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Your monthly donation will support Acres U.S.A.’s efforts to provide farmers free valuable learning materials about proven ecological and economical agricultural practices. Friends who make monthly donations will be connected with big discounts on subscriptions, books and our events.

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Give a one-time donation to support Acres U.S.A.’s efforts to provide farmers free valuable learning materials about proven ecological and economical agricultural practices.

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Custom Donation: Call General Manager Ryan Slabaugh at 970-392-4475 to discuss how you or your company can sponsor a channel of content.

Support Eco-Agriculture Information for the World

The freedom to pass information between generations, communities and neighbors is one of the foundations of regenerative agriculture. This is why the educational leaders at Acres U.S.A., founded in 1971, created a free tool for farmers, ranchers and growers to learn specific tactics related to their trade.
Your donation directly supports our efforts to create useful educational content: articles, audio lectures, videos, podcasts, online events and more. We follow the example our farming audience has set for 50 years: we never settle for production scarcity. Your donation allows us to create learning tools with a more positive goal: abundance.
As our way of saying thank you, when you donate $29 or more, you will receive an email from our team connecting you with an amazing offer: a free 1-year digital subscription to Acres U.S.A. magazine (a $29 value).

* is free service provided by Acres U.S.A., a for-profit organization. This is not a tax-deductible donation. Acres U.S.A. reserves the right to refuse any donations.

One-Time Donation

Give a one-time donation to support Acres U.S.A.’s efforts to provide farmers free valuable learning materials about proven ecological and economical
agricultural practices.

Monthly Donation

Your monthly donation will support Acres U.S.A.’s efforts to provide farmers free valuable learning materials about proven ecological and economical agricultural practices. Friends who make monthly donations will be connected with big discounts on subscriptions, books and our events.

Savory Global Network Adapts to Coronavirus Pandemic

The Savory Global Network, an international collective of regenerative farms and ranches, is feeling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The group cancelled its global gathering scheduled to take place in Australia March 24 to 28. We at Acres U.S.A. wanted to know how the pandemic affecting the farming businesses, agritourism and personal lives of Savory Global Network farmers, ranchers and hub leaders in the United States. The hub leaders and producers weighed in from various regions. Overall, it seems those who are living on farms feel secure because of their the ability to grow their own food. They say online sales are booming (so much that teams are working around the clock to fulfill orders). However, revenue streams from agritourism and AirBnB rentals have dried up.

Abbey Smith

  • Jefferson Center for Holistic Management/Springs Ranch
  • Fort Bidwell, California

The Jefferson Center is a small business offering Holistic Management and Ecological Outcome Verification implementation support and training to farmers and ranchers in our region. We operate remotely as a network of Holistic Management professionals across California and Oregon. There is a team of five people supporting the Jefferson Center and its network. We all work remotely, so business continues as usual during this time of social distancing. The Jefferson Center operates on Springs Ranch. We produce grassfed beef for our community, selling beef through Modoc Harvest, a local food hub. Local restaurants buy our beef through Modoc Harvest. So far we haven’t noticed a drop off in sales. Modoc County is sparsely populated and very remote. There are far more cattle in our county than people. Mandates from the state of California that schools close and 4H events be postponed feel unnecessary for our small communities. 

Our family started a Local Food Experience challenge last June for a whole year. This means we are coming into the final months of our local food year, and are “in shape” for the shock of bare grocery store shelves. This is because we rarely go to the grocery store. We have the room and infrastructure set up to grow, preserve and store our own food. We put up a lot of food in the summer and fall (apples, pears, tomatoes, cherries, squash, etc.), we have freezers full of meat from the ranch and our neighbors and most importantly, we’ve developed a network of local, regenerative farms and ranches in Surprise Valley, and across Northern California to source veggies, olive oil, potatoes, wild rice, etc. from. For example, our friends at Shakefork Community Farm in Carlotta, California, attended our Holistic Financial Planning course in Febrruary. We bought 50 pounds of winter veggies from them, which they brought to the course. Here is a list of farms we recommend visiting and purchasing products from across California. It is fascinating to us that during a time of prescribed isolation, we most fully realized (and appreciated) the strength of the network of friends and farmers upon which we deeply depend. 

Julie Davenson

  • Executive Director, Stonewall Farm
  • Keen, New Hampshire
  • 30 head organic and regenerative dairy, 3 acres of organic and no-till crops, agritourism business

Covid-19 has significantly impacted our business, especially the agritourism part that includes private event rentals, weddings, farm tours and school field trips. This revenue kept afloat our small-scale dairy and crops that were not very profitable. We have had to cancel programs, events and classes and refund deposits, with no future revenue forthcoming in the future. We have the ability to ramp up some production to meet local food consumption demand, but not without some immediate assistance. Customers are not coming to the farm. They’re mostly staying at home and we are not set-up for online ordering or delivery. In addition, milk is a highly perishable product and the only way to shop is on the milk truck, and away from our community. We need it to stay local.

I think small farmers need to connect with each other and figure out what we can do to support each other in this time of need but there is little time as we ramp up for grazing season and crops. We have also had to furlough most of our staff. We are trying to bottle and sell milk locally but we are going through the state’s slow licensing process.

Carrie Richards

  • Oregon House, California
  • Richards Land and Cattle/Richards Grassfed Beef
  • 6,500 acres, 150 mother cows, 75 ewes

At our home ranch, COVID-19 has not significantly affected us socially. Our ranch is in a rural place, so stocking up on supplies at the grocery store, is a part of life. With that said, usually at this time of year we sell a few bulls and a load of yearlings at the auction. We will be holding those animals, given that the cattle market has basically dropped out. This time of year that will not effect us given that the grass is starting to explode, but if this market continues, we may have to hold them into the summer months where feeding can get expensive.

As for the beef company, Richards Grassfed Beef, we have seen a whole different side of the spectrum. While restaurant and food service sales are in the tank, grocery sales and online is way up.

Our online retail site has seen the kind of growth that one can only wish for, but with that comes supply issues. In a week we have run out of multiple items, and all the while trying to keep our grocery store customers happy with their added deliveries and product increases. This dramatic growth is wonderful and really difficult to keep up with. Our amazing customers are being patient and working with us through this crazy time. 

As a mom, wife, daughter, ranch manager and business owner, I am having a hard time navigating it all. We made the decision to not home school when we moved back to the ranch four years ago and here we are, trying to make this all work in a time of extreme uncertainty. We have reached out to family and friends and have been given a lot of support, and we are so grateful for it. But caring for my family, my father (who lives here on the ranch), our ranch and business is becoming increasingly harder by the day.

