Gary Zimmer on Transitioning to Organic, Biological Farming

Gary Zimmer standing in field
Gary Zimmer on his organic farm in Wisconsin.

By Gary F. Zimmer

Deciding to transition your farm to organic is a big undertaking.  There’s a large learning curve to becoming a successful organic farmer, and transition can be a challenging and expensive endeavor.  But it’s also a huge opportunity.  Rather than trying to grow a row crop during the 36-month transition period where you’re required to use all organic inputs and methods but have to sell your crop as conventional, instead grow soil building crops that will set you up for success when you’re fully transitioned to organic. 

First, you had better decide what transitioning while building soil health means on your farm, and second you need to recognize there are many farmers that have done this successfully already.  Farmers that have the most success spend the transition building up health, microbiology, balancing soil minerals, and building soil structure.  They build the chemical, physical and biological aspects of their soil; that three legged stool that sets the farm up for success. 

When it comes to soil health, we have a lot of good understanding about minerals. We know there is a ratio between them; we know more than 20 minerals are known to be essential for crop growth; we know deficiencies or excesses are going to hurt our crop and lead to problems with diseases or insect pressure; we know deficiencies reduce crop yield and quality. It is also essential to make sure calcium levels are right and the soils are being constantly fed a good soluble source. To make minerals more available, add carbon from sources like manures, humates, and compost if it is available and fits the farm. We know the soil has a certain ability to dish out minerals if they are there and biology is taken care of. It’s also important to remember that the soil life needs minerals and so does the crop. The better the needs of the soil life are taken care of the more the minerals in the soil can become plant-available, and the less you as the farmer will need to add to the soil. When minerals are present and in a good balance, your crop is fed a balanced diet and the less plant protective compounds will need to be purchased and the fewer problems you will have. 

Once you have a plan for minerals, it’s time to look at biology.  We know we need to create an ideal home for soil life, feed them with living roots and a variety of carbon sources like manures or plow-down cover crops of different maturities. We also know they want their food on top, without a crust on the soil that limits air and water exchange. A good way to achieve this is to shallow incorporate cover crops or residues and then use minimal disturbance from tillage to create an environment where air and water are managed. 

On-Farm Intensive with Zimmer Ag

Learn about soil health in person with Gary Zimmer

The Acres U.S.A. On-Farm Intensive – starting in summer 2021 – is held in partnership with experienced farm consultants Gary Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand at their famous Otter Creek Farm near Lone Rock, Wisconsin. This two-day educational experience will help farmers, growers and land owners maximize their land’s potential. 

Learn more here!

The big secret for soil health is filling the soil with roots. Crops like brassicas, clovers, rye and other grasses provide a lot of root structure, and when they die the old dead roots become the breathing tubes — channels for new roots to follow.  It’s similar to earthworm channels where all along the edges of the channel is an area of moisture and high fertility where a lot of diverse organisms live. These are the highest fertility spots in the field, and you can create more of these high fertility zones by growing and managing more types of cover crops and having more different types of crops in your rotation.  When looking at your own farm the question is: what plants best fit your farm? What tillage practices, crop rotations, and management tools do you choose? What’s your budget to make these changes? 

Another factor in understanding soil life and how to take care of it is making sure the soil is loose and crumbly, with a chocolate-cake like texture. With tillage, “thoughtful disturbance of the land” is the best way to control air and water and manage the decay of residues. I like shallow incorporation of residues and I use a deep in-line type ripper to break up compaction if it’s needed. Ideally we wouldn’t need to use the ripper, but conditions aren’t always perfect. In wet years we still need to plant and we still need to harvest, and driving on the fields with big equipment will later require intervention to break up compaction. I also like strip tillage as a way to build good soil structure around the roots.  We can concentrate on balancing minerals in the strip, get good root development and a good crop even if the land is rented and you don’t want to spend money on soil corrections. The purpose of the strip is not only to concentrate inputs in order to maximize plant uptake, but you had better choose your inputs well and not over-salt that zone or you’ll have problems. Buffer the inputs with carbon and use high quality fertilizer. By managing the strip-till zone you don’t have to plant in hard, tight soils and in our northern climate the zone will dry out and warm up sooner in the spring. 

I know it’s always a question of how to pay the bills and make some money while transitioning to organic and building healthy soils. It’s important to have a solid plan heading toward your goals, and work toward your goals over a longer period of time, especially if your soil needs a lot of fixing. There is no one exact way to get there, but you can’t violate the principles or expect things to be different if you keep doing them the same way. You will be happy once you have healthy, mineralized soils, you just need a realistic plan to get there.

So the question is: how do you put together a working plan to address the needs of the soil and plants?  We start by taking soil tests, plant tissue tests, and making soil and plant health observations.  Choosing what to do once you have all the information you need may require help from a good consultant.  A consultant can help find the best sources of minerals, recommend amounts of minerals, and guide you on where to start and where to find the best inputs that fit your farm.  Along with helping with mineral balance in the soil, a consultant can also recommend methods for growing soil life, when to use starter, liquids and foliars, as well as when to implement tillage with a purpose.  Finding that knowledgeable consultant will be your first challenge.  Check out The Biological Farmer and Advancing Biological Farming to walk you through the basics on soil life and minerals so you know what questions to ask.

Let’s say you took soil tests and they show that you need lime, phosphorus and trace minerals, and you intend to use a lot of manure to increase soil fertility. Building soil fertility is like making a cake.  Add together the right ingredients like a blend of manure, ag lime and a trace mineral blend, mix it up, plant the cover crop cocktail mix and watch it grow and come alive. Clip the cover crop, shallow incorporate and do it again. You can also establish a perennial blend.  Do this for two growing seasons and it’s now on the road to being “fixed” and it is certifiable organic if you followed the rules.  In this situation you’re not harvesting a crop during transition but you’ve set yourself up for a bumper crop with high yields your first year as organic, and that will be a profitable crop. Not many farmers do this.  Many struggle along with weeds and unhealthy crops during transition and then their first organic crop performs poorly.It’s better to invest in soil health during transition so you have a bumper crop your first year of organic.

Let me share an example from my family’s farm in southwestern Wisconsin.  The farm is about 1,500 acres of cropland and is very hilly. There are 80 dairy cows on an all-forage diet, and the dairy herd is certified organic. For the land we have some soils fixed, some on the way, and some just starting.  We do use the transition years to mostly fix the soil, and during transition the only thing we may harvest is some rye cover crop seed. The soils are all tested before transition, and fertilizers, calcium and manure are added to build minerals and get them in a carbon/biological cycle. 

During transition a cover crop is planted each year, often a perennial cover crop that is clipped and used to build soils.  Once it’s organic we plant corn, as this is our highest return organic crop.  The year before corn is always a legume-dominant cover crop with clovers, alfalfa and high-quality grasses.  Having a high legume blend gives us much of the nitrogen we need for the following corn crop. Two major problems organic farmers face are weeds and having enough available nitrogen. The best way to get nitrogen on an organic farm is to grow it, not buy it. To get enough soluble nitrogen and other nutrients into the corn crop, we feed that soil the same way we would feed a cow giving 100 lbs of milk/day.  A high-producing cow needs a lot of highly digestible minerals, just like a high yielding corn crop needs to follow high-quality forages that are worked in when they are young and succulent. This releases a lot of soluble nutrients for the organic corn, and is how we start the rotation farming cycle. 

