The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Backyard Farming. Urban Homesteading Sustainablity
The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Raising Turkeys in an Urban Setting

The more involved we are with urban farming, the more we want to try new things. In addition to our ever changing gardening landscape, we have hens, broilers, ducks, and beehives as well as composting systems to support these activities. Our next goal is to learn how to raise turkeys so we took a few turkey poults from our July hatch and raised them for store use. Here are some of the things we learned.

IMG_1282First check with your local regulations to see if turkeys are allowed. Raising domestic turkeys in the city of Eugene is illegal. We did so anyway not out of disrespect to the city but rather to learn how turkeys behave in an urban setting.

When you talk to large-scale or rural farmers you will find they rarely raise chickens and turkeys together. Indeed both the USDA and ODA recommend raising them separately. Blackhead, a nasty and fatal disease that chickens can pass on to turkeys, is the main reason for separating the species. Of course, urban and small-scale farming is entirely different from rural and large-scale farming and as a result we do not always have the same issues. We raised our two turkeys with three broilers with no ill effects. The broilers were butchered a few days ago and their internal organs looked healthy. Back at the store, our turkeys continue to look healthy and active. Of course the “it worked for us so it isn’t a problem” is a poor argument. If you do raise the two together, do so with caution and monitor for illness.

Turkeys eat a lot and the end product could be a very expensive bird. We started feeding this flock of five a 50-pound bag of turkey starter. When that was finished they were moved outside and they ate another 50-pound bag. We then switched them to a GMO-free turkey grower, then a 5o-pound bag of organic grower. Now that we are down to just two turkeys we will be able to get a better sense of how much they eat. What we do know at this point is this isn’t going to result in some cheap grocery store bird, but isn’t that the point.

In addition to eating a lot, turkeys will eat most anything. Ours gobbled up all the extra tomatoes from the garden as well as most anything else we would toss in for them. For example, we had a couple hybrid volunteer squash on the property. Half of one squash went to the hens and the other half  to the turkeys. The chickens barely touched theirs but the turkeys ate their half down to the stem. The other squash was taken home and baked into what turned out to be a nasty soup. Again the chickens barely touched their serving. The turkeys, however, not only ate the whole serving, they even ate the paper bowl. And since they eat so much, they leave ample droppings. We found ourselves picking up after them twice a day and the compost bin filled up rapidly.

Turkey poults are not sexed so you could end up with toms or hens. We ended up with one of each and were amazed to learn how quiet they are. They rarely made much noise and when they did “gobble” it was at the same level as a person’s normal talking voice. Indeed our turkeys were much quieter then some chickens we have known. Our tom started to strut his feathers at about three and a half months old. It could be that if you get two toms then they might get loud and start to fight at this point. But at this point you would have a good sized bird so you could butcher one tom early and save the other for a Thanksgiving butcher.

We have heard of people using less then flattering words to describe a turkey’s intelligence. We have no evidence to suggest that they are any more or less smart than other poultry. We will say however that they can be rather charming. They came running whenever we delivered treats. Their combs and waddles would turn bright red when they were happy and when the broilers went away one day, they seemed to be sad for a few days.

This being said, we are not looking forward to the butchering process. We do not name our poultry but we do feed them high quality feed and interact with them on a regular basis. As a result they have kind of grown on us and the butchering process could be emotionally difficult. We have embraced urban farming because we feel our food system is broken. Even those expensive turkeys you buy at the natural food store are fed cheap grains and live in less than ideal conditions. Just like veggies, fruit, eggs, and honey, if you want clean fresh food you need to either grow it yourself or know your farmer.

While urban farming is different from traditional farming, there are still some similarities. Butchering poultry is not fun but the rewards are great. This has been a good experience and we will most likely do it again next year. Or next year we might have a vegetarian nut loaf for Thanksgiving instead.

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Visit Coop Town, USA

Coop Town, USA 2014We are once again happy to announce the annual coop tour for the Eugene/Springfield area on Saturday, May 24th.

Visit Coop Town, USA is an annual tradition that allows aspiring urban farmers to see how other people are keeping hens in their backyard.  It is also a great opportunity for current backyard farmers to get ideas for their own coop.

This year’s self guided tour will feature 14 coops throughout the Eugene/Springfield area.  Some coops are simple and made of reclaimed materials. Other coops are professionally built and contain art and efficiency features.  All house healthy and happy backyard hens.

Guide books are just $8.00 and include a qr scan to be used with your smart phone.  Guide books will be available at The Eugene Backyard Farmer the week of the event.

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Year End Reflections.

