Spring has been topsy turvey on the weather front. Nice cold mornings including -6, very warm days up to 23, 70km winds and NO RAIN. It is very very dry. Spring always likes to throw a weather curve ball and it certainly has so far.
Our two female geese Netta the elder and Thelma, her 2 year old daughter, are both sitting on eggs and taking impending motherhood very seriously, being cross with intruders of any species and barking warnings at one and all. Manuel Talouse the Goose, Mani for short, the father to be, spends most of his time forlorn and alone with brief stints as the knight in shining amour protecting his maidens. Another two weeks should see a significant extension to our goose family.
A final reminder for this week is that in this dry weather, it is really important to make sure there is plenty of water available for all your stock. Ducks need lots of water. All the poultry are drinking much more and this will only increase as the weather continues to heat up. We also need to remember to have shallow bowls of water with rocks and twigs for bees and other insects to access around the garden. These smaller creatures in times of drought also need to have water available.
Today (Monday 11th September) we collected the little turkey poults from the hatchery in Bargo starting the process for Christmas turkey. Turkey poults are picked up or delivered as day olds. In fact this is the case with all poultry. In the first 24 hours of their life all breeds of poultry and water fowl can survive withour food or water as they are still being nourished by the egg. However they do need to be kept warm and have good air circulation. It is critical however that they receive food and water as soon as possible. Mortality rates can be quite high if food and water are delayed beyond the first 24 hours.
All the preparations for the poults needs to have occurred before their arrival. Ideally you should set up the brooder area 48 hours before the poults arrive. This is particularly important in cooler areas like Braidwood. This gives a chance for the bedding material to warm up and to ensure that the heat source is operating properly. These cute little babies need to be kept warm and cosy. We have a dedicated small shed to be our brooder house. A brooder is a place where young poultry are raised until they have enough feathers keep themselves warm. It should provide protection from predators; protection from moisture; be free from drafts; have good ventilation and most importantly a reliable heat source. In fact all the things that a mother provides for her young. For a heat source we use heat lamps with globes that produce heat but no light.
The feeding schedule becomes the most important aspect of raising turkeys and for that matter all poultry for meat. It starts from the day of their arrival until the day they leave for the abattoir in 16 to 20 weeks time. We mainly feed the turkeys a homemade mash. We don’t rely on prepared pellets. By feeding mash we can individualize, adjust and modify specifically to the animals needs. So just as organic gardening relies on the principle of healthy soils to create health plants likewise to sustain health animals resistant to disease they need to be raised on healthy soils and good food. All animals require healthy gut activity to maintain the balance of parasites and resist disease. By feeding our turkeys a homemade mash we can add mineral and herbal supplements to maintain their health. So just as Kentucky Fried Chicken is cooked with a blend of secret herbs and spices Wynlen House turkeys eat a blend of herbs and minerals.
Of course these aspects also form part of the basic tenets of any practice of animal husbandry. We consider how you raise, feed and care for your animals is vitally important. Our animals are raised with loving care. This does not mean that they are treated as pets but it does mean that we treat them with respect. We care about what they eat, their health, their housing and their environment. They live happy lives and this is very important to us. An animal that lives a happy health life will provide quality food.
Monday this week was the first proper day back at work in the Wynlen House market garden. Not the best of days to commence our regular farm & garden work routine. To ease into things on this classic August windy day, we set up a new pond for the geese (recycled, from the Green Shed in Canberra) and prepared a new night pen for them as well. It’s August and by the beginning of Spring the geese will be entering the mating season. Manuel Toulouse the Goose, Manni for short is our relatively new male and we want the breeding season to go well. Toulouse geese are the largest of the geese breeds and as geese prefer to mate in water, our small plastic sandpit ponds are not suitable for breeding. Hence the deeper larger pond.
Through the Autumn and Winter months our geese and ducks have been living happily together, but once the mating season starts the harmony ends, not only is there sexual rivalry, but the breeds become totally intolerant of each other. Early separation of the waterfowl flock before the breeding season starts, makes life in the farmyard much calmer for us all.
