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Chicken litter at Malabar Farm.

Apparently one way to get Louis Bromfield to start experimenting was to tell him whatever he was considering either couldn't be done or it just wouldn't work. The "Chicken Litter Story" he tells in Out of the Earth is a classic example.

He noted they had raised a sizable number of chickens, both meat and layers, at Malabar Farm during WW.II and had endless trouble with coccidiosis, range paralysis, cannibalism and other ills. Each year they changed hatcheries in the hope of escaping range paralysis without any noticeable difference. While at one time they resorted to putting guards on the beaks of every hen to prevent cannibalism, he resisted the then recommended practice of putting redlens goggles on them or to paint the chicken house windows red on the theory the hens wouldn't be able to see a pecked area on another bird and gang up on it. Government guidelines also called for regular and thorough cleaning out and disinfecting of chicken houses.

Defying conventional wisdom

He further noted conventional wisdom was not to raise chickens on the same ground two years in a row nor to mix species of poultry, such as chickens with turkeys. However, they had a flock of fighting chickens which inhabited the feeding barns, flourished and brought up their young here and there without any disease. They also had a wild Tom turkey and five Bronze turkey hens and a number of pet chickens running together on the same grounds without apparent health trouble to any.

His observations were reinforced by watching neighboring farm wives who raised poultry for egg money without regularly cleaning out the litter nor constantly disinfecting the chicken house. Yet, they had no range paralysis or cannibalism and very little coccidiosis. Among their flocks, which free-ranged over the same territory year after year, the incidence of other diseases was also almost unknown.

Armed with his observations and inherent dislike for "snake oil palliatives," he ordered a drastic change in the way their chickens were raised.

All commercial poultry mashes were stopped and the chickens relieved of their false beaks. They were put on a cafeteria-style system of feeding of whole oats and corn which had been raised at Malabar (and thus had a high natural mineral content), meat scraps, oyster shells and hoppers of minerals containing some twelve elements (including cobalt, manganese and copper). Their best quality green alfalfa was hung up regularly in bunches on strings for the hens to peck at. Each hen was thereby allowed to balance her own diet according to individual needs.

They also stopped cleaning the chicken houses on a regular basis, just doing so when the height of the fresh litter piled on top of the old eventually made working in the house inconvenient. When it was cleaned, the top layers were put to the side and respread in the houses afterwards. This allowed the chickens access to the fungi, molds and bacteria which grew in the old litter and the fermented litter itself produced a kind of high protein feed. (Composed poultry litter is used as livestock feed and can constitute up to about 50 percent of its volume.)

Bromfield also went one step further with his knowledge that cattle manure contained [Vitamin B.sub.12] and his extremely healthy outside flocks and pigs had constant access to this manure. He therefore also provided fresh cattle manure to the confined chickens.

Within a few months of the change in practices, cases of range paralysis, cannibalism and coccidiosis disappeared. Egg production increased about 20 percent and their feed costs fell more than 50 percent, even considering the commercial value of the feed they raised themselves. The chicken houses were not cleaned out before new flocks were introduced with absolutely no problems.

Bromfield also practiced something similar with his dairy cattle. After over-wintering them in a loafing barn in which a pack was allowed to build up from the manure and added litter, rather than on concrete covered with a thin layer of straw, all foot problems disappeared. In addition to the beneficial effects of the fungi, molds and benevolent bacteria which thrived in the pack, he found a temperature difference of up to 40 degrees F between the top of the pack and on the straw over concrete.

Thus, when visitors notice the litter in the chicken house a foot or more thick, and livestock in stalls or in loafing barns approaching the ceiling from the height of the manure pack under them, just tell them you're doing it for the benefit of your stock.

Louis Bromfield's four books on his experiences at Malabar Farm have been reprinted by Amercon, Ltd., Box 12200, Mattluck, NY 11952 - (516)298-5100. The books are Pleasant Valley (1943), Malabar Farm (1947), Out of the Earth (1948) and From My Experience (1955).

Another book which homesteaders should find interesting is Gold in the Grass by Margaret Leatherbarrow (available for $20 postpaid from Raveaters, 9049 Covina St., San Diego, CA 92129). It is the well-told account of how they turned the poorest farm ill Wellington County, Ontario, Canada into the best farm in the area. They raised chickens much the same way as Bromfield's revised practices, with the exception of also providing them the same silage they fed to their cattle. They were given all they would clean up from morning feeding to noon. They found it cut their concentrate requirements in half and significantly increased the percentage of Grade A Large and larger eggs. If you don't put up your own silage, you may be able to buy it by the garbage can full from a local dairy.
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Title Annotation:research farm
Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:940
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