Monday, April 3, 2017

Profile of a Large-Scale Mobile Layer Shelter by Mike Badger

This article was republished, with permission, from APPPA Grit Issue 96. Mike Badger is the Executive Director of APPPA and host of the Pastured Poultry Talk podcast. 

Other members have written about the large-scale, daily move broiler shelters that can hold up to 600 broilers at one-time. And I’ve heard stories from the field of people building $50,000 egg mobiles—luxurious proof of concepts but not practical. Then Cliff Stoltzfoos of Stoltzfoos Layers in Kinzers, Pennsylvania, caught my attention with his mobile shelter for layers. He has some of the same efficiency improvements you might expect to find in a larger-scale commercial operation, but his shelters are moved through the pasture every day.

I thought it would be reasonable to share and profile one of the most innovative egg mobiles I’ve seen on pasture. 

Mobile layer shelters at Stoltzfoos Layers. They are covered with a green house plastic with a heavy duty curtain material on the shelter. A shade cloth can be added in the summer. Shown with metal sides to protect the shelters from cattle.

Daily Move with Small Equipment
Stoltzfoos Layers manages 4,000 layers on pasture in batches of 650 birds. Each day, the shelter is moved ahead by 100 feet. The 100 feet, according to Cliff, is the distance required to get the birds into fresh pasture for the day’s foraging; this allows the hens to graze in front and back of the shelter on fresh pasture.

His early pasture shelters were constructed of wood and would flip over in the high wind storms, which causes a host of problems, including death, destruction, and dropped hen productivity. The shelters evolved to a hoop house or green house design on a custom fabricated trailer frame that’s low to the ground.  The design includes a tandem axle in the rear, and has a footprint of 12’x25’.

The result is something that is stable and easily moved with a side-by-side vehicle, such as a Gator.

Solar Powered
Supplemental lighting evens out the egg production throughout the year. And on pasture, the most efficient way to do that is with solar, which is where Cliff’s design ultimately ended up. Before solar, he tried to use a 1,000 watt generator to power the lights. This worked until somebody forgets to start the generator or it runs out of gas or experiences other problems.

In the current design, the solar panel charges a battery bank that not only powers the lights, but it also powers the automated feed augers and the nest box timers.

Each shelter includes a one ton feed bin. The hose hanging out the back is a fill line for the water tank located inside the shelter.
Clean Eggs
Nest boxes open and close on timers, which is Cliff’s way of preventing hens from lounging in the nest boxes. Add in roll out nests boxes, and the eggs stay clean, which was his solution to dirty floor eggs in previous designs. By keeping the eggs clean, Cliff can sell unwashed eggs to his many customers who demand them. As an aside, many APPPA members have been able to keep eggs clean and hens from lounging in the nest by using curtains in front of the nests.

When the eggs roll out of the nests, they land on a conveyor belt. When collecting eggs, a person can stand on the outside of the shelter and hand crank the eggs from inside the shelter to the egg collecting station. The person collecting eggs can pack them directly into cartons or flats. 

Inside the shelter showing a 150 gallon water tank, automated feeders, nipple drinkers, roosts and nest boxes. The floor is slatted poultry floor.

Feed and Water
Each shelter has a one-ton feed bin attached to the rear of the shelter that feeds an automated feeding system. A sensor detects when the feed drops below a set point and automatically delivers more feed to the feeders.

On pasture there are a lot of humidity changes which can cause problems for the switching systems found on automated feeding systems. There are no moving parts in the sensor system, reducing the chance of a sensor failure.

Each shelter has a 150 gallon water tank inside that gravity feeds a nipple line. It can be filled through a fill line. Cliff uses a 500 gallon tanker to deliver water in the field, capable of filling a tank in less than 40 seconds.

The payoff
Cliff’s egg production is currently averaged out at 80% from the time he gets his ready-to-lay pullets. That’s up from the roughly 50% yearly average he started from. He attributes the efficiencies in shelter design to the improvement in management.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Consider Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is where a consumer buys a ‘share’ or membership/subscription of locally grown, seasonal produce directly from a farmer. Each consumer will typically get a box of vegetables or whatever products are included in their share, every week throughout the season.  Some farmers include eggs, meat, freshly baked breads, flowers or herbs in their boxes or offered as add-ons depending on the farm. 
Many farmers appreciate this program so they can spend time marketing their food earlier in the year, before their long days in the field begin. Farmers also receive payment early in the season to assist with the farm’s cash flow, they have enough money to buy seeds, supplies, and plan for expenses at the beginning of the season; they waste less money and crop by having the ability to plan out their resources more efficiently. 

They have the opportunity to grow more of a variety of produce, including heirloom varieties that you wouldn’t find in the average grocery store. Farmers will have more of an ability to market the produce they plan to grow in the future instead of trying to sell already-grown products. There is also the opportunity for farmers to get to know their customers and those who are eating the food they are producing. Some farms have introduced a ‘mix and match’ style CSA where the customer can customize what goes in their boxes instead of having one standard vegetable box for each member.

Knowing where food comes from is becoming increasingly important to families. Through a CSA, the consumer gets fresh food with great flavor and nutritional benefits. By buying from one farmer through the season, you’ll develop a relationship with the people growing your food. Exposure to new, seasonal vegetables will help you branch out and learn new recipes and ways of cooking. Kids typically favor food from ‘their’ farm when they know where it was grown. CSA’s also eliminate the middle-man in packaging and transportation. The profits are going to the growers for them to grow their businesses.

Locavores are people who eat only locally-grown produce, meat, eggs and other food products. Studies show that consuming locally-sourced food has positive health benefits. These foods may also have a higher nutritional value due to eating them closer to their time of harvest. Locally-sourced food is also less likely to be full of preservatives. Support small farmers and your local community by joining the movement. Click the links below to find CSA in your area.

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