We have been at this since 1994 but only in the last five years have we gotten aggressive at fixing our soil.  When we had 300 cows and 600 acres the land was worked hard. We got good production but soil organic matter only slowly improved over 20 years. We can do better. The rough hill ground on our farm we pasture and have summer forages. We harvest the acres closest to home for the cows for feed. The rest of the farm is one year corn, then a cover crop and soil building year, and then back to corn. 

Cereal rye is an important part of the rotation as it is planted after corn in the fall, then come early spring when there is frozen ground we frost seed a clover/alfalfa blend. Our objective is a great clover/alfalfa stand and not having the rye lodge on the clover/alfalfa mix or choke it out. In order to keep the rye from getting too tall and lodging, we plant it thinner following corn and don’t apply any nitrogen.  Our yields are poor, only 30-40 bushels/acre, but our soils are rapidly changing and corn yields keep going up. 

After rye harvest the fields are clipped and let go until next spring when the clover/alfalfa blend is 8 to 12 inches tall. We then shallow incorporate the cover/alfalfa into the soil and then plant corn.  This is a system we like. We are working on getting the rye yields up to 50 to 60 bushels/acre with better varieties and some controlled manure and biological nitrogen application. As our rotation goes forward we have carry over of nutrients, we’re building organic matter and more nitrogen is available from the soil every year.

That’s just one way that we like to establish our rotation for biological/regenerative organic, and it fits our farm and the area very well. For your own farm, think about what you can do to grow a corn/soybean rotation while also building organic matter and soil health. The system requires another crop besides corn and beans — what best fits your farm?  Rye, wheat, or a different small grain? Is it something you can do on your farm?  If you’re growing only row crops, how can you mineralize the soils and find the best fit for cover crops to supply nutrients and build organic matter on your farm?  Can you be successful building soils during transition?  The answer is “yes,” but cover crops and other inputs will be needed.  Not only is this a unique challenge on each farm, it’s the thing we need to do for our planet, future generations, and human health.

Gary Zimmer is a farmer, author, speaker, and farm consultant.  Gary Zimmer founded Midwestern BioAg in the 1980s, and has been farming biologically and organically with his family since 1991 in southwestern Wisconsin. Gary recently started a consulting business, Zimmer Ag, with his daughter Leilani Zimmer-Durand where they offer advice to both conventional and organic farmers who want to build soil health and resilience while making a profit on their farm.

The Principles of Regenerative Agriculture

By Spencer Smith

Cattle graze a diverse field at Springs Ranch near Fort Bidwell, California. Photo by Abbey Smith.

Regenerative agriculture is a hot topic. Presidential candidates discuss it, there are several documentaries released recently about it, universities across the world hold space for conversations about the potential for regenerative ag to reverse climate change, undo the global biodiversity crisis, as well as bring nutrient density back to our food supply. I certainly want to be among those farmers who are increasing profitability while building a farming business, and helping to create a landscape that is healthier and more resilient. 

Regenerative ag, recently defined by Terra Genesis International as,“ a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It aims to capture carbon in the soil and above-ground biomass (plants), reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation and climate change. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.”

To boil this definition down to its most basic elements, we must farm in a way that not only protects our soil, but also enhances it. Five simple soil health principles will transform your farm into a regenerative business regardless of the production model you are in, from large scale livestock running across thousands of acres to the market gardeners producing fresh food for their local farmers market to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. Using these core principles will enhance your soil, while storing carbon, and increasing health and productivity.

Principle 1: Soil Armor

The first step to improving soil health is keeping litter on the soil. The benefits of this are so grand it is hard to capture them all. Covered soil increases habitat for soil biology that will cycle nutrients better, builds aggregate structure that will accept and hold greater quantities of water, as well as mitigates soil temps, and protects against erosion.

Principle 2: Diversity  

Manage for maximum diversity in your fields, pastures, fencelines or wherever you can increase diversity on your farm. Nature abhors a monoculture. Plants have the capacity to mineralize nutrients.  In order to see the true benefits of this, you must have as much diversity as possible because different plants mineralize different nutrients.  Like a diverse diet for yourself, where diversity in foods increases your health and well being,  he more diversity of plants and rooting structures in the soil, the healthier the farm, and everything that you harvest from it, will be. 

Principle 3: Continual Live Plant/Root

As long as you have green, photosynthesizing plants in your fields, you are capturing carbon from the atmosphere, and using it to grow your products, and feed the soil. A principle of every regenerative farmer is to maximize the amount of time in a year that you can have a living root interacting with the rhizosphere, building soil aggregates, and mobilizing nutrients for the current, and subsequent crops. The benefits to the soil that you bank this year will be there to use in years to come. Every year it gets better and easier.

Principle 4: Livestock Integration

Managing for covered soil, diversity and green growing plants long into the year will get you on your way to regenerating soils, but the real benefits start to appear when you add livestock. For several reasons, livestock create compounding and cascading benefits. For example, you can use your livestock to break capped soils and lay armor on top of the soil. This increases gaseous exchange in the soil, and allows for the soil biology to flourish. Livestock function as a walking composter; dispersing seeds, bringing biology and fertility back to soils that are otherwise poorly functioning. Research published in 2012 titled “Plants Can Benefit from Herbivory: Stimulatory Effects of Sheep Saliva on Growth of Leymus chinensisfound health and growth benefits in plants are achieved when enzymes in saliva are left on the plants. 

Principle 5: Minimizing Soil Disturbance

To maintain the benefits to the land from the work of photosynthesizing plants, animals and your management efforts outlined above, do not till. If you are working to shift your farm to regenerative, all the efforts you do to get there can be undone with heavy tillage, combined with a fallow period. Disturbance comes in more ways than just tilling, disturbances caused by synthetic fertilizers are also devastating to soil biology.  

Regenerative agriculture is about outcomes and farmers asking the question: “is my land improving in ecosystem function as a result of my management? And can that improvement be measured and quantified?” Measuring and quantifying the improved functionality of the ecosystem process is important when assessing landscape health. As a manager we need to track the effects of our management associated with decisions that we make. The Savory Institute offers holistic ecological monitoring training, as well as monitoring services that will track the outcomes of your management decisions in terms of creating a regenerating landscape, and open up marketing channels for your farm products. Keeping the feedback loop as short as possible is key when using monitoring information to inform future management decisions. Monitoring makes sure that our farms continue to improve.