Thank you to all the other farmers and ranchers out there working double time trying to get their products into the grocery stores, meal delivery services, farmers markets and online stores. This has been a whirlwind of a week and we are all in this together.  Keep supporting small businesses and let’s get creative on how to support all the businesses that have been forced to close during this time, we are better together!

Walker Kehrer

  • Becker, Minnesota
  • Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed, 100% Grassfed Beef
  • 10,000+ processed animals per year

We sell almost all of our meat in grocery stores and because of the virus, people have been cleaning out grocery stores — so our sales have gone up immensely and its been a real challenge to fulfill all of the orders that we are getting. But having more orders is always a good thing, so we are thankful for the business.

People are definitely choosing to panic buy in this time so they are going to the grocery store and buying as much as possible. They are basically just buying whatever they can get their hands on.

At this point things are a little uncertain as they are for most people but we feel pretty confident that we can supply our customers and support our families at this time. At least we will continue to try our best!

I think this is the perfect time for small farmers to show their resilience and their ability to help stabilize the country in a time of panic. People are placing tons of orders and if you can supply them and support them you might have gained a huge new following going forward.

We will all get through this together and people that are providing nutrient-dense food for the country are the most important people we can have right now.

Jodi Benoit

  • Bluffton, Georgia
  • White Oak Pastures 
  • Includes 3,200 acres and employ 150 people

We have worked very hard to upgrade our website the last couple of years so we could focus on our online store. We have felt a large rush of orders through our website since the Covid-19 breakout. We are focused on replenishing our online inventory, and will not let our customers down. We are committed to feeding our community and friends who have supported us and our journey to regenerative agriculture.

As long as our employees are healthy, we do not anticipate any problems. We pray that they will remain healthy and safe.

Small farmers should be sure they have a system in place to get their products to consumers. It is more important now than ever to know and support your farmer.

Compiled by Abbey Smith

Farmers Resilient as Coronavirus Halts Economy

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed many businesses, including many farmers’ markets. However, farmers are finding ways to serve their customers. Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Leigh Glenn

From a “social distancing” perspective, shuttering farmers’ markets where people congregate may seem wise. But from the standpoint of helping people maintain good nutrition and greater immunity through the freshest and highest quality food possible? Perhaps not so much. But the farmers, growers and producers who tend to sell direct-to-eater at the markets are finding some inventive workarounds, including coming together in cooperative fashion to pool their wares, providing eaters ways to pre-order and pick up—which eliminates the possible spread of the virus through cash-handling—and even offering home delivery.

In St. Petersburg, Florida, with its huge Saturday Morning Market, it was not the market coordinators, but the city that decided to close the market, which had closed the week before the decision was made because the city was hosting the Firestone Grand Prix, an event that was also cancelled over the fear of spreading the new coronavirus.

“The city made the decision and I wrote several emails to them,” says Saturday Morning Market director Gail Eggeman. She offered to change the market so that the 12 farmers and 15 prepared-food vendors could continue to provide food safely.

“The food found at Market is important to people and to our community,” she says. “We have a SNAP program that offers match up to $40 for farm food. It is important to me that we have … small farmers selling in our community. It will hurt as this is our best growing season.”

Nearby grocery stores, of course, are still open, but with limited hours to allow employees to clean. 

The farmers’ market in St. Petersburg had already had pre-paid sales through a website,, with various pick-ups available. And after some back and forth, the city agreed to allow a customer pick-up.

Farmer Ellen Trimarco, with who Cole Turner, owns and operates Little Pond Farm in Bushnell, Florida, typically sees a steady stream of customers at the market, which is about an hour south of the farm. When the market opens, they have robust piles of rainbow carrots, all kinds of greens, boxes of red, yellow and orange sweet peppers, strawberries, turmeric and other herbs, plus flowers. The two, along with their crew, decided to cancel the farm tour they had scheduled for March 15 and had gotten somewhat ahead of the market closure, in that they decided to offer pre-ordered, pre-set vegetable share boxes for non-members of their CSA — people who might normally have bought from them at the market.

Asked how farmers are coping, Trimarco says, “Some with a CSA model are just accepting a cut in wholesale and markets and trying to do the best they can. Some are doing more home delivery.”

Trimarco, who was an infectious-disease fellow at the Centers for Disease Control during the H1N1 outbreak, says they “immediately thought we would do a box since it is the most low-touch offering and customers can pre-pay, eliminating the need for our staff to handle money and put themselves at risk.”

With roots in St. Petersburg, they “hit up community Facebook groups and all of our friends asking them to share our online store with veggie boxes,” she says. “It worked! People really want to help get nutritious food out there and the community support for our operation was evident, too. We are committed to getting our food out there and in the hands of our members, so it’s time to get creative!”

Farmers aren’t dwelling on the disparities between market closures and grocery stores remaining open, though they certainly understand the connection between the importance of what they grow to people’s health as well as food security. 

“I think there is a connection there,” Trimarco says. “While grocery stores are being bought out, farms are growing acres of produce nearby. The ties we have made with our community over the past seven years are evident as we can come together and be nourished, and nourish our community, in a time of need. I think small businesses can be resilient like that, because of that connection. It’s a great reminder to reconnect if you haven’t already, after this is all over, with a farmer in your area.”

At the farm, Trimarco and Turner printed the CDC information page about COVID-19 so that the crew understands what it is. They also created new requirements for hygiene and discussed that at their morning meeting. Some of those requirements include washing and sanitizing hands — on-farm and off, especially after touching surfaces; changing gloves if they’ve touched their face or common surfaces when harvesting; and ending the practice of doing a community veggie box for the crew from market leftovers. Instead, the crew will harvest what they need directly from the field. Trimarco says they also are not reusing containers or boxes.

“Every precaution is necessary,” she says. “The CDC states produce kept in refrigeration for a few days will not have contagion, but we want to protect each other and our customers.”

Other farmers who typically sell at the Saturday Morning Market are working cooperatively, where someone whose main products are meat, poultry and eggs may be selling pre-ordered/pre-paid produce, bread or ferments on behalf of other small farmers and producers.

Up north, the Virginia Farmers Market Association (VAFMA) on St. Patrick’s Day urged members, farmers and customers to contact Virginia Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring to urge her to equate markets with grocery stores for purposes of COVID-19 containment policies. Certain markets, such as Charlottesville’s, which are operated under the city’s Parks & Recreation department, have closed for now, though the state has not mandated farmers markets to close.

