Seven Springs Speaker Spotlight: Harvey Ussery, Chicken Farmer

Reader Contribution by Erica Binns
article image

Get to know Harvey Ussery of The Modern Homestead.

What are you going to speak about at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: I will give an overview of my holistic approach to mixed-flock, homestead and small farm poultry husbandry, as presented in my new book of the same title. My approach emphasizes integrating the poultry flock into the total home and small market food production enterprise, by enlisting them as partners for soil improvement, making compost, insect control, and more. All aspects of housing, health, feeding, and ranging are based on fullest possible provision for their natural lifestyle on the home place.

Chickens in the Garden: This presentation will be a case study of the possibilities outlined in my Small-Scale Poultry Flock presentation: strategies for using a working flock of chickens to till in cover crops, control slugs and snails and weeds, and make compost — without trashing the garden.

Trash to Treasure: Bioconversion of Organic “Wastes” to Resource: To truly imitate nature, we must banish all notion of “waste,” remembering that in natural systems one critter’s waste is another’s priceless resource. This presentation will focus on three options for achieving this alchemy: working with decomposer organisms such as earthworms and soldier fly grubs, and partnering with composter chickens, from the backyard scale up to the use of a flock of 1200 layers to make hundreds of tons of compost per year in Vermont Compost Company’s fascinating model.

What are you most looking forward to sharing with FAIR attendees?

A commitment to respecting and supporting the ecological web in which our home food production efforts are set.

Tell us about your background with your particular topic.

I have been raising a mixed flock of poultry as a key to greater food independence for almost thirty years. I am constantly reaching for new ways to integrate the flock with the work of food production, to make them happy and content, and to provide them more live, natural foods right on the homestead.

Using composter chickens, and decomposer organisms like redworms and soldier grubs, I have been experimenting for years to find new ways to convert organic “wastes” into resources, for greater soil fertility and provision of more live, high-quality foods for my flocks.

Why should fairgoers attend your presentation?

You are unlikely to find a presentation on poultry husbandry that takes as seriously the coming changes in the economy that will necessitate more food production at home; nor that stresses as much the possibilities for integrating the flock with other elements of the home food production project. In addition, the bioconversion of organic “wastes” — to prevent their loss as energy in the food system, and to prevent their emergence as pollution in the ecology — is everybody’s job. This is an opportunity to learn how you can help with this critical work.

How will you get to the FAIR, and how far do you have to travel?

I will drive, sharing transportation with another presenter at the FAIR. Distance is almost 200 miles.

What are you most looking forward to at the FAIR?

I love sharing ideas with people who are passionate about finding saner, more sustainable ways to produce our food. After all, as Wendell Berry observed, “how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”

What advice do you have for attendees?

Be sure to buy a copy of my new book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock!

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have only one thing, what would you choose?

I would choose a small flock of traditional farm-breed chickens. They would feed themselves by foraging over the island, and keep me supplied with eggs, one of the most perfect foods, and the occasional chicken dinner. In the process they would continually improve my island’s soil by working in plant covers and their droppings, increasing its productivity for whatever food crops I was able to grow. Hens who went broody would hatch out chicks to renew the flock each year.

Thanks, Harvey. We’ll see you at the FAIR!

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about the Seven Springs, Pa. FAIR September 24-25, and upcoming FAIRs in other locations. Tickets are on sale now.

You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Keep an eye out for Trivia Ticket Tuesdays and Trivia Ticket Thursdays for your chance to win two tickets to the FAIR!