As we look back at 2013 we have to conclude that we live in a wonderful community. By embracing urban farming you  are supporting food security, promoting self reliance, and strengthening neighborhoods.

Thank you for sharing your ideas and experiences with others.  Thank you for showing others how easy urban farming can be.  Thank you for branching out and trying new things.  And thank you for all the encouragement you give to us.

The staff of The Eugene Backyard Farmer wishes you a wonderful holiday and a bountiful new year.

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3rd Annual Pullet Sale

Feel like getting a jump start on next year’s eggs?  Want to get into chickens but don’t want to raise them from chicks?  If so, we are happy to announce the 3rd annual pullet sale.

This year’s pullet sale will take place on Saturday, October 5th from 10-2 here at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.  Our friends from David’s Country Chickens will be bringing around 80 two to three month old chickens.

These are all standard backyard breeds and cost between $14-$18 each.  Our past experience shows that these are healthy and well raised.  This is a cash/check sale although you can always use a card in the store to buy feed and treats.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

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The cost of backyard eggs.

A July 7th NBC article discussed the down side to backyard chickens.  The quote that stood out to us was, “some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive. ”  You can hear our response here.

For over a year, we have been keeping detailed records to see how cost effective backyard chickens can be. We were pleasantly surprised by the results.

From July 2012 through June 213 we collected 119 dozen eggs. The flock at the store varied from six to 11 and during part of that time frame, not all chickens were to laying age.  The flock ate $315 in feed, $43 in scratch, $15 in calcium, and used $24 in bedding.

This means that a dozen high quality eggs cost $3.34.

We have not done the math to factor in coop, feeder and start up costs.  Yet it is clear that keeping backyard chickens can be affordable.  Of course if you keep backyard hens, you know there are non egg related benefits.  Our chickens provide us with plenty of high quality fertilizer and they are often worth keeping just for the entertainment value.

Need another reason to keep backyard hens?  For every dozen eggs they produce, you are not supporting an industry that is not always kind to chickens.

The store is down to six hens since April and we are planning on keeping that number.  Then next March, we will have another full year of data.  By then we will also have figured out amortization and can factor in the costs of feeders and the coop.

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2nd Annual Eugene Bawk Celebration.

The 2nd annual Eugene Bawk Celebration is set for Saturday, June 29th from 2-6.

This fun event is a way to celebrate the backyard chicken and all they do to enhance our urban farms.  This is a free and family friendly event that surely will make you smile.

We will have live music and food booths and a bunch of activities.

One of the activities is the “name that egg” game where you have to guess where the egg came from based upon its appearance (factory farm, store bought organic or backyard).
On the main stage we will have a crowing contest as well as a chicken poetry reading (you read a poem about a chicken, not the chickens reading poetry).

The main event will be the incredibly popular chicken beauty pageant.  Chickens will be introduced, then will be walked down the runway by their people.  Some chickens are even dressed up.  And once again, we have assembled an all-star cast of judges.  This year’s judges will be Dawn Baby of Dawn Baby Salon, Joseph Calbreath formally KMTR’s Joseph in the Garden, and the Reigning Slug Queen.

After the beauty pageant we will have a DJ playing chicken themed music and plenty of space to dance.

Prizes will be awarded to all crowing and poetry reading participants.  And some special prizes have been donated for the chicken beauty pageant contestants.  We are still looking for pageant contestants so please e-mail us if you are interested.

There will be major road construction in the area and our parking lot will fill up pretty fast.  You can park in the alley behind the store as well as across the Washington/Jefferson Park on Jefferson.  There is also parking one block south of the store next to Subway.  Hope to see you soon.

 

 

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Visit Coop Town, USA

Visit Coop Town, USA.

Eugene is known as Track Town, USA for obvious reasons.  But urban farming in Eugene is just as popular as running, and for good reason.  Raising chickens in your back yard is just another way of contributing to  a healthy lifestyle.

This year’s backyard coop tour is set for Saturday, May 18th from 10-4.  This popular annual event is shaping up to be another great opportunity to peek into some of Eugene’s backyard farms.

Sixteen coops located in Eugene and Springfield will give aspiring urban farmers plenty of inspiration and design ideas.  Some are simple designs using reclaimed materials.  Some are professionally constructed and feature works of art.  All house some very happy and healthy backyard chickens.

The guide book will be available at The Eugene Backyard Farmer the week of the event.  All coop hosts are volunteer neighbors so we remind attendants the coop tour is only May 18th and only between 10-4.  Guide books cost just $8.00.

And just like last year part of the proceeds from the sale of the guide books will go to Habitat for Hens. This fun program allows us to put a chicken coop and some hens into a back yard of a family that could benefit from a coop but can not yet afford it.