Brent Wills, president of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, which shared the VAFMA’s petition letter to Ring, sees “a definite increase in awareness of local food production.” The markets in his area — Roanoke — which are run by the nonprofit Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP), will stay open, but with enhanced guidelines for vendors and customers. These include asking customers to wash or sanitize their hands; spacing out vendor tables; pre-bagging produce as well as asking customers not to handle the produce, but to point to what they would like and have the farm crew bag it for them; reducing the number of people congregating; discontinuing children’s activities and asking customers, if possible, not to bring children to the market; ending food sampling; and forgoing card processing fees to encourage people to pay by credit or debit to minimize cash-handling.

Wills and his wife, Anna, operate pastured pork and poultry farm Bramble Hollow in Montvale, Virginia. They aren’t too concerned about COVID-19’s impact on their business, because they’ve anticipated such shake-ups in the commercial food supply and rely on their own ability to adapt and maintain resilience. Their intention is to meet the immediate needs of their customers by minimizing farm visits and encouraging a central, outside meeting place for picking up farm products. They’ll also box orders on-farm to limit handling and invoice in advance and urge online or credit-card sales to reduce hand-to-hand exchanges of cash and checks. And like some of the producers in West Central Florida, Bramble Hollow is working cooperatively with two other farm to scale up CSA shares to reduce in-person contact while diversifying their product offerings.

But they also want to help people who rely on commercial supply lines for most of their food to look not only to local farms, but also to their own back yards.

“A backyard flock of egg layers is where most people begin in this effort,” Anna says. “I think this may mean an increased demand for pullets and day-old chicks from local sources. So we are setting more eggs for incubation than what our farm may need, to be in a position to provide stock for backyard flocks when the demand rises. Will people with the space want to have a few more tomato plants and maybe branch out into some other vegetables? I hope so!”

Brent Wills says it’s a shame it takes something like COVID-19 to create the opportunity to highlight food security and access. But it also is an opportunity for small farms to shine. Anna Wills agrees. “Small farmers are resilient,” she says. “Small farmers are able and eager to continue to provide safe, clean and nourishing food. I think small farms will be the thread that holds together community food systems when others may begin to unravel.”

How Small Farms Can Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

Interview by Allie Hymas

Kelsey Jorisson Olesen is the owner and operator of Green Willow Homestead in Franklin, Wisconsin. In addition to running her sustainable, low-waste farm featuring pastured chicken and organic vegetables, Jorisson Olesen provides online classes and materials to farmers who want to improve their marketing, sales and customer communication strategies.

We asked Jorisson Olesen to give us some tips and advice to share with farmers who want to protect their farm income during the COVID-19 health crisis and continue to provide healthy, immune-system-supporting food, especially when people need it the most.

Acres U.S.A.: A health crisis like the one we’re facing presents both challenges and opportunities to farmers. Describe what makes farm-fresh foods such a valuable intersection of our offerings and customers’ needs right now.

Jorisson Olesen: With the current outbreak of Covid-19 we are in an extremely unique position to be of service to our potential or current customers. Online sales are surging right now. As more and more people are working remotely and wisely choosing to stay home, e-commerce has exploded. I’ve had multiple farmers share with me how their online shop sales have tripled in the last week.

Customers are craving security and safety during this scary time. The thought of going to a grocery store poses a myriad of risks to someone during the Covid-19 outbreak. The grocery store could be out of what they need, they could be immune-suppressed, or they simply don’t have the means to get to a grocery store as public transit systems begin to shut down. 

By dealing directly with a local farmer, they can speak to an actual person in charge. You know what your farm has in stock, you may have the capability to do at home delivery or community drop-offs, and you can adapt much quicker than a grocery store chain as events unfold.

Acres U.S.A.: To be honest, I feel a bit guilty about discussing this crisis in the context of my business. What can I do about that? What language should I avoid to not sound sleazy? What language should I focus on to bring it back to the fact that I legitimately have something that people need right now?

Jorisson Olesen: To put it simply, when customers have a problem, your businesses’ job is to solve that problem. There is absolutely nothing sleazy about solving your customer’s problem through your farm’s products. As more and more people are unable to get what they need at a grocery store as our supply chains begin to buckle under Covid-19’s pressure, your farm that sells direct to consumer is an immediate solution to this issue. 

The best language to use is to first acknowledge what is happening in the world right now. Bring attention and acknowledge awareness of Covid-19 with your wording. Then, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself what pain points are they facing right now: 

  • Are they scared to leave their home because they are immune-suppressed or elderly? Then acknowledge that scenario, explain how customers can order online, and offer up a solution by delivering to their door.
  • Are they concerned because in the past you’ve only accepted cash in hand? Then address that you are now taking payments online and thoroughly explain how it works for your tech-challenged customers.
  • Are customers scared you are going have things go out of stock? Then acknowledge that fear and address it with your farm’s particular situation.

You need to walk your customers through the process of how your farm can safely get food in their bellies. Selling is always psychological, and the more you can acknowledge your customer’s problems or fears and then soothe them with solutions the better. There is no need to feel sleazy about this, you and your farm are helping people.

Kelsey Jorisson Olesen

Acres U.S.A.: What are some solid strategies for keeping sales up during the COVID-19 outbreak? Can you list additional ways farmers can market their products without in-person events like the farmer’s market?

Jorisson Olesen: To keep sales up during Covid-19 you need to first consistently maintain your farm’s presence online. This immediately builds discoverability for potential customers in your community as more people turn to the online world to support themselves. What this looks like in action:

  • Start posting to local Facebook Groups and get your farm’s presence and products out there.
  • Get your email marketing software set up. Email marketing allows you to gather potential or existing customers’ email addresses and communicate directly with them. The added benefit is that while not everyone has a social media account, they most certainly will have an email address. By emailing info out, your farm’s message doesn’t risk getting lost in the Facebook or Instagram feed’s algorithm (psst! Mailerlite is offering three free months to new users to help small businesses).
  • Start posting blogs on your farm’s website explaining how your farm is going to work through Covid-19 to serve its customers then share those posts on Facebook, Instagram, and in your email marketing.
  • Network with other local farmers immediately so you can refer customers to each other in the event that there are shortages. Create a game plan on how you can support each other during this rapidly evolving situation. Customers will feel taken care of, as will your fellow farmers.
  • Ask existing loyal customers to share your farm’s website with three friends in the area or share your page to their own profiles to spread the word.
  • Post daily during this time, whether it’s a simple peaceful video of you working with your hens or an informative post on how you are offering a specific product. Consistently builds trust, trust leads to sales.
  • Most importantly, have an online shopping experience for your customers. An online store is crucial during this time. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to ship products, you can fulfill orders by doing community drop-offs, home delivery, or on-farm pickup.