Where do I begin?  What are the five simplest steps to shift my production system to regenerative?  The most common methods to move toward regenerative agriculture are:

Holistic Planned Grazing of Livestock

I have been using livestock to improve ecosystem processes for more than a decade, the first method for moving toward regenerative ag is using livestock within the Holistic Planned Grazing framework. Holistic Planned Grazing gets livestock to the right place, at the right time with the correct behavior to stimulate soils and plants to improve ecosystem function. Whether it is using cattle to terminate a cover crop in a farming system, or using large herds across arid landscapes to spread and plant seeds while stimulating perennial growth. Properly planned livestock grazing selections will increase effectiveness of rainfall and irrigation by creating a soil profile that can more quickly infiltrate water, and hold that water in the rhizosphere. It removes old vegetation, and stimulates regrowth while stimulating plant root exudation and the soil microbiology. Once you integrate properly managed livestock into your system, you will see the landscape improve rapidly, and in a way that brings back more revenue and profit. If you would like help integrating livestock or monitoring the outcomes of your management, I suggest that you reach out to the Savory Institute at The Savory Institute has people all over the world who can assist you with integrating livestock in your farming operation.

Moving to a no-till farming system

For many conventional tillage producers one way to go from an eroded simplified system to a more complex regenerative system, is selling off the old tillage equipment and using no-till practices instead. Benefits of shifting to a no till method are:

 1. No-till farming requires less passes over the field with the tractor, which results in lowered input expenses.

2. By stopping the tillage, you are slowing down erosion exponentially, and contributing to a more complex soil microbiome. 

3. Year after year of no-till farming increases water infiltration rates, and builds soil structure. This contributes to better crop performance every year on you farm.

Planting cover crops or interseeding more diverse grasses and forbs

This is a frequently used first step for many farmers who want to move in a regenerative direction.  Typically this is a go-to for commodity tillage crop producers who already have the equipment needed to incorporate plant species diversity that add nutrients instead of using synthetics. An example is a farmer who plants a legume cover crop for nitrogen fixation prior to the planting of the cash crop. I have seen this work for farmers who historically used a fallow season between cropping to “bank water,” and for weed control. By planting a cover crop that is complementary to the subsequent crop, you increase the length of time during the year when you have a green and growing crop, which feeds the soil, and adds armor. It increases the amount of water captured for the next crop, while mineralizing nutrients for the cash crops. For help looking into cover crops, or beginning with no-till farming, the Soil Health Academy and Green Cover Seed Company are helpful resources.

Feeding underground livestock

Compost applications or other organic inoculants used to stimulate soil biology are some of the first tools that farmers reach for when transitioning. Careful with this action, though, as it can be extremely expensive, and only gives mediocre results back to you, if you are not combining this action with the previous three methods listed above. Incorporating biological inoculants when planting cover crops, and cash crops, can be a good way to incorporate new biology that will increase mineralized nutrients to your current and subsequent crops. This method falls short, however, when you still incorporate tillage into your protocol. If you are disturbing the soil following the use of an inoculant, you will likely see little benefit to your system. In market gardens, or high value crops, compost can be an effective way to increase soil fertility or health. Carbon accumulation in the soil is increased with the addition of compost, but at a high price to the producer. Many people suggest that compost be added to rangeland. It does increase fertility, but it will typically not do so in a cost effective way, unless you get a grant to pay for it. 

Silvopasture or other woody vegetation

A hot trend in regenerative ag is planting trees and shrubs in your fields, or along the field borders. Incorporating trees and shrubs is a good way to attract pollinators, and create habitat for birds, and other diversity while adding intermittent shade to your fields. Any diversity is good diversity, and many farmers are benefitting from incorporating tree crops, or shelterbelts, in cropping or grazing areas. The benefit here is several fold as well, it adds:


Most plants that we produce will benefit from some shade during the day. In fact, the most productive and biologically active state for our fields is a savanna, where the trees and bushes contribute to 25 percent scattered shade on the understory. This shade will contribute to longer and more robust growth of understory crops. 


The trees and shrubs create habitat for all sorts of pollinators and birds. This includes birds of prey that will help in rodent control. 

Carbon sequestration

Fast growing tree crops sequester a lot of carbon in their structural material, i.e. the wood. The diversity that the rooting structure adds to soil building, as well as the decomposition of the leaves in the fall and winter, can increase fertility and tilth. Potentially, the trees provide another cash crop. Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm is a great resource for learning about the addition of trees and shrubs to your farm.

All biological systems, including agricultural ones, want to flourish. Mother Nature will incorporate weeds in a monoculture to increase benefits from diversity, or to cover exposed soils. She will incorporate animals in all landscapes to spread seeds, stimulate plants and soil, while bringing biology and fertility in the manure. And Mother Nature will always move toward more complexity. Regenerative agriculture works because it mimics nature, and works to increase the speed at which a natural system can improve itself. Remember, when selecting or adding these techniques to your farm, that first and foremost your farm must stay profitable. Enhancing ecosystem function to the detriment of the bottom line is not sustainable, and if you cannot stay or become profitable, whatever improvements that you make will be short lived if you cannot stay in business. Be creative. As we discussed here, are many ways to improve ecosystem function that can stay within your farm’s financial plan.

Spencer Smith is a Savory Field Professional. He lives in Fort Bidwell, California on Springs Ranch where he produces grass-fed beef, provides Holistic Management training, consulting, and holistically manages the ranch.

Tractor Time Episode 53: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Regenerative Supply Chains

On this our 53rd episode we welcome the head of Special Operations at Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Gero Leson. He has a new book out called Honor Thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Unconventional Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain.

Gero is not officially a member of the Bronner family, but he has been instrumental in helping the company realize its ambitious vision for a company that’s both environmentally and socially responsible. They’re not just buying organic ingredients and calling it a day. They’re creating their own supply chains from scratch. Today, they work with over 5,000 farmers in places like India, Sri Lanka and Ghana, and those farmers are using regenerative organic practices as well as getting paid a fair price for what they produce.

A Guide to Tapping into Poultry Power

By Harvey Ussery

This excerpt is brought to you by Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages and an exclusive discount of a new book each week. Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! Buy The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery here!

If you keep your laying hens in a stationary coop, you’re missing out on their incredible soil building talents. Un-coop that chicken poop by putting your flock in a mobile shelter! Not only does a mobile shelter — or chicken tractor — spread valuable manure, the hens will till it in for you with their claws. Plus they’ll keep your grass short and eat up all the pests they find along the way.

To put your ladies to work, you’ll need to build the perfect chicken tractor: it must be secure enough to keep hens safe from predators, yet mobile enough for you to move it every day.

If you day-range your flock, or use temporary fencing anchored on the henhouse to rotate the flock over fresh plots, the birds always return to the same shelter at night. If you pasture them farther afield, however, you will need a mobile shelter of some sort to rotate them to new ground, and to shelter them at night or when it rains. I’ve seen hundreds of mobile coops, and no two are ever the same. The design you come up with will depend on the size of your flock, how you intend to use their services, leftover materials from other projects begging to be used, the nature of your climate and ground—perhaps on how whimsical you happen to be feeling.

Pasture Pens and Pasture Shelter

Micro-flocks on lawn or pasture are often confined entirely to the shelter, which is moved frequently to new grass. The larger the flock size, however, the larger the protected foraging space you will want to provide the birds. As discussed in the previous chapter, I use electric net fencing for giving my birds an extensive area to roam outside the shelter. If you do not use electro-net, however, you might provide a pasture pen using a set of light wooden frame panels with chicken wire, easily locked together using bolts with wing nuts, and just as easily disassembled for moving. Whether you need to attach a frame over the top of the pen will depend on aerial predation where you are.

