It’s no secret that in the United States, there is a huge demand for food. The demand for food alone isn’t really the problem however. There is a demand for cheap and ready made food which has shifted the way that as Americans, we purchase our food and what our general expectations of our food really is. When there is such a high demand, supply must be met, but how?
As a non conventional farmer, a huge part of my profitability depends on 3 major factors; mortality rate, production rate and efficiency of my operation. On our farm, Whippoorwill Farms SC, our chicken operation is our largest of the multi facets of our farm. Our chicken operation includes meat and eggs and it is our most established operation on our farm. From day one, we vowed to ourselves that our operation would be antibiotic free, non gmo and over 50% organic. This is something we have been able to maintain and continue to maintain daily. Upholding these standards comes with it’s own share of challenges and at times, this means a drop in production rate which in turn means little to no, to even negative profitability.
From about September 2017 to present, we’ve been plagued with a few issues in our flocks. If you read our last blog, you probably are aware of the decrease in egg production which has greatly increased since making the changes to our pens and since writing that blog which is excellent. However, our other problem unfortunately has been upper respiratory infections throughout our flock. Upper respiratory infections are common in chickens and are contagious to their other chicken friends. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, congestion, wheezing and rattled breathing and lethargy and lack of appetite which often leads to dehydration. Ask a vet or conventional farmer and they will always tell you that antibiotics are the answer. There are a TON of antibiotics available for chickens. The answer seems simple, isolate and treat with antibiotics.
At Whippoorwill Farms SC, that answer isn’t the one we’re looking for. Isolate yes, treat yes, but not with antibiotics. But why? Did you know that on conventional farms, antibiotics are given to poultry as a “growth promoter”? According the the National Office of Animal Health, antibiotic growth promoters are used to “help growing animals digest their food more efficiently, get maximum benefit from it and allow them to develop into strong and healthy individuals.” Did you also know that a full grown meat chicken that you consume from a grocery store is only at maximum, 8 weeks old? So the antibiotics are in their system until they are slaughtered and those strong and healthy individuals are never actually established. According to the University of Delaware, “antibiotics are used regularly in animal feed for improved performance. The reasons include a more efficient conversion of feed to animal products, an increased growth rate and a lower morbidity/mortality rate in general.” Feed antibiotics, increase production, get paid, meet the increasing demand of cheap and quick food.
For the consumer though, the answer isn’t as simple. “After animals have been fed antibiotics over a period of time, they retain the strains of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. These bacteria proliferate in the animal….the bacteria flourish in the intestinal flora of the animal, as well as in the muscle,” the University of Delaware states. As consumers, we are at risk of consuming these antibiotic resistant bacteria and over time, it affects our health as humans as well and how we are able to recover from sickness and how the use of antibiotics helps us.
What does that mean on our farm? It means that we will do our part to continue to raise meat without the use of antibiotics, ever. That means taking the hard way out and naturally treating our animals to keep our meat safe and healthy for us and our customers. It means taking natural preventative steps to keep our animals healthy instead of relying on antibiotics to do the job for us. We don’t butcher our meat chickens at 8 weeks. We butcher them when they are at butchering weight, which sometimes means 12-14 weeks. When our laying hens cease in producing, we work with them to find the cause and help to treat it naturally. We work to be apart of a bigger solution instead part of the problem.
If you’re interested in making more informed purchases but are unable to purchase from us, when you’re shopping, focus your attention to companies that advertise “no antibiotics used, ever.” Hormones have never been used in raising chickens, so “hormone free” is just a gimmick. But non gmo fed is important as are no antibiotics used. If you have questions or would like to discuss operations on our farm, please feel free to reach out!