Acres U.S.A: Why is e-commerce important to farms, now more than ever?

Jorisson Olesen: As more and more people are working remotely, sheltering in place, and practicing social distancing, we as farmers have a responsibility to shift with these turbulent times to keep our customers fed. With farmers markets and restaurants closing down, our cash flow has to turn to online purchases or our farms won’t have the capital to survive either.

Consumers were evolving and beginning to favor online purchasing experiences long before Covid-19 hit the US, but now it’s no longer an option. Having an online shopping experience for customers is mandatory in order for your farm business to survive.

Acres U.S.A: How can farmers make sure they’re staying safe while not losing income?

Jorisson Olesen: One thing that keeps coming up for us as well as our farmers we network with is cash purchases. Exchanging cash has become an issue of continuing to spread the virus. We have to allow our customers to pay online for their safety and ours.

  • When you are doing home deliveries, leave them in front of the door and try not to make contact with customers. Send them a text or give them a call when their delivery has arrived.
  • For those with on-farm store sales, inform your customers to maintain social distancing while shopping. If you are manning a register, wear gloves and try to let your customer handle as much of the transaction as possible when checking out (don’t take their card from them). Have hand sanitizer at the ready!
  • If you have a farmstand on the honesty system, again encourage customers to not use cash and instead pay via PayPal or Venmo. Have instructions on display as to how they can go about doing this. Be sure to set out hand sanitizer for customers if you have point-of-contact items like a fridge to open.
  • With both the on-farm store and the honesty-system farmstand, be sure to sanitize regularly for your safety and others.
  • If you have workshops or classes that you offer on the farm, instead of canceling the class, consider live streaming it on Facebook or Instagram. You can even record it in advance then upload the video file to a secret page on your website that you then share with ticket buyers. 
  • If you already offer online sales, I highly suggest ramping up your drop-off schedules so you can accommodate more customers and get food to customers in a timely fashion.
  • Lastly, to network and create a game plan with farmers in your area, use a video conferencing app like Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom instead of meeting face to face.

To learn more about Kelsey Jorissen Olsen, Green Willow Homestead and The Cultivating Capital Course visit, Instagram @kelseyjorissen, and Facebook at

Why Soil pH Testing is Misunderstood


Recently, the centennial of the discovery of pH as a measurement tool relevant to biological systems has come and gone quietly across the world. Displaced from its early historical roots, the importance of testing the acidity of soil as pH, is virtually taken for granted today in farming and gardening circles. It’s a good time to take a refresher course on the topic, asking what is pH exactly and how does it apply as a management tool in biological farming?

Firstly, pH is a chemistry concept and clearly appears to be used in the conventional and organic farming movements to almost an equal extent. It has attained universal acceptance and applicability. And limestone, the “antidote” for soil acidity, considered a “natural” soil amendment, is used without any reservations in organic farming.

We are all very familiar with the popular farming and gardening charts seen in virtually all the literature that tell us that plants are sensitive to pH values. Also, quite popular are nutrient tables showing how much the solubility and availability of plant nutrients is affected by soil pH reaction. This information is used to make recommendations for corrective actions, including the addition of limestone, the choice of crops, the adjustment of soil mineral balances, and more. It is hard to imagine ignoring these precautions.

Sorensen’s Platinum-Hydrogen Electrode, from 1912, enabling the very first measurements of
the extremely tiny quantities of free hydrogen present as acidity in living systems.

Yet, a review of the origin of pH and how it became applied to soils, raises some challenging if not disturbing questions about all these popular assumptions. If we consider this along with the organic and ecological premise of fostering soil/plant self-regulation and improving native soil biodiversity, the concept of needing to adjust pH according to some abstract principle of long-forgotten origin deepens the mystery.

The author’s curiosity about soil pH increased recently due to a farm soil study in New England that compared variability of soil chemistry tests on 18 differing dairy farms. We chose dairy farms since they mostly re-use all their manures and possess to a high degree a nutrient sustainability groundwork, even if not organic. The comparison of differing soil tests concluded that pH appeared to be the least variable soil variable between fields and across all farms in 3 states, compared to nutrients like Ca, Mg, and especially phosphorus, which were the most variable. Curiously, pH stood out as showing very little variability, which looked not only improbable but distinctly requiring more investigation. This was especially the case as Ohio State University has recently promoted the idea that pH testing is so reliable that it should be “the gold standard,” which in fact it is not.


A long time ago, around 1909, the Danish physiologist and mathematician Søren Peter Lauritz Sorensen first developed the concept of pH, basing it on extensive studies on how much our bodily enzymes are affected by soluble hydrogen ions, the cause of acidity. Living organisms possess an extraordinary pH control system, especially the blood, and this metabolic process bathes all the supported interconnected organs in a remarkably buffered stream that resists change. Only a tiny drop — a ¼ pH unit in the blood, for example — can mean death.

For Sorensen, the problem was that the concentration of dissolved hydrogen was so extremely low and varied so much over such a vast range, that he proposed compressing it to report it logarithmically, such as by 10-6, 10-7 and so forth. This could be compared to the common practice in counting soil bacteria and fungi and reporting them in log terms like 2.5 x 106 instead of real numeric terms such as “2,500,000 cells.”

As a result of this variance, Sorensen came up with the concept of “pH”, literally meaning “potenz Hydrogen.” Next, he created a standardized scale for it, where only coincidentally, the mid-point meant a solution that was neither acid nor alkaline, or “neutral.” To popularize this pH scale, he dropped the base (10) notations altogether and instead just used the mantissa portion of the logarithm. This was still too complicated, so to further simplify, he also removed the negative exponent sign! The result was that now an acidity concentration of 10-7 ions (0.0000001 H+) became simply “pH 7.0.” At one point, Sorensen became concerned that people misunderstood that the acidity scale “goes in reverse,” meaning that higher numbers mean lower acidity. Today, this does not seem to concern us as we have been taught that low pH means more acidity.

More revealing is the implication of the logarithmic compression. What does this mean? Some scientists call it “normalization” when you take highly variable numbers and compress them to remove the uncertainty. With what Sorensen did, in effect, a pH of 7 was 10-times less acid than pH 6 – i.e. the difference between 10-7 vs 10-6. Looking more closely, a pH of 6.0 is twice as acid as 6.25. This indicates the hugeness of this compression. In other words, small differences in reported pH represent large differences in actual acidity. In fact, in view of this huge compression in pH values, it is difficult to comprehend how the popular literature deduces that nutrients and plants are “pH sensitive” — clearly nearly the opposite is the case.