Trade-Offs: Size, Weight, and Stability

The heavier a shelter, the more difficult, and possibly the more dangerous, it is to move. On the other hand the lighter it is, the more likely it is to be tossed into the next county by a rambunctious wind. Shape also plays a part in stability in heavier winds: I have found the boxier-type shelters with a higher profile catch the wind, while hoop or A-frame shapes tend to keep their feet on the ground. (The classic Polyface model, 10 by 12 feet, is indeed rectangular in shape, but it is only 24 inches high and stable even in strong winds.) Materials choices have the biggest impact on weight of the shelter.

A final option for reducing weight is to use chick- en wire as much as possible in lieu of solid material, consonant with the need for protection from rain, sun, and sharp chilly winds in part of the shelter.


I prefer wheels for all my larger shelters. Instead of installing axles across the entire width of the shelter, I permanently install half-inch bolts in the bottom rail at each corner, using nuts, flat washers, and lock washers. If your ground is nice and even, an 8-inch wheel might work for you. I found that, with an 8-inch wheel, the bottom rear rail of the shelter hung up on tussocks of grass. The additional clearance with a 10-inch wheel makes moving much easier on my pasture.

If wheels are to be permanently installed, bicycle wheels—or other large wheels looking to be recycled, like the front wheels from an old tractor—make moving over uneven ground easiest of all.

Does Your Shelter Need a Floor?

The whole idea of using a mobile shelter is to give its occupants access to fresh grass, so it usually makes sense to make the shelter floor-less. Some management choices, however, might make a floor advisable. For example, young birds are easier to move with no risk of injury from the rear bottom rail (see below) if on a floor. If you do install a floor in your shelter, I recommend using wire or plastic mesh, as droppings will accumulate on a solid floor, requiring frequent clean-out from the tight confines of the interior.


If the shelter is inside an electric net perimeter, you will not have to worry about digging predators. However, if there are large owls in your neighborhood, close the shelter at night—nocturnal owls hunt on the wing, but also land and walk around looking for prey.

If the shelter is not inside an electric net, remember that raccoons and dogs may tear a hole in chicken wire—in the case of 2-inch mesh, a raccoon may feed on its victim by tearing it apart right through the wire. If you are designing for such threats, use half-inch hardware cloth instead, well secured to the framing. Foil digging predators with a wire mesh floor (2-by-4 welded wire allows both access to the grass and protection from digging predators)—or by laying 18-inch panels of chicken wire on light wood framing flat on the ground, entirely around the shelter.

The best option of all is to wire for defense: Run some single-strand electric wire around the entire shelter, standing it off from the sides with plastic or porcelain insulators, one at nose level and ideally another about 12 inches up. An inexpensive charger powered by a 9-volt battery is sufficient to charge such a small run of wire.

Nests and Other Thoughts

If the shelter will house layers, you should add nest boxes, which can be mounted above ground level on existing framing pieces. A hinged door—to shield the nest from rain but give you access from the outside— is a better option than crawling into the shelter to collect eggs. If hens are inclined to roost and poop in the nest, an additional hinged cover to swing into place at night may be in order.

Even a shelter heavy enough to withstand ordinary winds may flip when a gale blows. When weather predictions here are for winds well beyond the ordinary, I temporarily “nail” my shelters down using an earth anchor—essentially, an abbreviated auger screw on the end of a steel rod with an eye hook on its top end. Another way to temporarily secure a shelter is to hang a couple of 5-gallon buckets from the framing inside and fill them with water—that’s over 80 pounds— using a garden hose. Just empty the buckets when it’s time to move the shelter.

Remember your chickens’ need to dust bathe. Since there is no opportunity for them to do so if constantly on fresh grass, either provide an onboard dust box or set one out for them on the pasture anytime there is no possibility of rain.

Most shelters are designed to be used in the warmer parts of the year only. If you are going to house your birds in the shelter in winter as well, you will need to make at least the part where they sleep a good deal tighter against the winter winds, snow, and rain.


I am more comfortable working with wood, so all my shelters have had wooden frames, with one exception— a hoop structure based on half-inch solid fiberglass rods as purlins and as arches, anchored into a wooden foundation frame. I don’t use any pressure-treated wood anywhere on the place remotely connected to producing food. To help prevent rot, I coat all framing pieces in direct contact with the ground with nontoxic sealer, renewed periodically as needed. Using a highly rot-resistant wood—eastern red cedar in my area—would be a better option if you can get it. You might design so that the bottom rails—the parts most subject to rot— can be replaced without taking apart the entire shelter. Or mount the frame on plastic rails.

When out of service over the winter, a wood- frame shelter should always be set up on blocks.


Beginners often think of lightweight 1-inch plastic pipe or the like for framing a shelter. I’ve never seen one that inspired much confidence—such plastic is pretty fragile and breaks down in sunlight. Heavier plastic pipe (Schedule 40 PVC, for example) is another matter—I’ve corresponded with many flocksters who have used it for shelters that are both sufficiently rugged and easily moved. I’ve never used plastic pipe myself.


Electrical conduit is light and easily shaped. You may see references to its use for framing mobile shelters, but most reports I’ve read about it have been negative. Both angle iron and rebar—concrete reinforcing rods made of soft iron—make sturdy frames for those with welding skills and equipment.


Heavy canvas tarps are tough and weatherproof and make a better choice than plastic tarps. There is one option in plastic covering worth considering, however: 24-mil woven polyethylene—incredibly tough, durable plastic sheeting interwoven with a fiber mesh. I have used metal roofing for the solid covering on a number of my shelters. Aluminum roofing is lighter but more expensive; steel, heavier but cheaper.


I strongly advise against assembling your mobile shelter with nails, which work loose over time as the frame is yanked around; use screws instead. I prefer the self-drilling types such as coarse-threaded decking screws, which don’t require pilot holes (as do conventional wood screws) and thus save time. (I do drill a pilot hole for a deck screw going into the last 3 inches of a framing piece, to prevent splitting.) Deck screws with Phillips heads are available galvanized or coated. The best screws of all are stainless-steel decking screws with star-drive heads. Though a lot more expensive than the alternatives, their faster, slip-free drilling and rustproof durability are important considerations for a shelter requiring a lot of screws, and facing prolonged weathering.

Moving the Shelter

Twisted wire or cable, run through a piece of scrap garden hose, makes a convenient pull for moving the shelter.

When moving a floorless shelter with young or careless birds inside, watch the trailing edge of the bottom frame. Usually the chooks come running as fresh grass is exposed, but those who dither at the rear may get a leg caught between the ground and the moving rail. Actual injuries are rare if you pull slowly, and stop and release a hapless bird at the first shriek of distress.

Learn more about The Small-Scale Poultry Flock here.

About the Author:

Harvey Ussery has been developing his whole-systems poultry husbandry for decades and has been writing about chickens and other fowl for Backyard Poultry since the inception of the magazine in early 2006. He has also written numerous articles for Mother Earth News and Countryside & Small Stock Journal, and has published in American Pastured Poultry Producers Association’s newsletter, Grit!, over the years. Ussery has presented at national and local events on poultry, homesteading, and energy and sustainability issues, and maintains a highly informative website, He lives with his wife, Ellen, in Virginia.