So if you already have a coop, come see what your neighbors are doing and get some new ideas.  If you are just starting the process of building a coop, go out and get inspired.

 

 

 

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The Nesting Place: A Luxury Chicken Hotel Now Open.

Urban farmers differ from traditional and rural farmers in a number of respects.  Traditional farmers often do so to make a living where urban farmers usually do so to put healthy food on their table. Traditional farmers wait until after harvest before taking a vacation where urban farmers often take vacation in the summer.
And while tending for a backyard flock takes little effort, it still does require daily attention.
So what do you do with your flock if you want to go on vacation? The best option is to get a neighbor to feed, water and collect eggs.  This way they get to see how easy it is and will perhaps want to start their own backyard flock.  In larger cities you can even hire a chicken sitter to come twice a day and do the chores.  We tried this for a while but found it to be a large drain of time and since we commute by bike, it became impractical.

So if you can’t get a neighbor to watch your hens, why not check them into a hotel?  The Nesting Place is a luxury chicken hotel located right here at the store.
The Blue Andalusian Suite and the Golden Campine Suite both include a safe place to sleep, eat and lay eggs as well as an extended yard in which to scratch around.

Basic service is $2 per hen per day and includes fresh feed, water, some scratch and a daily coop cleaning.  Deluxe service is $3 per hen per day and includes the above as well as chopped organic veggies and turn down service.  With the deluxe service we will even text you photos of your hens.

Future suites will be added if this becomes as popular as we think it will. But until then space is limited so if you have a vacation coming up and nobody to watch your flock, feel free to give us a call.

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Help, my hen is loosing it’s feathers.

We start getting the calls this time of year.  “I went out to the henhouse this morning and there were feathers everywhere. What is wrong with my hens?”  Another popular observation is “My hens look terrible. They are missing feathers and I think they might be dying.”   Most likely your chickens are just going through a moult.

Just like other birds, chickens know when winter is coming.  Usually in the fall of their second year they shed feathers and grow a new coat for winter. Most moulting occurs in the fall but we have seen hens go through a full-blown moult in the dead of winter.  Sometimes the moult is so mild and consists of just a hand full of feathers.  Other times it looks like there was a pillow fight in the hen house and your chickens look like they have hen pattern baldness.  Regardless, moulting is natural and generally nothing to worry about.  There are still things you can do to help.

If they are loosing their feathers already, this might be a great time to inspect their bodies.  Since it is now easy to see the skin you can use moulting time to look for signs of mites or other body parasites.  This also might be a great time to do a semi-annual coop cleaning. You can remove all bedding, spray a 10% diluted bleach in the corners, sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth in the corners, and add fresh bedding.  This will make the coop nice and comfortable for the winter.

Hens will not lay eggs while moulting.  Since they need to grow new feathers before cold weather arrives, they put all their energy into that task.  Chickens need extra protein to help them grow new feathers.  The faster they feather out, the faster they will get back to looking good and hopefully laying a few more eggs.  There are a number of poultry supplements that can be added to their feed. Most of these have 30% of more protein which will help them re-feather.  When the hens at our store go through their moult we add dried cat food, meal worms, tofu or beef liver.

A moult can be over within a week or it can last several months.  The longer the moult, the harder it is to keep your refrigerator stocked with eggs.  There is no need to add artificial heat to their coop. We tend to recommend avoiding this so as to not create a fire hazard.  Don’t worry about your chicken’s comfort level. They know more about how to be a chicken then you do.  Just increase their protein intake and they should be back to beautiful backyard chickens before too long.

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The Eugene Bawk Celebration

Eugene area backyard chickens will take center stage on Saturday, June 30th between 4-7.

The first annual Eugene Bawk Celebration is a festival celebrating our backyard hen’s contribution to urban farming.  This lighthearted event will feature lots of games, activities, live music, food booths, and prizes.

Think you can tell the difference between a store bought egg and a homegrown egg?  Then come on down and play a round of Name That Egg.

Fancy yourself an Emily Cluckinson, Charles Bawkowski, or E.E. Cluckings?  Then you should enter a poem for the chicken poetry contest.

Do you know a thing or two about Chicken Couture?  Then you simply must enter the chicken beauty contest.  We even have a runway, an all-star panel of judges and the paparazzi.

Other activities include egg and spoon races, chicken bingo, and a crowing contest.

There may even be a Flash Flock in the days leading up to the Celebration.  Much of the parking lot will be filled with activities but there is still plenty of parking behind the store and on the street.

Call or e-mail the store so we can get our list of chicken beauty pageant contestants together.  Bawk On!

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