Farmer Jay's Sustainable Chicken Coop and His Pig, Pearl
In the past few years, hit books and movies like Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me helped make us more conscious of how our food is produced. That's a good thing, but these days, you can barely eat an apple without worrying that it was grown in a way that polluted the water, tortured an animal, and is going to give you cancer.
Small, local farmers won't take down Big Agriculture in a day, but hey, they can start chipping away at it. Earlier this week, we introduced Jason McCobb of Farmer Jay's Pure Organics. Today, meet his chickens -- and his pig.
Pearl the pig and her chickens
Using an idea popularized by writer Michael Pollan when he described Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms in Virginia in the book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Farmer Jay's has built a moving chicken coop. McCobb has evolved the concept even further: by adding a pig to the equation. Sounds strange, but hey -- it works.
First, Jay sections off an area of his land with poultry netting to create a pen. Then he rolls in his chicken-coop-on-wheels and its 50 chickens, and brings in Pearl the Pig . The animals can roam in and out of the chicken coop. Their natural actions help to prep and fertilize the patch of land. Every few weeks, Jay pulls up the fence and scoots it over to section off a new patch of land. Voila! -- the recently evacuated patch is fertile and ready for planting.
"This is a unique model, that frankly we need to be documenting and letting people know about," Jay says, "because a pig with chickens is unheard of. Usually, pigs will eat the chickens. Since, I've had her since she was a baby it has been working out great."
Pearl works as a living rototiller. Her natural pig instinct, to root around in dirt, helps to prep the ground for future growing. According to McCobb, "The chickens clean the area up. Pearl roots. They all fertilize. Then I just come out here and dump food. The goal is to grow about 75 percent of their food." The feed generally consists of seeds, old vegetables, and oftentimes table scraps, thus making it almost a closed loop of sustainability.
The chicken coop, capable of holding up to 100 chickens
?The chicken coop, which McCobb made from an old barbecue trailer, is capable of holding 100 chickens. At the moment, it's providing shelter for 50 chickens and Pearl, who uses the cover as protection from the sun and rain.
To the right, you can see the last location of the pen
The solar-powered, electric poultry netting, which is used to keep Pearl from rooting herself and the chickens out to run free, is moved every three to four weeks. This gives the area enough time for prepping without causing too much of an adverse reaction to the land. The fence has been moved to its current location about two weeks before my visit. McCobb was already able to illustrate the benefits. "It's been two weeks since we moved it and you can already see tomatoes popping up," he says as he points out a newly emerging vine.
Pearl taking a break from the heat
McCobb's eggs will not be ready until August; the hens are still too young. However, if you are looking for more information or would like to check out the farm, you can find him on facebook or his website at myfarmerjay.com.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to South Florida dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.