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How to Reduce Stress Factors with Calcium Nutrition and Plant-based Amino Acids

Matt Brill |Director of Marketing, Ferticell USA
Steve Trotter | Agronomist
Sponsored by Ferticell®

Growers are constantly faced with an ever-changing dynamic of soil nutrient availability, but one element stands out for its ability to negatively impact both yield size and quality: Calcium. Yet, when applied with amino acids, calcium uptake is accelerated, allowing it to do its job while reducing plant stress.

There are 20 essential amino acids that play unique roles during a plant’s lifecycle, some of which can and will help facilitate the availability and transportation of calcium. Since calcium is phloem immobile — meaning it only travels up the plant to leaf and fruit tissue — the growth cycle of a plant and its fruit’s needs are dependent largely upon cell wall development and strength and the availability of calcium.

In-season plant stress is inevitable. To get ahead of that stress, growers should aim for building hardy plant cells with optimal calcium levels that show up in tissue analysis. This is a critical requirement for plants to manage stress events and healthy fruit development. To drive calcium availability, amino acids should be considered to assist uptake and phloem mobility, as they are well documented natural chelators.

Without amino acids, calcium uptake can be difficult to gauge. Many a soil report will list total calcium in conjunction with plant needs, but reports will still show a deficiency. This is because calcium uptake will be dependent upon plant available calcium, not total soil calcium.  Bicarbonates in the rhizosphere attach to calcium ions, preventing uptake, which is where amino acids create a solution. As the second-most exuded compound by plant roots, amino acids are easily transferred through the xylem and phloem. This VIP access essentially makes them an Uber driver for nutrients in the HOV lane. To prevent a calcium deficiency from developing, growers should plant to incorporate calcium applications at key intervals with a side of L-amino acids.

It is important to note that once a calcium deficiency has shown itself via necrosis or leaf change, the damage has already begun and harvest will continue to suffer from browning of the fruit tip or other cell degradation responses, especially in tomatoes and pepper production. This is extrapolated under abiotic stress conditions.

So, if you are short on calcium, how do you increase tissue levels quickly? And how much do you apply? Calcium applications should be calculated based on soil and water reports, along with historical tissue analysis. Quality soil applications of a low-micron calcium carbonate is ideal for the best uptake. By filling leaf and stem tissue with proper levels of calcium, allocation to new tissue will save plant energy.

During abiotic stress conditions where plants shut down to save energy, amino acids will facilitate the distribution of both calcium and nitrogen (Arginine) where it is needed and restart plant growth.

In fields where soil applications of calcium are limited or difficult, it is possible to foliar apply calcium when combined with an L-amino acid. The chelation effect amino acids have on calcium can allocate calcium to both leaf and fruit tissue.

Need proof? The ideal relationship between amino acids and calcium was proven through trial work in a replicated study in Colusa County, California, in 2014 and 2016.using two timed applications of calcium along with an L-amino Acid package at flowering yielded 12.61 net tons more cannery tomatoes in 2014 (Figure A) and 11.46 net tons in 2016 (Figure B).

Figure A: Application of L-Amino Acids to cannery tomatoes at harvest yielded a 26% increase in Net Tons.

The science demonstrates the vital factor amino acids play in the movement of calcium in tomato weight. When added to calcium applications, amino acids will fully correct necrosis of tomatoes versus any stand-alone calcium source. Glycine and glutamic acid are tied directly to this mode of action by opening calcium ion channels much faster than normal osmosis.

Figure B: Application of L-Amino Acids to cannery tomatoes at harvest yielded a 17% increase in Net Tons/acre.

In 2018, the trials were tested against a foliar calcium with 3% soy protein nitrogen (Figure C). This trial indicated that an excess of amino acids and calcium did not increase yield past the results of the smaller program, but did outperform the calcium without added soy protein. This was shown on the lower yield increase in from 2014, with the higher L-amino acid application at flowering in 2016.

Figure C: 2018 results showcase an increase with calculated applications of soy with calcium and the L-amino acid package.

The results, literature and in-field success indicate growers should always consider amino acid applications in conjunction with their calcium program. It is very important to note that not all amino acid products are created equal. Applications of L-amino acids showcase a natural chelation effect that assists in mitigating stress factors that limit fruit production correlated to plant stress like drought conditions, salinity stress, and other abiotic stressors. That does not mean that all amino acids are the same.

Plant-based amino acids are produced from an enzymatic hydrolysis process with low temperatures and no chemically strong acids that protect the higher peptides and L-amino acids. Alternative amino acids that are animal-derived take a long time to convert for plant uptake and must use higher temperatures during hydrolysis and strong acids that will result in loss of some acids or produce only the D-form as inert.

Sponsor Message

Calcium products like Calcium 880Plus™ or ProCal™ 3-0-0Plus20 in the mentioned trials benefit from the addition of L-amino Acids in Nutri-Plus™. With high concentrations of 19 of the 20 essential amino acids needed for growth, calcium and amino acids will provide greater shelf life and fruit quality, especially for fruiting crops.

Learn more about the trials conducted and the products mentioned at

Tips on Breeding Backyard Poultry


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You may want to breed just for the sheer pleasure of observing those tiny balls of fluff scampering about, shepherded by their adoring, watchful parents. Or you might find that there is a buoyant market for selling purebred chicks or ducklings.

You may also find that you want to replace your good but old layers with their younger progeny. If so, don’t expect much in the way of breeding true to type from crossbred birds because, like hybrid plants, their characteristics have not been fixed. You’ll have more luck with purebred birds.

Alternatively, you may not “decide” to breed at all. If you leave it all up to nature you may get a nice surprise one evening when a missing hen returns from wild parts with a bright-eyed new brood, begging for dinner.

group of chicks

Breeding Fowl

Hens begin to lay eggs at about 6 months of age, at which stage they are known as “point-of-lay” birds. The first year’s eggs are usually rather small. The hens will continue to lay eggs for several years, but after the second year, productivity drops off. If you want to maintain levels of egg production, you’ll need to breed replacement birds regularly. Every second year is a good idea.

Always provide nests that are cosy and attractive, or eggs will be laid elsewhere. The nest materials should be soft, as hens actually “lay” when standing up, so eggs can break if laid onto a hard surface. Why not line the nest with dried aromatic and insecticidal herbs?

As you gather eggs, never totally empty the nest or the hen will seek out another, more private location. Always leave a dummy egg in the nest (don’t worry–she won’t miss the others). You can buy plastic or concrete eggs for this purpose, or you could save money and simply use boiled eggs or avocado seeds.

The breeding season usually begins in late winter or spring (depending on when the hen was hatched) and continues through into summer.

When breeding heavy breeds of fowl, you will need a small rooster-to-hen ratio, about 12 hens maximum for each rooster. A lighter breed of rooster can maintain fertility with as many as 15 hens. After the second year, rooster fertility is much reduced and they are best replaced after three years. Alternatively, as roosters age, keep them with fewer hens to ensure fertile eggs.