Popular representation of dependency of soil nutrients on pH. The information is not practical.

The use of pH concepts for soils, does not appear in Sorensen’s time at all, but only in the late 1930s, and really only after World War II. In fact, Sorensen, in spite of and perhaps because of his brilliance, did not anticipate that pH applied to soil at all. When asked what other systems on earth the concept and measurement of pH would be relevant to, he commented that it would be the oceans. This is an extraordinary and insightful remark. It is now known that the oceans buffer pH change almost in the way blood does, and all the sea organisms that are bathed in it, depend on this.

The adaption of pH to soils posed a new challenge. Soils are not liquid and thus testing them violated Sorensen’s basic rule that acidity must be soluble to be accurately reported. This problem was first tackled in the post WWII years, with the expansion of mining of soil minerals and limestone and applications to commercial needs.

The basic soil explanation is often expressed as this: Hydrogen ions (the source of acidity) carry a positive charge (this is why it can be measured electrometrically). Soil particles, especially clays, carry negative charges on their surfaces and so positively charged hydrogen ions adhere to soil particles to a degree. Water, the most common solute for soil pH testing, has a poor ability to release the acidity present, since it carries no particular charge.

Soil scientists in Europe have long been aware of this problem and prefer extraction methods such as very dilute calcium chloride (CaCl2) or potassium chloride (KCl) solutions to test soil pH, since these natural compounds displace the hydrogen ions from their attachment to soil particles fairly completely, so that they are actually being measured in the soil solution, Sorensen’s basic requirement. We can know exactly the pH of a physiologic fluid such as blood, since it is in solution, but in soils the real pH cannot be so easily known using only water and extracting only a portion of the real amount. In fact, the actual pH of soil is now known to be ½ – to 1 log digit lower than measured in water; i.e. the acidity that plants are actually experiencing is 7-10 times stronger than common plant and nutrient charts suppose, making these pH-sensitivity tables even more problematic.

Early cautionary notes by scientists about this dilemma in attempting to measure soil pH properly indicated that pH measurements must be carried out using an electrolyte solution of known composition, otherwise soil tests cannot be compared. In most respects, this issue was never resolved pro or con, and instead, the debate just lessened over time. This follows the principle in science and chemistry, namely that errors that are not life threatening and persist for long enough become accepted, requiring a huge effort later to overthrow

What this means really in the soil pH world is that in order to obtain comparable results from different soils, the exact method needs to be published. For a variety of industry and scientific reasons, as above suggested, this also never happened, and discussion and debate around this theme simply was dropped.

If there was any resistance to changing this requirement, namely that methods be published and measurement be based on the real, complete release of active hydrogen in soil, it may have been due to the fact that modern charts and tables for “pH preferences” became in time based on the simpler, but much less accurate soil-water method of testing acidity.

If we take these facts alone, it should make it obvious that from a biology perspective, plants (and nutrients) are actually remarkably pH-insensitive. In fact, unlike our knowledge of acidity in bodily fluids, we really don’t know what the real plant and nutrient thresholds are. They exist across a wide range of conditions. There is in fact no proper soil-water solution and therefore there is no ideal soil pH to be obtained, and in nature, no ecological pH-balancing system in soils exists comparable to ocean-buffering or physiologic fluid homeostasis. To understand soil pH, you have to examine the geologic legacy of a soil and its plant communities.

The fact as we have established that plants are fairly insensitive to a wide range of soil acidity should not be a surprise, and is ecologically of huge significance. We have only to consider the wide range of environments within which plants have evolved and adapted-to over millennia. Furthermore, as more becomes known, it turns out plant species diversity such as at the pasture level, is nearly inversely proportional to pH as acidity — i.e. if you manipulate it upwards, plant diversity, if not accustomed to higher pH values, will decline markedly.

This linkage of native soil mineral-balance to what we will call “natural pH” and to native diversity and animal health in situ, was substantiated in the famously comprehensive studies conducted out of Linz, Austria in the late 1960s. These examined soil mineral-plant-animal conditions in four agricultural regions of the country and measured dairy-herd health against biotic and mineral diversity. Ultimately, the healthiest farms were the ones that had not altered to any extent the native soil mineral composition and especially not applied lime to significantly alter pH balances outside of what was geologically indicated by the local soil origin. Yet these studies were largely ignored outside Austria (today Austria has the largest percentage of arable land area in organic farming (24%), undoubtedly partly because they figured this out early and put it into extension work, which helped make organic soil practices so much more cost effective with herd health improving drastically.

An increasing amount of ecological studies, to the extent they can penetrate the severely chemistry-dominated world of agronomy, are anticipated to show that plant biodiversity leading to forage quality and good nutrition will generally depend on not significantly manipulating soil pH (and other nutrient factors). The author grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania around arable soils that graded from the richer Lancaster-type Alfisols to piedmont soils of Ultisol taxonomy, and management requirements were drastically different. On the Ultisols, adding lime significantly and rapidly reduces trace element uptake in forage, but not so 30-miles west on the geologically distinct Alfisols, which are more resilient.

In any event, the continued emphasis in popular guides on the pH sensitivity of plants and nutrient availability based on pH, and the need to manipulate based on generalized concepts, is arbitrary if not misleading, particularly so for organic and eco farming.


There are several conclusions that can be drawn. Popular charts on pH preferences for plants and minerals provide virtually meaningless information for any specific, local situation and should rarely be used.

An early “lesson” received was when the author interviewed Scott Nearing around 1973, in reference to growing blueberries organically. The author asked if Scott controlled soil pH, since all the popular literature tells us that blueberries “require low soil pH.” He responded that this was “totally unnecessary” and that he didn’t know why, attributing it, partly correctly, to the “power” of compost additions to soil. Why would that be? Curiously, we don’t have a good chemistry theory yet as to why organic and biodynamic farms evolve to become virtually pH insensitive, but this exercise may suggest the answer. Living systems exercise pH management internally and “communicate” it with surrounding environments. Nature possesses unique skills at overcoming pH restrictions. In organic management, it is hardly desirable to recommend manipulation, unless in the rarer cases of counteracting elements that in some weathered soils — prevalent in New England — can lead to phytotoxic effects, such as aluminum ion. Aluminum can interact harshly with phosphorus, for example, but only does so on certain soil taxonomic groups, and not at all in others. Similarly, soils with magnesite in parent material won’t ever likely need magnesium for animal nutrition, nor need it to be re-balanced for pH reasons; in these cases, the care should be to make sure plants don’t indicate any calcium deficiencies. The point is, not to control the pH, but where appropriate seek to reduce the aluminum activity, which may be the cause of phosphorus deficiency and to some extent calcium deficiencies, and vice versa, in limestone derived soils in which manures and fertilizers that possess free acidity, can improve phosphorus uptake.