Geese are the most majestic birds of the waterfowl breeds, and have traditionally been a part of the mixed farm or small holding. As large waterbirds they only breed seasonally (in Spring) laying up to a maximum of around 40 eggs. Geese mate for life with one gander to between 3 to 5 females. Geese should begin their breeding life in their second year and the females can continue breeding up to 10 years of age. Ganders maintain viable fertility for up to 6 years of age.
Unfortunately, geese have a reputation for being aggressive. This is certainly true during the breeding season. Ganders can be very unruly and protective of their partners and once the females are sitting they will also not hesitate to hiss and bite. Incubation can take 28 to 34 days. Once the goslings hatch out both parents are incredibly protective, just as most new parents are, and coming between the parents and their goslings is going to see you definitely attacked. An angry goose, neck extended, wings spread, charging at you, is definitely a scary sight. If that goose connects with you, it can be a very painful experience. However, being sensible around your geese during this time, in particular keeping young children away, will mean far less tears or life long psychological scars. And with all animals who are being protective maintain eye contact, and don’t turn your back.
So some would ask why would you keep geese. Apart from breeding season they can be delightful birds and very sociable. They are always ready to have a chat, and generally like to broadcast to the world. Geese are not silent birds! They are great as watch dogs or should that be warning birds, and of course young birds (6 months old) are a beautiful culinary addition to the table. We keep our breeding flock for this purpose. We enjoy sharing our farmyard with these wonderful birds.
One of the important roles of the small scale farmer is to care for the animals that are part of any farm or holding. The primary role of domesticated farm animals is about productivity and are an integral part of farming or homesteading. Farm animals can contribute, meat, eggs, fibre, and manure.
We often only think of our pets as domesticated animals but poultry, sheep, cattle, goats, horses and pigs and so on have been domesticated animals in the sense that humans have been cultivating these species for hundreds, even thousands of years for the purpose of providing food and other resources.
To enable a domesticated farm animal to be productive for us we need to have a responsible and respectful relationship. This is the basis of animal husbandry.
We are responsible for caring for our animals and this involves, housing, feeding, health, their welfare, the environment they live in, and handling them without injury either to them or us.
At Wynlen House we consider how you raise, feed and care for your animals is vitally important. We care about what they eat, their health, their housing and their environment. They live happy lives and this is very important to us. An animal that lives a happy healthy life will provide quality food. So just as with organic gardening you need vigorous healthy soil so that you have vigorous health plants, we also believe you need vigorous, healthy, happy animals to raise healthy meat, eggs or milk.
Animal Welfare is a ‘Duty of Care' obligation.
The RSPCA Australia believes that farm animal husbandry and management practices should provide for the behavioural, social and physiological needs of the individual animal and not cause unnecessary injury, suffering or distress. As a new farmer how do I know when my goose or chicken is happy or conversely, when it is in distress? Unless we begin to learn the basics of animal care, in the same way we are prepared to learn about growing vegetables, we will not be able to meet our duty of care and will unintentionally allow our animals to suffer.
A respectful relationship with our farm animals can be a very rewarding one and learning about the behavioral needs of your farm animals is as important as learning about their feed requirements. To this end I build a turkey gym for my turkey poults when they are confined to a hover in their early weeks. Turkeys are curious and out-going birds, they love a challenge. The gym allows them to hop up on a pole, like a roundabout, which swings around when they add their weight to it. They just love it. It meets their need to have their curiosity engaged and in experiencing something new. I also hang shinny pie plates which catch the light and creates great interest.
As they grow they like to participate in farm activities. - including investigating the tractor and grabbing free rides on the trailer whenever they can. It's important to make sure your animals are psychologically fulfilled and able to engage in their natural and instinctive behaviours. Its like giving a cat a scratching pole or a dog a chewing toy. Its important to have that stimulation, especially when animals are young and confined for their safety and physical needs, before they are ready to tackle the world as teens or adults. I know you are probably thinking that I'm an indulgent crazy woman about now but I have to disagree. I Find that making sure my animals are well cared in all ways accounts for the best eggs in town and the most delicious roast chicken you have even eaten!
Our Animal Husbandry workshop is in early July, on farm in Braidwood. "Raising poultry and Small Farm Animals Organically" is on Sunday July 9th from 9.30am. Come along and see how we raise our farm animals and learn how to best raise yours.
