Melvin Fisher began raising free range poultry on his organic pasture farm in 1997. In 1998, after seeing an article about the free range system in a magazine, Melvin commissioned the book Production and Marketing of Poultry at Herman Beck-Chenoweth freedom. He subsequently attended a workshop on poultry production. In 1999 Melvin built six poultry pallets using the blueprints in the book and each stocked 400 Cornish Cross broilers. He recalled pasture poultry pens and never looked back. In 2002, he produced more than 6,000 chickens and 150 turkeys and prepared them at the only USDA-inspected non-electric poultry processing facility in the United States. This year he hopes to raise, sell and process twice as many birds for sale at restaurants in Indiana and for the many customers they collect at his picturesque Park County farm.
Melvin’s operation is unique in many ways. Their processing plant not only runs on diesel, but uses horsepower to move the skids to a fresh field (short grass pasture) twice a week. A 16-year-old apprentice uses a two-horse Belgian-Percheron hitch to pull the skates. Load the float valve drinkers and feed trays on board and push the skid forward about 100 feet.
Moving the eight skids that house more than 3,700 birds (Melvin also keeps 500 laying hens in houses and starts the chicks in the field) takes about three hours per week. Melvin claims that this type of operation is much more effective than manual movement of poultry houses. In fact, an operation of this size would require 46 pens with 80 birds each.
The grass field itself is surrounded by a secure perimeter woven wire fence, but the broilers are protected by a single strand of solar powered electric fence and two guard animals, a Great Pyrenees dog and a flame. These animals are used to deter predators, as the skating houses are not closed at night. Since the introduction of the guard. The problems of predatory animals have been miniscule. The single wire of the electric fence keeps the horses and cattle residing in the same field off the skates and feeding the chickens. Layers and pullets go further than broilers, so their enclosure is surrounded by electrical poultry nets to keep them closer to home.
Red and white clover, orchard grass, Kentucky blue grass, perennial rye grass, and alfalfa provide a good combination of greens and grasses for planting pastures. Even though university research shows that chickens get only 10-15% of the dry matter for their diet from their own grass, and turkeys up to 30%, planting plays an important role. Additionally, pasture soil, as well as the insects and larvae it supports, contains virtually ALL of the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements necessary for a healthy bird. This eliminates the need to add vitamin supplements, all of which contain preservatives. Many people who think they are allergic to meat are actually allergic to the preservatives in it. Therefore, Melvin purchases organic beans from other farmers in the community and ground and blended them to his specifications without preservatives.
The variety of poultry is healthier to eat
Recent findings support the view that pasture-raised animals have much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), and beta-carotene. These animals also have lower levels of fat and fewer calories. Authors and researchers such as Jo Robinson (Why Grassfed is Best) and Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) are creating a new breed of consumer better informed about the health benefits of grass-fed meats.
Each skate has a surface area of two by sixteen feet. All skates have wood floors and bird wire walls. The initial skates had canvas roofs, but Melvin has switched to metal. As he raises birds well into the season, he has also modified the Outdoor Poultry Production and Marketing slide plan by installing combination flip-up shade and storm panels. In the book, the skates are depicted with a men’s door at each end, but Melvin has converted an end door into an access ramp that runs the full width of the skate. This allows younger birds to more easily access the skid and reduces wear and tear on the pasture. This modification has been recommended by the author. and the revised plans have been included in the updated version of Free Poultry Production and Marketing available on the Back40Books.com website or by calling 573.858.3244.
The skates have rot-resistant wood floors covered with hardwood sawdust sand. The garbage is bought by the semi-load for the transport price. Manure deposited on skids overnight produces a high quality compost that is an excellent fertilizer. At The Organic Grass Farm, this manure has historically been used in Melvin’s home garden and as production is increasing, future expansion in berry and fruit production is anticipated.
Layer skates have been modified to contain perches and nest boxes. These skates contain 250 chickens each. Melvin uses hybrid brown egg layers such as golden kites. ) Each year he buys a different type of bird so he can distinguish the flocks by age and color. Plus, you keep complete egg-laying records so that when your children take over the operation, they know which strains performed best. He raises the layers in a hoop house structure that he also uses for rabbit production and for hibernating chickens.
The laying hen enclosure is surrounded by electrical nets for poultry and contains a Great Pyrenees guard dog. In hot climates, the eggs are harvested twice a day and cooled in the farm’s diesel-powered cold rooms. The eggs are placed in new fiber or polystyrene boxes and sorted by size. Melvin charges his wholesale customers between $ 1.75 and $ 1.95 per dozen. In Indianapolis, their eggs retail for between $ 2.59 and $ 3.00 per dozen, depending on the size.
At the farm processing plant
During 2000, Melvin and his family built a new processing plant on the farm. Planning for this facility began in 1999 and required six months of meetings with the Indiana Department of Agriculture, who provided information on the design. Construction progressed during the last three months of the planning period. The building was completed in time for commissioning in mid-2000 production year and has bird-by-bird inspection. Melvin sees inspectors as his partners in producing a quality product and says that when it comes to working with inspectors, “attitude is everything and respect for authority is imperative.”
The processing plant includes a 20 ‘x 30’ processing area, 12 ‘x 16’ refrigerators and freezers, and an 8 ‘x 24’ office and restroom area. The submersible tubes provide light on work areas on sunny days. The walls are made of glass board (a type of waterproof panel required for use in many food processing facilities and dairy warehouses) and painted steel. A poured concrete floor is equipped with floor drains. Processing water is provided by a deep well tested for purity. The plant cost around $ 50,000.00 to complete, including used equipment manufactured by Pickwick and Ashley. Organic Grass Farm processes chickens of all ages in the 3-5 pound range. They also process turkeys in the 14 to 30 pound range.
Currently, the plant operates one day a week and processes around 250 birds in a four-hour processing cycle. Of course, additional time is required for bagging, cutting, weighing and cleaning the plant. The five-person crew typically consists of Melvin, his wife, and three teenage assistants. Collecting the birds is very easy due to the nature of the slip-resistant shelters. The doors are closed confining the birds to the skid. They are then loaded into plastic crates for the horse ride to the processing plant.
As stated above, plans are to double production this year, a task the facility can easily handle. Currently, most birds are delivered to the Indianapolis area in a rented van, but Melvin also uses overnight express delivery such as Fed Ex and UPS to place orders. Due to the fact that your product is USDA inspected, you can ship it anywhere in the United States.
The future of The Organic Grass Farm looks bright. Melvin’s attention to detail and his commitment to sustainable agriculture and animal welfare ensure a continuous market for his high-quality products. Its success should encourage all of us who aspire to become leaders in meeting the needs of our local food basins.