The good news for ecological farming, especially at the farm scale, is that soil pH adjustment may be less important than previously believed, but also more intrinsic for biology than truly recognized. After all, the blood-based living kingdoms and the oceans depend on a tight acidity-control system. In many ways, the very early work and insights of Sorensen, and his hesitancy to see pH as relevant to soils, has cast a long, questioning shadow over a century, from which we are now recovering.

W.F. Brinton, Ph.D. is the owner and founder of Woods End Laboratories, Inc in Mount Vernon, Maine. This article modified from “The Case of soil pH” in Biodynamics (2019).

Cover Crop Grazing on a Vegetable Farm


Wayne Brown and his family graze cattle and breeding ewes all over the San Luis Valley’s high desert. Over the past three decades in Mosca, Colorado, the family has increased their herd numbers and found economic stability through long-term grazing agreements with farmers.

“We don’t have a ranch with enough acreage to do the ranch thing,” Brown said. “We are buying feed wherever I can find it throughout the year. Knowing you have a place you can go back to is big. It is a relief.”

Three years ago, Brown heard that Brendon Rockey, 42, a specialty potato farmer in Center, Colorado, had cover crops that he was turning into the soil at the end of the growing season. At the time, Rockey was terminating the crop as green manure because a previous grazing arrangement fell apart. Cattle broke through an electric fence, resulting in calls to the sheriff, angry neighbors and a threat to the cash crops. The deal was off.

“Planting a cover crop does not automatically mean you improve your soil health,” Rockey said. “You can actually send it the other direction. Same thing with cattle. Managing the cattle correctly improves your soil health.”

Finding a responsible rancher to graze cover crops in the middle of potato country was seemingly impossible. Rockey needed someone willing to take full responsibility for the labor, someone who could respond to an emergency within the day and respect government livestock and vegetable production regulations. There was interest from a certified organic rancher in the area, but Rockey is not certified organic. Despite his intensive biological practices, the absence of this label prevented that potential partnership.

When Brown heard about Rockey’s cover crops, he presented him with a plan that posed minimal risk — a plan that, if executed, would meet all his conditions and Brown’s, too. The first season, they agreed on grazing calf-cow pairs on an annual cover crop mix from July through the late fall using an electric fence around the perimeter of a 120-acre circle and a 60-acre half circle under center-pivot irrigation. under center-pivot irrigation.

Colorado rancher Wayne Brown and his sheep in the Rio Grande National Forest.


The keys to successful cover crop grazing on a vegetable farm are tonnage, time, water and fencing.

“Is there enough?” Brown said he asks himself when considering entering into an agreement with a farmer. “If it takes me three days to get ready, I want more than a week — the longer, the better. You don’t want to drive all day for one cow.”

During the winter months, Brown’s goal is to maintain his 60 head of Angus crossbred cows and 800 head of Merino breeding ewes. He grazes his livestock all year except for during spring calving and lambing when the animals are bale-fed at his ranch.

“Those are the most expensive months when you are feeding hay,” he said.

When he is grazing cattle in a circle with center-pivot irrigation, Brown uses a two-strand electric fence around the outer perimeter and runs one strand of fencing from the center pivot to the perimeter to create a pie slice in the circle. Every forth post on the perimeter is a t-post. He runs a second strand from the center pivot to this post to create a second pie slice. This design, he said, makes it easier to control the cattle when they open up the subsequent paddock. It creates a “leap frog” situation.

“It is a portable fence you can move everyday,” he said. “You decide on how big of a piece you want grazed depending on what the farmer wants. You want to clean it up and figure how long it will last.”

Brown’s cows spend 8 to 10 months out of the year behind a hot wire, and understand that they must eat everything — including, most importantly to the farmer, weeds.

Nutritional value is a crucial factor. Based on the number of cattle Brown turns out in the field and the forecasted time it will take to graze each pie slice, Rockey choses to plant his cover crops in phases to accommodate the cattle’s diet. This timing also ensures the cover crop won’t go to seed too early and reestablish on the farm the following year.

“You assume the nutritional value will be there and for the most part it is,” Brown said. “You have to go off of the body condition of the cow. You have to visually be watching and that is tough because it can change quick.”

Brown’s bulls have foundered on Rockey Farms because the feed is too rich, resulting in sore feet. One remedy, he said, is bringing in roughage. However, convincing the cattle to eat it is not easy. He’s found giving the animals time to adapt is the best first reaction.

Brown turns out his cattle on to five to six farms throughout the year. Some of the fields, especially those that are only one or two cover crop species, are also very rich. It seems that the more diverse the mix, the healthier the animal.

Last fall, Brown found fresh feed for 1,400 breeding ewes on a 60-acre mature cover crop half circle that rotates with Rockey Farm’s specialty seed potato lots. The 17-day graze was completed without a hitch, and the expected carbon cycle and weed control benefits are highly down into the pit on a regular basis.

Cows graze a Rockey Farm’s cover crop in mid-July. Water tanks are placed at the center pivot for easy access.


For Rockey Farms, the economics of grazing Brown’s livestock is the foundation of the relationship. The pasture rent, calculated per head, balances out the seed costs, reduces the farmer’s labor and complements the carbon cycle.

“I don’t have to go out and mow anymore,” Rockey said, emphasizing that the livestock are controlling unwanted pigweed without compacting the soil. “This is another huge advantage. Then there is the nutrient cycling — the stimulation of microbial activity.”

The stimulation improves the health of the cash crop, specialty potatoes, which is planted the following year.

“When we had barley stubble instead of the cover crop, we had a huge nutrient tie up,” Rockey said. “Now, when the nutrients goes through the cow, produces that manure, the nutrients are ready to go and we have a better cash crop.”

Before bringing livestock into his fields, Rockey would mechanically incorporate the green manure, never terminating with chemicals. He’s found that the livestock’s grabbing and pulling of the plants releases root exudates and feed the soil’s biology in ways mowing does not.

“When you are just using green manure, it is a closed loop,” Rockey said. “There is nothing in that biomass that didn’t come from the soil. Having the cattle out there is still a closed loop, but you are adding one more component to it.”

When you incorporate the green manure, it is broken down biologically. “The fungi and bacteria are doing the job for you,” Rockey explained. “But now you are more dependent on soil temperature. If that residue is out there the next spring, you have to give it enough time to warm up so that biology can break it down so that the nutrient becomes available. The cows have a huge jump start on that process.”