The Mating Game

The mating game is a colorful spectacle. A vigorous cock dances, struts, and circles around hens in his flock, chortling and displaying his feathering. A young cockerel will mate 30 to 40 times a day on the range and in good weather.

The hen will also become amorous when she starts to lay, crouching down to invite the cock to mount her, her wings and tail fluttering seductively.

Some roosters cause damage to the hen when mating, as their toes and spurs gouge her back. After this, hens may end up bare-backed and much less keen, avoiding the rooster like the plague. In this situation, it’s kinder to separate the rooster and the hen to give the hen some rest and recuperation.

You can also reduce the problem by snipping, filing, or grinding off the ends of the sharp spurs and by trimming the rooster’s toenails occasionally.

The Broody

When her hormones dictate it and conditions are right, a hen will go broody, sitting tight on the nest to incubate her eggs. This is usually after she has laid a good clutch of eggs, whether they are fertile or not. If you have already eaten the eggs, leaving her with just a dummy egg, sh’ll sit anyway. If it happens in springtime, all the better–the new generation of hens will be winter layers.

You can leave nature to do its work with a hen’s own eggs, or you can switch her eggs for others. If you decide to switch the eggs, check the hen’s seriousness before placing a good egg setting under her. If she stays tight on the nest and makes angry protests when approached, and if her breast is bare (because she has been plucking out her down to line the nest), she is probably well and truly clucky.

If the hen is clucky, make sure she is free of lice, which will become intolerable for her over time as she won’t have a chance to dustbathe. You could also line nest boxes with some aromatic herbs such as pine needles, dried tansy, lavender, pennyroyal and the like. These herbs deter insects.

If necessary, take the hen to a better nest site, but only ever move her at night. If possible, keep other hens from laying in the nest by isolating her. Putting a cage over the nest may be the answer. This is also a good idea if her nest is in a wild spot and vulnerable to predators.

The Unwanted Broody

The natural tendency to broodlines ensures a rest from egg laying and thus makes a healthier hen. Uninterrupted laying, as is bred for in modern laying hybrids, can lead to laying fatigue, cancer, leucosis, and increased mortality.

However, a hen sitting for long spells while trying to hatch a concrete egg can also get out of condition. If you don’t want her to hatch eggs, you will have to convince the hen to forget her broodiness. Put her in a bare wire cage in a sunny spot. As this position is neither private nor comfortable, she will not feel like nesting for long. But it may take as many days as she was broody before she gives up, so try and discover unwanted broodiness as early as possible and do something about it quickly. Feed and water as usual.

Learn more about Backyard Poultry Naturally here.

About the Author:

Alanna Moore is an Australian eco-journalist, organic farmer, master dowser, author of the books Stone Age Farming and Divining Earth Spirit, and editor of the online magazine Geomantica. 

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Tractor Time Episode 52: The Business of Botanicals (w/ Ann Armbrecht)

On this our 52nd episode we welcome Ann Armbrecht. She is the author of a new book called The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry.

We’ve all heard of the farm to table movement. But what about farm to supplement? What do we really know about the herbal tinctures and capsules we’re taking in an effort to improve our health. It’s a blindspot that Armbrecht’s book shines a much-needed light on. She takes readers on a long and winding journey into the byzantine supply chains of industrial plant medicine.

Picture yourself youre standing in the supplement aisle. Maybe Whole Foods is having a sale. You stock up on turmeric pills, mushroom powders and maybe a few tinctures. You feel like you’re on the road to wellness. But have you ever stopped to think about the process behind how these products got there? Ann Armbrecht has and then some. In this conversation, we dive deep into the often-opaque global supply chains behind what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

In addition to being a Harvard-educated anthropologist, Armbrecht is a filmmaker and the director of the Sustainable Herbs Program of the American Botanical Council.

Event Marketing: What Role Should It Play?

By Jorge Abrego
Acres U.S.A. Advertising Director

People buy from people. This is a principle that most companies understand and should remember in event marketing, or any B2B marketing. Events, as most ag marketers know, are a wonderful platform to facilitate interaction, build relationships and create trust. Events are great for B2B lead generation, which is why 68% of B2B marketers say that events are an effective demand generation strategy to acquire qualified top-of-funnel leads. By now some of you might be thinking, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”

However, to better understand the best ways of yielding optimum ROI from your event spending, you first have to examine what role the events play within your broader marketing strategy. Events enable you to skip a few steps in the early marketing funnel by allowing you to actually talk to a potential client about challenges and how your solution can help them add more value to their business. While this confirms why you do them, maximizing your company’s investments requires that you don’t skip the necessary steps it takes to optimize both the quantity and quality of those leads, which should then lead to more and higher quality conversions.

Strategic Demand Generation

Most companies struggle with maximizing ROI from B2B events because they aren’t planning and executing an event marketing plan that is integrated into their broader marketing strategy. An important key is to remember that events yield the best results when they act as a part of your overall demand generation strategy and not in isolation.

Your demand generation strategy should include a healthy mix between digital marketing, print advertising and events. And according to B2B event marketing research, a healthy balance would be to spend around 35% of your marketing budget on events and 35% on digital marketing, with the remaining 30% spent on branding, content marketing, earned media, owned media and miscellaneous things like partner marketing and affiliate development.

A good way to look at it as that the latter, which primarily feeds the top of the funnel, supports and enhances the former, which feeds the middle and bottom of the funnel. So much so that when done correctly and with strategic forethought, it significantly increases the quantity and improves the quality of your leads.

Integrate B2B Event and Digital Marketing

Combining events and digital marketing requires companies to stop treating events and online marketing in separate silos. To get more ROI out of B2B events, you need to treat an event and digital marketing as one campaign. Too often, an event is considered a campaign and digital marketing as another campaign channel. Maximizing results requires merging and treating them as one campaign to improve customer experience and create an omnichannel approach to get your target audience to engage with you to improve ROI.

Understanding what you’re aiming at is a fundamental aspect of ROI evaluation and in B2B event marketing is 4:1. This means that for every dollar you invest, you should receive $4 in return on average. However, 44% of marketers only experience 2 to 2.5:1 event ROI. If your event ROI in a B2B environment is 2:1, then you need to figure out ways to improve your event marketing plan.

Of course, not every event will be successful. You will generate more revenue from certain trade shows and less from others. Therefore, you need to evaluate your ROI on more than one event and you should continuously tweak – but not dramatically change – your tactics to ensure you have a broader view of what works best to improve and refine. If you’re routinely changing which events you sponsor then you’re not properly researching the value proposition and true fit. More importantly, you’re not building equity with the audience and your event partners. These two considerations are paramount in making sure you are hitching up with the right events to grow your business.

Optimize your pre-event strategy

At the core of your event marketing plan should be your pre-event strategy. What are you going to do to ensure you will maximize ROI post-event? B2B lead generation is tough and without a pre-event strategy, you likely will not yield the kind of ROI you’re hoping for.

In addition to working closely with your sales team to create a mutually agreed event lead coverage plan, the pre-event marketing plan should include how your team will leverage social media. These should be well-written posts that highlight important event content topics relevant to the problems your solution solves. In order to do so, work with your media/event partner to ensure you have the content agenda to help develop these posts since attendees will generally follow these hashtags and will see your posts.

