In anticipation of having three cows in milk this summer, and having no place to store that much milk, and having no particular talent or skill or desire for making cheese, we purchased a cream separator. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but somehow, it spins the full fat milk through a series of little cones, and cream comes out the top spout, while the skimmed milk comes out the bottom. The cream becomes butter, mostly, and we feed the skim milk to the pigs and chickens.
Interesting fact: Did you know skim milk was considered unfit for human consumption till around WWII? We still consider it unfit here at our house.
Pigs and chickens are the most expensive animals to feed on the farm, relative to what they return in meat or eggs, so we were really looking forward to the skim milk for cutting feed costs. Pigs love it liquid, but chickens prefer their milk clabbered (semi-solid yogurt consistency) so I leave it out on the counter for 24 hours before feeding. On Day One, I sniffed it and noticed right away that it smelled quite pleasing. “You know,” I said to no one in particular, “this smells an awful lot like yogurt.” I got a spoon and pulled out a little sample. “This tastes an awful lot like yogurt!”
So my chickens have been dining on yogurt every afternoon, and it has done wonders for their health. This is the first year we are raising them like this and I was really worried about diseases just from overstocking. Our pens are 10′x10′, stocked at about 35-50 birds per pen. By comparison, Joel Salatin, who is generally credited with developing the pasture-based method for raising birds, stocks 100 Cornish cross (grocery) birds in 12′x12′ pens. I had planned from the start to stock them at half his rate for a few reasons:
a) By the time Cornish Cross birds reach slaughter age at 8 weeks, they can barely move. I have some personal experience with this, so it’s not just docu-drama hearsay. They are really too big to support themselves by then. Mine are active birds. I wanted them to have enough space to move in their pens.
b) My heritage birds are slower to grow out than Cornish Cross. Cornish birds might spend two weeks on pasture, by the time they leave the brooder. Mine won’t reach slaughter weight till 16-20 weeks, spending 10-14 weeks on pasture. Seems like an awful lot of time to be stuck in close quarters.
Even with only 40 in a pen, though, it seemed, by the smell of their manure, that they were too crowded. (You can tell a lot about a person by paying attention to their poop!) I was worried about taking losses from whatever was ailing them. However, shortly after we started feeding them our naturally cultured yogurt…no more smell! Not all of the chickens go for the yogurt right away, but several of them prefer it over the grain and I assume they know what they need better than I do.
As for us, we don’t eat the natural yogurt, because we eat the kefir, and there is only so much milk a person can consume in one day. Also, we don’t believe skim milk is fit for human consumption (or, at least, it tastes gross), and this natural yogurt culturing does not seem to happen with full fat or hand skimmed milk.
I was going to take some pictures for you this afternoon, but a sudden thunderstorm blew up and we had to hurry up to get the animals secured before it was too late. So, no time for pictures! Also, I gave up coffee cold-turkey this morning, and I’m just not in the mood.