That rumen stimulation, along with compost and biological fertilizer applications, he added, are crucial to efficient nutrient cycling. The compost is taking an outside source and bringing it in, similar to a situation where you would supplement feed with hay bales.

“I struggle with a lot of people because they see the cattle out there and they see the manure out there and they think I just added nutrient to my soil,” Rockey said. “No, I didn’t. I just cycled what is already out there.”

Timing is a crucial factor for successful cover crop grazing for Rockey, too, particularly because the San Luis Valley’s growing season is no more than 100 days.

“We are planting potatoes as soon as we can and we are still pushing going into cold soils,” Rockey said. “There is a lot of opportunity for disaster. In some other areas, where me. You have to be very careful. You have to pay attention.”

The sprinkler stays ahead of the cattle, keeping the cover crop growing throughout the season. Rockey and Brown communicate regularly about the water and field management.

There is also no guarantee the cattle won’t escape, which Rockey has experienced first hand.

“There is potential for a wreck,” Brown confirmed. “We deal with that year round. Getting to know each other and what you are comfortable with is part of all this. We work with people all year. You have to learn to read people.”


Brown and Rockey are committed to their grazing relationship as long as they can meet everyone’s, and every animal’s, needs.

“The most beneficial is running your own cows,” Brown said, having worked with farmers that ended up buying their own cattle or sheep. “That is one of the problems I run into now. There is not enough money for both of us. You have to decide what is best for you.”

Rockey has no interest in getting into the livestock business. He will graze both Brown’s cattle and sheep on his cover crops this season, and hopefully for many seasons to come.

“The way I look at economics is a lot different,” Rockey said. “Most farmers are really set on short-term economics. Having Wayne on our place benefits our economics long term. There is a longer pay back on it, but it is definitely there.”

He added, “Most farmers are only going to be interested in bringing you out if you are going to increase tonnage on the potato crop next year. To me, I am content with my tonnage, but I am looking to reduce my inputs to maintain that tonnage. That is a different mindset.”

Lauren Krizansky and her husband Brendan Rockey run Rockey Farms in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Brooder Management: Learn How to Keep Baby Chicks Happy and Healthy


Getting your baby chicks off to a good start isn’t rocket science, but it is literally the single most important component of being successful in a pasture-based broiler operation. Good or bad management decisions during the first three weeks of a bird’s life will follow them from the brooder out to the pasture and through maturity. Every step we take to improve those first 21 days will yield exponentially good results from a production and economics standpoint. The same can be said if the brooder environment is stressful, with exponentially poor results. If you have lackluster overall results with your chickens, there is a good possibility that the issue can be traced back to the brooder. It all starts here — so be in the mindset of doing it right from the beginning. You’ll thank yourself later!

Prior To Arrival

Well before your chicks are even shipped from the hatchery, you’ll want to have your brooder all prepared and ready to go. You might be using anything from a large cardboard box in your garage to the corner of a barn to a standalone building, like we use. Depending on the region you live in and the time of year, you might even decide to brood your birds outdoors.

Regardless of where you “brood” your baby chicks, the conditions that you’ll want to have in place are the same: an appropriately sized warm, safe and dry environment with the proper feed, water and grit. In addition to these requirements, you will also want to make certain that you have the ability to control ventilation in the area where the chicks are living.

Let’s break each of these requirements down so you can be well prepared for your birds long before they show up at the post office or you bring them home from the farm store.

Appropriate Size

The overall size of your brooder isn’t as important as maintaining a proper stocking density in each area where you have chicks. For this bit of information, I’ll reference the stocking density found in the book Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin. We have basically used what Joel suggests since day one, allowing roughly 0.25 square feet per chick in the brooder. This is based upon the assumption that you will be keeping them in the brooder for about 21 days. If you are going to keep them in there for a longer period of time due to a cold snap or heavy rain, and that prevents you from taking them out to pasture on schedule, just know that you may have to add brooder space.

One thing I want to mention here is that you’ll need to be very careful about just how many chicks you place into one area of your brooder. In time, you might scale up your operation like we have ­— from 50 broilers to a point where you are ordering 600 chicks or more at a time. Putting that many chicks together in one big group can be a huge mistake, as I learned the hard way many years ago. When scaling up, you would be wise to remember that what works well for 50 chicks doesn’t always translate when we are talking about anything beyond 200. To avoid having chicks “pile” and suffocate one another, we keep our maximum group size to about 200 using three separate areas. This helps to mitigate massive losses should a problem occur, such as a heat lamp failing or a waterer not work properly.

A heated brooder box ready for spring chicks at a small family farm. Photo: Getty Images

Managing The Brooder

You’ll want to make certain oyur brooder is a nice and toasty 90-95 degrees on the floor during the week no matter the time of year. But there also needs to bee enough space for the birds to get away from the heat when need be. It’s a delicate balance; if it’s too hot or too cold, they’ll pile up and suffocate one another in an effort to stay warm. To help maintain this balance, there are four basic tools at your disposal: wood chips, insulation, heat lamps and ventilation.


We begin by placing a nice, thick layer of wood chips down on the concrete floor of the brooder. You’ll want a thicker layer — 6 inches or deeper — if you start your chicks while outside temps are still getting down into the 40s or below at night. Cold from the ground temperature can be just as big of an issue as the cool ambient air temperatures outside. If it’s a warmer time of year, then 2-4 inches of chips might do the job. It’s very important to monitor and layer new chips on top of the waste as required while the chicks are in the brooder. This keeps the chicks clean and healthy and absorbs the nitrogen from the manure. This layering of nitrogen and carbon also creates a composting action, generating a small amount of heat to help keep the birds warm.


Using commercial insulation to seal up our brooder was one of the single best investments I ever made in any area of our farm. Our brooder exists in an old chicken house originally built for laying hens that my ancestors built well over 100 years ago. It has a concrete floor, and we’ve put a new metal roof on it since starting the business in 2007. But aside from that, early on I just built some ventilation flaps and patched it up as needed on the outside. After a few seasons of frustration from drafty, wet and cold air hitting the chicks, I finally ripped out the entire internal setup and started over from scratch, with the goal of building an insulated “box” inside of the old coop. The first step was to use 2-inch insulation and framing to build a 24-inch-tall structure inside the old chicken coop that I could better control. This also kept drafty, cold and wet conditions off of my birds, enabling them to thrive.