Additionally, some event sponsorships include media as part of a package, so be sure to leverage those with content-relevant messaging. If your sponsorship doesn’t include media, leverage your event partner’s print and digital channels to amplify your sponsorship again by correlating your message to relevant event content themes. Nothing increases the quality and quantity of leads more than association to events and themes your “community” are interested in and passionate about.

Post- Event Strategy

Many CMOs will tell you that even though MQL (marketing qualified leads) follow-up is the domain of sales, marketing should play a role in continuing to nurture the lead by helping to build the relationship. A good way to do that is to make sure you capture key moments and news-worthy topics from the event to send out digital ads that tout them, and tie it into a special offer you’ve created just for event attendees as a way to thank them.

As for lead follow-up, be sure your sales team closes the follow-up gap to 1-2 days after the event. Especially if the contact is a senior-level person, you need to take into consideration that they are extremely busy and if you don’t follow up fast enough, they will have moved on and started working on other things. The caveat is that they will only talk to solution providers that are able to talk in business value. So take this into consideration.

Because events continue to grow in their marketing importance — assuming your events are on point and checking all the boxes for audience and content themes — working on your event game should be a year-round endeavor. More than any other channel, events afford your company the ability to be part of a community that shares a mission and vision that your company can play a role in bringing to life.

Year-Round Engagement

Customer engagement should begin at the event itself for next year by working with your event partner to discuss ideas that can enhance the value of the experience to the audience and your company. Be proactive and leverage your association to the event’s themes and brand via webinars, white papers, podcasts and any other tactic, which enables you to generate endemic engagement, build thought leadership and become a provider of rich content that delivers both direct and indirect value to the regenerative ag community we all serve.

In 2020, event marketers realized that the real goal of an event marketing plan should be similar to the goal of any other tactic in their overarching marketing strategy, the ongoing engagement of your target audience to take the next step in the buyer journey. Events have driven unity and agility as the era in which events were treated in a silo is ending. Recognized as one important part of a larger marketing ecosystem, event marketers are being embraced as an integral part of the marketing team, while giving regenerative marketers the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with a partner in a unified effort toward the same shared outcomes: more loyal customers, and fuel for growing your business.

Learn more about advertising opportunities with Acres U.S.A. here.

Jorge Abrego is the Advertising Director for Acres U.S.A. and has 26 years of advertising agency and B2B media experience in the agriculture, energy and technology sectors.

Kelly Klober: An Introduction to Ducks


This excerpt is brought to you by Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages and an exclusive discount of a new book each week. Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! Buy Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober here.

From Chapter 3: Waterfowl

The breeds of domestic duck familiar to most are the White Pekin and the Rouen. The latter is the large, deep-sided bird with the color pattern similar to that of the wild Mallard. The wild Mallard, or gray, pattern in varying forms is seen on many breeds and reflects the Mallard ancestry of nearly all of the domestic duck breeds.

The main exception to this genetic fact is the Muscovy, the roosting duck from South America. They are a truly interesting breed, and one subject to a great deal of conflict and misinformation. The conflict begins with its very name. Instead of “Mus-co-vee,” the correct pronunciation is “Mus-cah-vay.” And while a Muscovite hails from Russia, the Muscovy is a native of the southernmost climes.

In this breed the mature males are much larger than the females. They are a duck that doesn’t quack, but they do have a serpentine hiss. The face of a good show specimen is heavily encrusted with caruncles, giving it a face only a liquored-up mother could love. The females lay fairly well and are good broodies (several hens may share a nest), and the eggs have a thirty-five-day incubation period. While Muscovies will mate with other breeds, the offspring are often sterile (though fast growing) and are considered to be true mules.

Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck

The breed is propagated in a variety of colors including white, black (with white points), blue, and chocolate. A breed feature is the red, fleshy growths—caruncles—on the head and around the beak. These are especially notable on the males as they age. They are growing in value as a meat bird, often harvested primarily for the breast, which many liken to roast beef. The darker feathered birds are the ones that seem to be the most sought after in the ethnic meat bird trade. Though the White Pekin and the Rouen are perhaps the most familiar of the domestic duck breeds, they are generally seen only in the “industrial” forms rather than those birds that are bred most exactingly to breed standards. The White Pekin was the breed on which the market-leading Long Island duckling was based, and many hatcheries once boasted heavily of the size and dressing qualities of their strain of White Pekin. Wellbred Rouens are also large ducks and are on par with the Aylesbury breed as to being deep sided. It is held that some of the very best of this breed are so deep sided that they can only breed on swimmable water.

Some years ago I interviewed noted midwestern waterfowl breeder Mr. Bill Amundson of Hartford, Michigan. His duck breeds of choice were the Khaki Campbell, Black and White Magpie, and the Chocolate Indian Runner. These three breeds are noted for their vivid coloring, and all three are exceptional egg producers with the Magpie being more of a multi-use bird. With good care, they may lay nearly year-round, and in some earlier flocks Khaki and Runner hens laid up to three hundred eggs per hen per year. The Runner was often likened to the Leghorn, and their
unique, upright stance also had them dubbed the “bowling pin” duck by many.

I interviewed another noted waterfowl breeder, Mrs. Frances Grieve of Waco, Texas, at the same time. She noted that the White Pekin breed lays mostly in the spring though early-hatched and some older birds may lay for a short period in the fall as well. The Rouen and Muscovy, she added, follow a similar pattern of lay. I have seen some Muscovy hens produce three clutches of young in a season if the hatchlings are taken away from the hen for artificial brooding.

Rouen Duck

Among the heavy breeds Mr. Amundson favored the Pekin, the Aylesbury (a very large, white, English breed, with very deep sides and a pink bill and feet), and the Rouen. With a great many of the large breeds there is a seasonal aspect to their egg production, but up and down the United States most should be in or approaching egg production by March first of each year. Mr. Amundson favored the egg-laying breeds for the small farm and holding and gave his Khakis the nod over his Magpies. They produced the eggs that he and his family used and that they sold to others
for table use and baking.

The American Poultry Association recognizes seventeen breeds of domestic duck and divides them into four different categories. Included in the heavy breed class are the White Pekin, Aylesbury, Rouen, Muscovy, Saxony, and Silver Appleyard. To catalog and fully describe each breed here would simply take up too much time and space, but we will list a few talking points about some of the newer or less commonly seen varieties.

The Saxony and Silver Appleyard were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 2000 and 1998. The Saxony is a colorful German breed developed in the twentieth century and lays large white-shelled eggs. The male, or drake, has a claret breast, oatmeal-colored body, and a soft blue-gray head. The hen has fawn or buff plumage with white points to the face and neck. They are a quite good-sized duck with mature weights of nine pounds for drakes and eight pounds for hens.

The Silver Appleyard is a breed developed in Great Britain that also lays a large white-shelled egg. They have a color pattern reminiscent of the Mallard. At the end of the mating season the males will molt into “eclipse” plumage that is darker, more mottled, and with grayer tones. They have the same mature weights as the Saxony breed.

