinach; that left an empty bin for all the compost materials that would accumulate over the winter. We deliberately didn't remove bedding from the poultry house in the coldest weather, although we did add additional dry material as needed. The composting process that happens naturally in the deep litter itself as the nitrogen in the manure interacts with the carbon in the dry bedding generates heat to help keep the hens warm. Come spring, we began the process anew by completely cleaning out the coop and combining a winter's worth of bedding with our "stash" of kitchen waste to make our first compost pile of the season.
HEALTHY SOIL, HAPPY HENS
One of the pleasures of raising your own food is the knowledge that it came from healthy soil and happy livestock. Hens raised in bright, spacious, and well-ventilated coops with plenty to eat and the opportunity to exercise and occupy themselves by scratching around in their bedding will be healthier and less apt to develop bad habits such as cannibalism and egg-eating. With commercial, organic poultry feed now widely available, not only can you enjoy delicious, homegrown organic eggs, your hens can help you create superior compost to fertilize your garden, recycling the nutrients from your farmstead to create better health for all.
Every hen will be happier and healthier kept this way, but some breeds will be easier to manage than others. According to Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis in Keeping Chickens: The Essential Guide to Enjoying and Getting the Best from Chickens, the "dual-purpose" breeds, those suitable for both egg and meat production, are better suited for backyard or farmstead flocks. They are less flighty than the layer breeds, easier to handle and work around in coop and yard, and are better at scratching and foraging. Common dual-purpose breeds are the Rhode Island Red, Dominique, New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Rock, Sussex, and Wyandotte.
To Feed or Not to Feed
Chickens are avid omnivores; they'll try almost anything. But there are a few things that aren't good for them - these should go straight to the compost pile:
Along with their commercial ration, your hens will enjoy a variety of discarded foodstuffs from your vegetable garden and kitchen, including stale baked goods, cereal, pasta, and cheese. Try to include fresh greens in their daily "scratch feed," such as fresh green weeds, leafy vegetables, or grass clippings. A source of grit, such as crushed oyster shells, will aid in the hens' digestive process and provide calcium for strong eggshells.
- Eggshells or anything resembling them will encourage the bad habit of egg-eating.
- Anything moldy including bread or that unidentified stuff from the back of the refrigerator.
- Coffee grounds, teabags, houseplant prunings, pet hair and other household waste that doesn't provide any food value.
The ideal poultry litter is economical, easily accessible, highly absorbent, non-matting, and relatively light for easy handling:
Dry leaves, hay, and straw are popular choices for the poultry yard. Make sure that you don't add anything that poses a danger to the hens, such as grass clippings from chemically treated lawns. Let them break coarse materials down thoroughly before adding them to your compost piles. Your hens will also thank you for providing an area of soft dirt or other dry material for their daily dust baths.
- Untreated sawdust or wood shavings
- Chopped straw
- Peat moss
- Ground or chopped corncobs
- Peanut hulls
Safe Manure Handling
So why not bypass the compost bin and put all that nutrient-rich, discarded litter directly on the garden? Because any fresh manure, especially high-nitrogen poultry manure, will damage plant growth if applied directly to garden soil during the growing season. Manure also contains a plethora of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that are sharply reduced or eliminated during the composting process, but which otherwise might pose a health hazard. In their comprehensive yet delightfully readable book, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin remind us of the importance of using common sense when handling any fresh manure, wearing gloves and washing our hands often. Fresh produce should also always be washed prior to consumption, regardless of how it is grown.
For Premier's Poultry Supplies, click here
Premier's featured employee this month is Kyle Janecek. Kyle and his wife Jessica (recently married in November) live in rural Washington. They have 2 dogs, a mixed breed named Lady and Turbo, a red tick coon hound. When not at Premier, Kyle enjoys farming, raising goats, tinkering in his shop, snow mobiling and diesel trucks.
Kyle has been with Premier for 1 year now and is a 'Jack of all trades'. He works predominately in shipping but also helps in the sharpening and repair departments as well as outside with the livestock. His favorite part of the job is that he's always doing something different which keeps him on his toes. He enjoys the variety of duties as well as the fact that Premier is close to home.