When are you considered a to be running a poultry farm?
Under NSW Environmental & Planning Legislation all piggeries and poultry farms are classified as intensive agriculture, and all intensive agricultural activities require Development Approval from your local council and may also require State Government approval depending on your location. As much of our region is classified as water catchment, being classified as a poultry farmer, will most likely require both Local Government and State Government approval. These types of approvals can be both time consuming and expensive. It is therefore important to make sure your small farming operation remains outside of this regulatory framework. So how do you know if your chook flock makes you a poultry farmer? Finding an answer to this question can be somewhat vexing.
Like other intensive agricultural activities it all comes down to livestock numbers, and while this may seem somewhat arbitrary it is the simplest way for all involved in making a determination.
While State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) No 30—Intensive Agriculture provides clarity on pigs and cattle feed lots it fails to provide any clarity in relation to poultry. Why this is the case is unclear. Clarity on what constitutes a poultry farm is to be found the NSW Food Authority legislation and regulations. (Food Act 2003 NSW, Food Regulation 2015)
Poultry meat producers (farms)
Poultry meat producers, or poultry farms, are operations where more than 100 birds are grown at any one time for human consumption. Poultry means chicken, turkey, duck, squab (pigeon), goose, pheasant, quail, guinea fowl, mutton bird and other avian species.
Egg producers are businesses or farms that produce more than 20 dozen eggs for sale in any week.
The accepted view within this industry and according to the DPI (Department of Primary Industries) is that a commercial operation requires a minimum of 1,000 meat birds or 100 doz eggs per week. There is quite a large disparity between being considered a poultry farmer and having a commercial operation. Given that having more than 100 birds at one time puts you into the regulatory framework and the associated expense it seems somewhat inconsistent that this number is based at 10% of the minimum of what makes a commercial operation.
There appears to be two problems in relation to the definitions used for determining if you are a poultry farmer. The first is the legislation location. There is no logic to having Environmental & Planning Legislation defining intensive agriculture that does not include poultry farming. The second problem in one of the number disparity.
These matters need to be addressed. You can take action by discussing this issue with your local state member. Our representatives need to understand that the problems with definitions and legislation are being used at local level to seriously compromise small farming enterprises and advantage very big agri-businesses who are the only people who can afford to go through the multiple Development application processes and pay the massive Development Application costs involved.
It almost sounds like an Irish joke, but in fact it is a very important question. According to our local council 1 pig can make you a pig farmer and 1 chook can make you a poultry farmer.
So does this really matter you ask? Yes it does! There are significant implications if your small farm activity is deemed to be a piggery or a poultry farm. First of all under NSW Environmental & Planning Legislation all piggeries and poultry farms are classified as intensive agriculture. This has nothing to do with your farming practice or philosophy. Whether you are free ranging, organic or see your animals as purely production units a piggery or a poultry farm is classified as intensive agriculture, not extensive agriculture. All intensive agricultural activities require a Development Application. Kaching goes the cash register. Further more if you are also located in a water catchment area, which is the case for about 80% of our Local Government Area (and about 70% of the state) you also require a Designated Development Application - ka-ching ka-ching and an Environmental Impact Statement- even more $$$.
This seems some what unrealistic to say the least. So a further chat with Council to clarify the situation. Accordingly, the gods of our planning department assert that determining an activity as intensive agriculture primarily depends on whether livestock “are fed wholly or substantially on externally-sourced feed.” Well I don't know any person who keeps chooks, pigs or horses in particular who does not purchase feed for these animals. And how much is substantially any way? This seems very subjective. Surely there must be a clearer way of determining how many pigs makes you a pig farmer?
Surprise, Surpirse! Yes there is. There is state wide Legislation (SEPP) No 30—Intensive Agriculture
that provides a clear definition of what makes you a pig farmer:..."200 or more pigs or 20 or more breeding sows,..." I should point out that state legislation overrides local government legislation. Apparently our planning gurus missed this one.
The moral of the riddle. Don't let local government make your small farming enterprise their cash cow.
Lets keep raising happy pigs! Next week I will talk turkey on poultry farming.