For heating we use 250W bulbs in aluminum spring-clamp heat-lamp assemblies. We use anywhere from five to eight lamps, placed about 18” inches above the birds at night, depending on the temperatures outside. If it is really chilly outside, we’ll leave all the lamps on during the day as well. For what it’s worth, for some unknown reason, we find that the chicks seems to perform much better if we have the red-colored heat lamps as opposed to the clear ones. I do not know the reason as to why the chicks prefer the red lamps, but my guess is that it has something to do with the frequency of the light emitted from the bulbs. Through years of observation, it is my strong opinion that the red bulbs are the way to go. We’ll only use the clear lamps if the farm store is sold out of the red ones, which occurs frequently. This also tells me that other folks are noticing the same things I am concerning the color of the lamps.

A group of baby chicks eating chicken feed in a brooder on a farm. Soft fuzzy chicks barely a week old. The bedding in the brooder is straw. Photo: Getty Images.


Ventilation also plays a key role in managing the overall brooder environment. Make sure your brooder is as air tight as it can be, within reason, because you never want to have cold and drafty air hitting the chicks directly. Think of it like building an insulated box (brooder) within another box (building). But in the same way that we don’t want that cold air hitting the chicks, we also need to have plenty of flaps we can open and close to offer ventilation when it’s warmer outside during the day — or even around the clock at the height of summer. If you are starting chicks in late March or early April, when the overnight lows can dip down near freezing and the spring winds are blowing, a drafty brooder will cause you lots of problems. Conversely, a batch started in August that doesn’t have good ventilation air will suffer just as much due to heat stress.

We’ve added flaps that can be propped open for cross ventilation to help aide in this. You want the air to move through the brooder, but not directly on the birds. I’ll also run a traditional box fan in the warmer months. I always have it set up on the south wall, oriented so that it is blowing out of the brooder. This is very strategic — the fan draws air through the brooder from the shaded and cooler north side of the brooder. We position the fan up high in an old window, with a flap down below the fan and another flap up high on the north side. This lets us move quite a bit of air through the brooder to help manage the temperature. It also helps to dry out the bedding and remove odors.

Hardening Off Your Chicks

After they are a week old, weather permitting, you can slowly begin to reduce the heat. If it’s in the warmer months of the spring or summer, you’ll most likel want to turn the heat off during the day and flip them back on at dusk. Once the chicks get to be around two weeks old, depending on the overnight temperatures, you should be able to remove the heat lamps completely — unless you have some really cold nights. Manyhatcheries will tell you to reduce the temperature by one degree per day after the birds are a few days old; this is not an obtainable goal if your setup is anything like ours. We don’t have automated temperature controls or thermostats connected to propane gas heaters in a well-constructed building to allow that degree of management. However, a carefully trained eye that can look in on the brooder three to four times per day can be just as effective at managing chicks.

While we aren’t able to lower the temperature down one degree per day, we can manage it carefully and still have excellent results. This is where all of our various tools for our brooder come in to play, particularly as the chicks age. Think of your chicks like tomato plants: before you take them out of their warm, cozy environment and place them in the garden, you need to harden them off. Depending on the high or low temperature, humidity, and other factors outdoors, we have a lot of variability within our system to manage our chicks. We can remove or add insulation and cardboard on top of our chicks, open and close our vent flaps, add fans and add or delete heat lamps. This helps us get the environment just right, no matter the weather. It has made our brooder operation much more successful, and our birds are performing way better than when we first began our business. Brooder management requires a careful eye, but these tools — along with daily observations — will help you get your chicks off to the great start they need to be successful.

Feed, Water & Grit Requirements

When it comes to feed, you’ll want to follow your hatchery’s recommendations closely. Most quick-growing meat birds of the Cornish Cross variety will require a minimum of 21% protein in the brooder. It could be more (and possibly less) depending on the particular strain, so ask your hatchery what to use. Laying hens, Freedom Ranger meat birds, turkeys, ducks and other poultry will undoubtedly have different protein requirements, and you’ll need to follow the directions for the starter rations carefully for the best results. Lack of protein early on can lead to developmental issues in the skeletal system and can wreak havoc on your birds, so don’t skimp out and try to save a buck here. A good-quality feed is absolutely essential to the development of your chicks!

There are two main issues we have seen with feed being effective in our chicks. First and foremost, you’ll want to make certain that the feed you are getting is finely ground and has a high-quality mineral supplement mixed in. Our grain mill uses non-GMO grains, along with a certified organic mineral mix and organic fishmeal, which we find extremely worthwhile in terms of the benefit to the animal. Healthy animals grow and gain weight, which at the end of the day is what we are really after. As such, the minerals, fish meal and other items more than pay for themselves. Having a certified organic mineral supplement also doesn’t hurt your marketing efforts, either, when speaking with customers and answering the numerous questions about what you feed your animals.

Secondly, you’ll also want to make sure and give the birds plenty of grit to get their gizzards going. Grit is simply small rocks that the birds pick up and have in their gizzards to help them “chew” and process their food. Buying small one-pound bags of chick grit at a farm store will run you $6-7 per bag. If you use the expensive store-bought grit, you’ll most likely find yourself doing what I did and cutting back on how much you use in order to save a dollar, when the opposite is what you should be doing. A healthy gizzard produces a healthy bird, which yields a better finished weight in a shorter timeframe. And isn’t that the name of the game? The change we made to combat this was to begin ordering 50-pound bags of the same small, crushed granite from our feed mill for about $7/bag. By simply having a conversation with our grain mill, we cut our cost by 98% and watched our birds flourish.

Lastly, keep lots of fresh, clean and cool water in front of your chicks and try to never let them run out! For watering during the first week, I use one-gallon drinkers and set them on top of some small wooden platforms I built out of 5/4-inch board. Otherwise those cute little buggers will fill the rim of that drinker with bedding and render it useless. The platforms keep the wood chips from clogging up the waterer and keeps the waterer level so it doesn’t spill or empty out onto your dry bedding. Water and nitrogen from chicken manure in the brooder make for a very smelly and toxic environment. After the first week or so you might consider switching over to a larger platform-based drinker, or even a bell-drinker. Filling up one gallon drinkers after the first week can be a huge chore, often taking place four times per day. If this is too much work, you or someone else is less likely to do it as often as you should, and that does not bode well for your chicks.

In Conclusion

No setup is perfect, and you will no doubt suffer some losses. A friend once told me that any losses the first 72-96 hours were due to shipping stress, but after that it was on him. I think that is a good litmus test for success, and anything under a 10% loss in the brooder is acceptable, especially early on in your career. In time, you will reduce your losses and increase your finished weights. But it all starts here, in the brooder — so do it right, and your bank account will yield wonderful results!

Living on his family’s seventh generation farm, Darby began his own farming enterprise in 2007 after reading Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin. For more information, visit