A lot of duck breeds were developed to be what are termed “dual-purpose” fowl, which perform as both meat and egg producers. They won’t lay as well as the breeds developed as egg layers nor grow and dress as well as birds developed for early harvest as meat birds. A better term, I believe, would be one borrowed from the British: “multi-use fowl.” Such birds will do a fair job of both meat and egg production; the species that does not lay and grow does not survive. Still, if your market is for eggs then opt for an egg-laying breed; if your market is for duck meat then breed and produce birds developed to be strong in the traits that contribute to economic duck meat production.

The medium-weight class of duck breeds includes the Cayuga, Crested, Swedish, and Buff. The Crested is bred in Black and White varieties, and a crest is being bred onto other breeds, including the Blue Swedish. There can be real problems with the positioning of the crest, which is to be large, well-formed, and centered on the crown of the head. I have seen ducks with crests all over the head and even on the back and sides of the neck. There is also some evidence of health or genetic problems with this trait, and great care must be taken when selecting foundation stock for this breed.

Cayuga Duck

The Swedish breed is now bred in Blue and Black varieties. Blue, or Slate, is always a challenging color to work with in poultry, and this may be one of the reasons for the growing interest in the Black Swedish variety. Either variety must have a white bib that is four to five inches wide at its widest point and tapering in as it moves up toward the mandible. Mature weights are eight pounds for drakes and seven pounds for hen ducks.

There has been a lot of interest in elaborately colored and feathered birds of many different poultry species. They can certainly be eye-catching, and many are bought from artist-recreated pictures in catalogs or on the Internet. Alas, all birds of a breed do not hatch with the potential to be showroom winners; many mismarks can be used to produce later winners, and most will have some practical values. The British will call these garden birds, very suitable for hobbyists or those wanting a few birds to produce for the family table.

Learn more about Beyond the Chicken here

About the Author: 

Kelly Klober was raised on a small farm in Middletown, Missouri, where he began a lifetime of experience with various livestock species, including heritage poultry. Klober has been active in poultry and livestock breed preservation for more than 35 years. He holds a State Farmer Degree from the Missouri FFA. Klober has written on agriculture, especially the small farm field, for over 20 years. He and his wife continue to farm with much love and attention to his heritage poultry flock.

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Find a complete listing of all of Kelly Klober’s titles here.

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Regenerative Farming is an Indigenous Concept

By Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

This essay is intended as one step of many to bring attention to the ancestral concept of regenerative thinking as applied to the agriculture sector. It is an attempt at growing a conciencia among the many who seek to colonize this concept and as a result compromise the potential that the regenerative way of knowing and being represents in relation to the climate, ecological, nutrition, poverty and social crises we face.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

The process of colonization follows a very predictable linear process — discover, name, appropriate, expropriate, dominate, extract value, install control systems, legalize violence and repression against anyone who opposes the rules made by the rule-makers. The colonizers build infrastructure needed to manage the colonization of the mind and the behavior of the masses so that the installed infrastructure can be perpetuated.

The newfound land of “regenerative” is a concept recently “discovered” by many, but few are recognizing that this ancestral way of knowing, being, organizing, managing and governing our relation to the earth’s ecosystems has already resulted in the preservation of over 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. More accurately, this is an indigenous form of agriculture practiced on Native territories on less than 20 percent of the land surface where over 370 million Native communities reside. On the opposite side of the spectrum, colonizing ways have dominated how we relate to each other and to the rest of the ecosystems of the earth, resulting in desolation, hunger, destruction, desertification, poverty, loss of soil fertility and a disrupted climate.

Just as Native culture, traditions, rituals and art have been appropriated and colonized, indigenous ways of relating to the magnificent ecosystems on which life depends are being colonized. Indigenous ways have allowed ecosystems to continuously regenerate and deliver food, shelter, fiber and the capacity to exchange value and to build communities and governance systems. These ways of thinking and doing things are central in ancestral governing structures that seek to bring into balance our naturally occurring colonizing and indigenous duality; this is the foundation of regenerative thinking which delivers regenerative systems.

I currently see the world of regenerative agriculture through the lenses of my work with the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (RAA). Those who recognize my name might know of my work with regenerative poultry systems.

At the RAA we focus on regenerative poultry because it represents the most effective system-level option to engage the largest number of BIPOC community members in real, scalable and profitable culturally and economically compatible opportunities to enter the food supply chain. Systems change to us means not relegating BIPOC communities to the edges of the current system but rather as central to a regenerative system design. Regenerative systems are, by design, how nature handles itself at scale. Those who operate from indigenous ancestral ways learned and tested ways of managing the earth’s ecosystems at scale. It is not as if anyone can argue that native communities in the U.S. depended on small farms. The large-scale capacity of Native communities to manage the landscape was primarily the result of the governing structures, the systems for control and management and the decision-making processes. What happened on the land was the result, not the beginning, of the regenerative process.

In the Shadow of Green Man book cover
In the Shadow of the Green Man by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted BIPOC communities engaged in the food systems supply chain, but only because of conditions created by the system itself — an artificially generated catastrophe defined by greed. A regenerative movement is needed to create change going forward, but let’s be clear about what kind of movement. For many of us, it is a movement of families to the land, BIPOC entrepreneurs to the supply chain infrastructure, of capital to acquire and deploy critical physical infrastructure, of individualistic thinking to the indigenization of processes, methodology, and of governance for collective impact. A movement from small vulnerable and individually unfeasible farms to a large-scale system of small farms. A movement of respecting and engaging BIPOCs’ cultural, traditional, ancestral wealth to serve as foundations of innovation and competitiveness. A movement of ownership and control of land and infrastructure from vertical to horizontal and from outside control and governance to collective governance and decision-making. This is how a regenerative agriculture system begins, and as a result, we will change what happens to the land, the soil, biodiversity, rural economies.

Indigenization, like antiracism, is central to achieving decolonizing outcomes. Indigenization results from a process of self and collective reflection and conscientization that redefines ways of seeing, comprehending, studying, interacting, and working with earth’s natural systems. It centers on an identity that reflects our dependency on natural living systems — a process by which we take on our responsibility to preserve, respect and protect the evolutionary processes that generated the conditions that allowed for the emergence of, and will ensure the preservation of, the diversity of life on the planet, including our own.

The indigenous conciencia clears up the mind and allows us to engage in decolonization processes. Central to decolonization is the transformation of ownership, control, and governing structures that currently perpetuate the extraction of natural resources, appropriation and exploitation of ancient resources, and the destruction of natural ecosystems that hold rich biodiversity and are central to the evolution and preservation of life on earth.

The regenerative movement must be people-centered, a movement of people into actions that target structures and systems at the root of what is not working. To achieve regenerative outcomes, this movement must prioritize the equal representation of BIPOC community members in the supply chain, with clear individual and collective ownership, control and governance goals. It is a movement of capital to deliver sustainable and decent livelihoods for everyone involved, but especially the farmers, farmworkers, supply chain workers and entrepreneurs on whom the quality and nutritional integrity of the food, wealth, health and value depends.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is the founder of Regenerative Agriculture Alliance. He is the author of In the Shadow of Green Man: My Journey from Poverty and Hunger to Food Security and Hope.