In addition to row crops, livestock production has always been one of the leading agricultural industries in Missouri. The landscape presents plenty of opportunity for grazing cattle in the many pastures throughout the state. More producers are looking to get the maximum return on their pastures and to do this need more information on grazing other species along with their cattle to better utilize the entire pasture. Most of the know-how for this undertaking can be found at the Missouri Livestock Symposium, an annual meeting of livestock producers, experts and veterinarians in Kirksville, Missouri. The meeting is aimed towards informing producers on the latest management techniques, products and information, so that they are able to make the tough on-farm decisions in the coming year.
I was on-hand to give two presentations to farmers interested in starting a poultry operation on their farm. I also answered questions, distributed ATTRA publications and met with many farmers at the ATTRA booth in the tradeshow. My first workshop, “Backyard Poultry: What to Know and How to Get Started,” covered the basics in small flocks of chickens. More people are interested in starting small backyard poultry flocks for daily eggs and personal enjoyment. However, many are not familiar with the many details that come with starting a flock. My workshop aimed to make prospective poultry owners aware of some of these challenges and better equip them to deal with them. Much of the audience had some familiarity with poultry, but were also looking for tips on how to make their flocks more efficient. Some of these advanced topics were lighting schedules and poultry nutrition. A small flock of chickens can be just as easy as any other pet, if managed correctly.
Later in the afternoon, I talked about predator management in the workshop entitled “Preventing Predation on Poultry Flocks.” For pasture-based poultry producers, predation is often the leading cause of mortality among laying or broiler flocks. Although many farmers would rather trap or kill off a predator population, they are often an integral part of a local ecosystem, and alternative methods can be used to work with specific predation issues. The central theme of this workshop was to help farmers to be more aware of their surroundings and the possible predators that could be living there. I emphasized that predation can be habitual, so it is important to steer predators away earlier so that they may start feeding elsewhere. I provided simple solutions for keeping predators out or scaring them away from main poultry housing. I covered terrestrial predators such as coyotes and raccoons, and aerial predators such as hawks and owls.
I was very happy to meet with many producers who were interested in implementing more sustainable management practices on their own farms in Missouri. Overall, the 2014 Missouri Livestock Symposium was one of the most helpful conferences that I have attended, and I look forward to returning next year to talk with more farmers and provide some solutions to those looking to get the most out of producing poultry.