When I can pull myself away from the farm and I’ve got a few dollars to burn I’m an avid auction-goer. To me, a good farm auction is a fun social occasion and an educational experience to boot. And if I can get a few good deals while I’m there, so much the better. So what follows are a set of tips and tricks I have observed and used in my own auction-going experiences. May they be of good use to you as well.
At the end of the day, what is a cow? Is she just so many pounds of animal flesh, a unit in a farm management scheme, a tool to be used and discarded as needed? Is she a mere producer of calves, of milk, of meat? Is she a member of the family, perhaps, or at least of the farm? Is she a pet? At the end of the day, is she still just a cow? These thoughts and more have been at the forefront of my mind these past few days as we deal — and, ultimately, dealt — with the decision of what to do with our beloved old boss cow Gail.
While the heritage breeds overcome the shortfalls of the Cornish-Rock Cross (CRX) and similar modern hybrids, they come with their own drawbacks. They do not approach the rapid growth rate, low feed conversion rates, and low production costs of the CRX, but there is a lack of information as to which breed or breeds might serve as a potential alternative for niche markets. Thus, our proposed solution was to raise a variety of heritage breed chickens on pasture, to gain a sort of foothold regarding expected growth considerations and production costs.
The question of why one ought to consider raising heritage meat chickens can be approached, I think, from two different angles: farm-based reasons for the actual raising of heritage birds, and the marketing advantages that heritage birds offer for the small farmer. Heritage chickens are a distinctly niche product, and niche production is a boon to the small farm. To be sure, pastured poultry generally is a niche product, but one that is becoming more and more common in many local markets. By opting specifically for heritage birds we further differentiate ourselves and our farm.
Ducks offer a wonderful option for the small-scale poultry keeper. They are hardy, fast-growing, present a ready market, and are much less subject to price-conscious shoppers than staple meats like chicken or beef. And chefs adore them. Ducks are good foragers, easy to herd, producers of copious amounts of fertilizing manure, and make nice pond ornaments (try that with chickens!). What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to raising ducks for meat, but rather a record of our experience. That said, we feel that this experience counts for a lot. While there are certain things that will necessarily be left out on account of this, I would argue that a farmer’s first-hand account is more valuable than a researcher’s idealized theory any day.