Raising Chickens the Natural Farming Way
Natural Farming with Indigenous Microorganisms is a method of organic farming utilizing cheap and readily available ingredients and the microbes or mycorrhizae from your own locale or farm. The entire country of South Korea has embraced this system of farming as the centerpiece for their agricultural policy. Mr. Cho, the founder, was ignored or scoffed at for years, but, after seeing the results of several large scale experiments, he has received various honors, and is now teaching over 300 agricultural agents in Korea. One of his appointments was to the UNDP, as an expert advisor with the goal of reducing the number of poor people worldwide by half. The philosophy behind Natural Farming is to return to the farmers their natural sovereignty and relationship with nature. Observation of the various stages of plant growth is important, as well as recognition of each plants inherent qualities. One of Mr. Cho’s mentors was a farmer “full of love and respect for life.” My favorite quote from Mr. Cho is, “A farmer should have parental love towards his crop and livestock. This is a heart of a true farmer…” At the same time, farmers should be able to make a living from their work. Farmers in Korea are making six figure incomes, raising chickens for egg production, raising apples, growing strawberries and more.
Natural Farming is a comprehensive system, in that almost every plant’s and animal’s need is met by inputs produced on the farm. Chickens are raised very differently from conventional poultry farming, so planning for their habitat and feeding should begin prior to getting them. If you don’t have this opportunity, their coops could be retrofitted later. They are raised, “to suit the habits, instincts and behaviors of the chickens.”
The chicken coop has a dirt floor which is 7 cm deep in litter and straw. This straw is sprayed with lactic acid bacteria* and IMO 3 to kickstart the microbial activity. During dry spells the floor should be lightly sprayed with water weekly. The microorganisms on the floor will break down the chicken feces and there will be virtually no smell. You can leave the same bedding in place for 10 – 20 years or remove as needed for fertilizer, leaving half of it in to continue the cycle. Fermentation occurs in the bedding, providing warmth, even in the winter. If a concrete floor is needed to meet health inspector’s requirements, put the bedding on top of it.
The chicken coop has a window in the roof to let natural sunlight fall on one-third of the floor area. This will disinfect the floor naturally and help the microorganisms to grow. The roof is galvanized metal, which becomes hot, heating the coop. This hot air escapes through the window and the air is refreshed from the open walls. The walls are net, with a curtain to control air flow and make it rainproof. It needs to stay dry.
Brooder boxes for newborn chicks are small. By the 2nd day the brooder box is partitioned into two boxes, with a curtain or cloth the chicks brush under as they pass through, which feels like the mother’s feathers, calming them. Compost can be put under the box at a depth of 1 to 2 meters during cold weather to provide some natural heat. An aeration pipe underneath of the compost provides more air flow. In Natural Farming heating is not provided until the temperatures drop considerably. Chickens will develop short, dense hair and resistance towards cold. The box should have a soft floor; in Korea they use rice hulls. This box is later divided into three rooms, so that the chicks rest in one room, feed in the next and water in the last. This provides exercise for the chicks also.
Water if provided for the chickens through horizontally laid PVC pipes with individual holes drilled into it. Water pipes are sized according to the size of the chicks. Until day 30, they get a 30 mm PVC pipe with holes drilled every few inches. After that, a 50 mm PVC pipe is used with larger holes. The last pipe is a 100 mm PVC pipe with larger holes. The water in the pipe should be flowing and fresh. The individual holes should be tilted slightly away from the chicks so that extra water droplets are wiped against the pipe, instead of falling onto the chick’s chest. This pipe system assures that there will always be a spot for a chick to get water, relieving crowding, a stress factor for them.
The feeder boxes are similarly graduated to suit the size of the chicks. Before their 30th day the feeders are 90 cm long and 6 cm high in the back, and 3 cm in the front. This feeder is raised off the ground after the 30th day, is 90 cm long and 15 cm deep. It is a deep V shape to allow access from both sides. The perches for the chicks should be slightly arched. The feeders should be aligned between the perch and the water pipe.
The last aspect of raising chicks is the nesting box, which the chicks should be put into from a young age so they are used to it. At first it can be brightly lit, so the hens are not afraid, then gradually darken it with a curtain.
This set up can be expanded exponentially so that one farmer can care for up to 5,000 chickens, in a gentle, healthy, humane way.
One important aspect of raising healthy chicks is feeding the freshly hatched chicks whole brown rice grains in an unlimited supply. After three days bamboo leaves are added. Other fibrous greens could be substituted. On day 50, rice husks are added, gradually making up 20-25% of the total feed for the next six months. Chicks fed this way develop a strong digestive system and long intestines. A homemade mix of bran, wild grass (chopped up), food waste and soil or sawdust can be fed at this point also. This homemade feed should be adjusted to be sure there is a nutritional balance, including oyster or clam shells for meat and calcium. Feed is given to the chicks only once a day, two hours before sunset. If rice husks aren’t available, look for wheat bran or other meal. This should be sufficient to maintain a steady laying rate for a long, productive period: twice as long as conventional methods.
There should be no pollution, no smell, no flies, no wastewater, disease or cleaning needed. The egg quality will be superior with super sturdy yokes.
*Lactic acid bacteria recipe: Lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic microorganisms that have a low Ph of 2. They can survive with or without oxygen and withstand high temperatures. They are very effective in improving soil aeration and dissolve chelates or minerals in the soil, freeing them up for plants to absorb. When plants absorb lactic acid it increases their disease and rain tolerance.
To make lactic acid, first wash rice and save the water. Take this water and fill a jar 20 cm with it. Cover it with paper to keep bugs out and let it sit in a dark spot for a week, preferably in an opaque container. It will start to give off a sour smell when it’s done. Next, pour off the rice water and add the rice water to milk, ideally raw milk, at a 10:1 ratio The lactic acid bacteria will grow vigorously in the milk. In 5-7 days the milk will have separated into the milk solids and whey. Starch, protein and fat will float on the top of the liquid which remains at the bottom. Remove the floating substance and save the liquid: this is the lactic acid bacteria. It can be stored in a refrigerator or mixed with equal parts brown sugar and stored at room temperature.
This lactic acid bacteria (LAB, in Natural Farming parlance), is diluted 1,000 times. It can be combined with IMO’s, which are mostly aerobic, and sprayed on fields. Use less LAB in the later stages of fruiting It is also used in a 3% concentration in compost, livestock water and to water plants. It is an important component of natural farming and easy to make and have on hand.
Cited: Cho Han Kyu’s Natural Farming, Janong Natural Farming Institute, 209-2 Ungok-n, Cheongan-myeon, Goesan-gun, Chungbuk, Republic of Korea. www.janong.com.