Monday, May 10, 2010

Paul Johnson / Soy and Corn free chickens & pigs

I'm really enjoying the interest people have in local food, and what I really enjoy is that your choice in what you eat is expanding. Part of this expansion of your choices is Paul Johnson, who runs Pastured Sensations, located in Snohomish, WA.
My operation and Pauls are both based on animals on pasture. He's taken a further step to formulate and produce his own feed, choosing to make it soy and corn free. Most of the commonly available feed is mostly corn and soy, and there are groups of people who are concerned about it, and Paul is filling that niche nicely.
The primary ingredients to his feed are field peas, wheat, triticale, fish meal and trace elements, and I'm pretty interested in what he's doing, not so much because i'm concerned about soy, but because it's something I'm considering doing for my own farm. Feed costs are the biggest single expense at this point for me, and I'm figuring that I'm paying 30-40% more than the raw ingredient costs now. So he's doing it to get the specialized feed he wants, I'd do this same sort of thing to allow me to buy wholesale and save some money. His feed components are more expensive than mine; I'd probably go for a more conventional mix, but grinding/mixing your own feed gives you the opportunity to control what your animals are fed, and that's a good thing, in my book.   You also have the opportunity to source more local ingredients.  When you buy from a mill you have no idea where it's coming from.

For his poultry he uses schedule 40 plastic pipe, bent on a jig that you can see here on the sawhorses. He'll take this basic frame, put some chicken wire on it, and a tarp or two, and have lightweight, easily moveable pens that he uses to pasture his chickens.
here four of those pens are out on grass. Each pen contains 30-60 chickens, and the pens are moved periodically so that the chickens get fresh grass. These pens are also visible from the highway, and I suspect that the advertising value is pretty good. You don't have to ask if his chickens are on grass. You see them every day. As someone whose entire farm is also visible from the highway, I admire a fellow spirit who practices completely transparent farming.

Paul makes extensive use of fairly lightweight materials. This is one of his microbarns; a brood house for his chickens and turkeys. The door is about 6' tall. They're attractive, small buildings. He builds them as he needs them, and they're light enough that you could probably move them around without too much trouble. Nice idea.
Inside each one are brooders, each containing a feeder, a light, and a waterer. The side towards the center slides off for eash cleaning. Here a batch of meat chickens are brooding until they're old enough to go out on pasture.
Here's a batch in another brooder that are ready to go out on pasture; probably 3 weeks old. These brooder boxes are built on legs -- so that the chickens are at a height that's easy to reach them while you're standing, and that just makes life so much easier. There's storage underneath them on either side.
There are small touches throughout these that really show an attention to detail, and a thriftyness that I really like. First, notice that the corners are braced, right in the center of the picture, and second, notice that the feeder is a black plastic planting pot, with a pot bottom from a larger pot below it. there's a block of wood between the two. So when you fill the pot with feed, it runs out the holes that normally provide drainage for the plant. The dish below catches it, and the whole thing costs maybe $2. Nice.
So how did I get to know Paul? He's starting to do pigs, so I've been lending a hand as he works through the pig husbandry stuff. He's doing great. Here's his pigs out on pasture. I really enjoy seeing animals that are clearly having a good time. Note the electric fence. You don't need much once the pigs are conditioned to it.
Here's a wider view. This is one of the reasons that I love the flood plain land around snohomish so much. Lush, green... lovely farmland. It really is pretty country.
In the interest of disclosure, I've done some business with Paul, bought and sold some stuff, but there's no agreement with him about what I wrote here; it's strictly my opinion. I enjoy having his energy and interest in diversifying what people can buy and eat.


Anonymous said...

The brooders look great! How many boxes are there in each barn? It is hard to tell from the pictures where the sunlight is coming from... Thanks..


Anonymous said...

Nice to see a neat and tidy operation. It shows a knowledgeable farmer. Which in turn leads to healthy animals.

Bruce King said...

I think there are 9 brooders per microbarn. The roof of the barn is a hog panel bent over into a hoop and then covered with some sort of fabric that allows light through it. Paul says he builds them at a cost of of about $300 each.

Bruce King said...

Looked at the pictures again, and I think there's 4 brooders per barn, not 9.

paul said...

very kind words Bruce. You could have told them that I was a nervous wreck about the first litter of piglets and about castrating the males, but you let me off the hook! Thanks again for the help, I owe you.


Anonymous said...

Do you and Paul buy your chicks from a commercial hatchery?

I've seen videos like this about commercial hatcheries:

What alternatives are there to having buying chicks from a commercial hatchery? Why don't more people run the whole life cycle, instead of supporting rooster-grinding?

Bruce King said...

The video that you've posted a link to refers to the hatcheries killing male chicks for egg-laying breeds, probably pearl white leghorns.
The type of chicken shown in these pictures taken at Pauls farm are a breed specifically bred for meat production (cornish cross), and the chicks are straight-run, which means that the chickens shown in the pictures are both male and female and are typically not sorted.
For my own farm I buy 300 to 500 rooster chicks a year (from a commercial hatchery) which I raise as meat chickens. It's not many, but I do that because I hate the wasting of the rooster chicks, and I've got customers who prefer a heritage-type bird to a cornish cross (meat chicken) type bird.

But this basically begs the question; all of the chickens raised are going to be killed at some point; it's a bit sad that they are only here for a short time, but the end result is the same. It's the same basic situation as in dairy farms, when the male calves are killed. Would you be willing to give up cheese, milk and butter?

Mike said...

Sounds like a pretty cool dude!