We operate a 640-acre organic farm in northeast North Dakota. We raise wheat, barley, oats and triticale grain crops. There are approximately 340 acres in grass and trees, 120 acres in CRP, 32 acres in alfalfa/grass for forage and the rest is grazed. We do intensive cell grazing of our 85 head sheep flock and custom cell graze 3 20-head cow/calf pair herds. Diane (my wife) makes wool products from the wool of our sheep. We raise 400 free range chickens which we direct market to folks in the area. We have been doing our own on-farm processing of these chickens. We also have 13 pigs which we use to compost the manure packs in the barn after the sheep and later direct market the meat. We started converting our farm to organic in 1985. Over time we have added livestock and the cell grazing concept. We are now looking to convert more of the farm to a grass based operation.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The objective of this project is to provide accessibility of a small scale poultry eviscerating facility to several small producers in a geographic area of eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
Poultry producing farmers in this area would like to expand their small flocks and add new producers. A mobile facility like this would allow those producers to do that without large investments in processing equipment. A shared unit will allow all of them to keep their overhead down and provide food into their local food systems. The commercial facilities available in SD and MN are extremely costly involving great travel distances resulting in increased mortality and decreased quality. Producers with small farm flocks are not able to procure shackle space in these facilities because they have too few numbers. These producers fall through the cracks of the industrialized system.
Having processed chickens on our farm for several years, a lot of back ground information has been gained. I took our basic processing idea, did research as to other machinery available and brought together what I felt was a workable unit.
In my involvement in the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS) I got to know other folks doing poultry processing. These people were a good source of information. I had one of these processors look over what I had assembled and I asked for his input. He offered several suggestions, which since have been implemented. Other people who were interested in such a facility also gave input into what they thought might be necessary.
I feel the results of the unit have been good. The people who have used it have commented on how well it worked. There is always room for improvements to be made over time. As these areas are noted, changes will be made to improve them. The processing equipment works well. I have tried to make it people friendly. The people who have come to watch it in operation have commented on its efficiency.
I have enjoyed designing and building this facility. It has been good to use on our farm and the folks who help us process like the way it works. We have done processing for 6 other folks. Two have been at their places. We charge mileage and $1.25/bird which includes a shrink wrap bag. We have done about 2,000 birds with the unit to date. Maybe the cost of fuel might be hampering more distant users. I have had inquires from folks about building their own units in other areas.
I have been a bit disappointed as to the number of folks who have used it. In doing workshops at NPSAS and a display at Market Place with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, there was a lot of excitement about having such a facility available. I have kept my usage cost down to encourage usage. I feel there needs to be more work done in getting folks to raise chickens. This is what I tried to do with the extension of time for the project. I cannot say it produced much in the way of results.
Outreach included displays at the annual winter conference of NPSAS in Aberdeen, SD and at Market Place in Bismarck, ND in 2005. There were also workshops given at these meetings explaining the facility and availability. Both workshops were attended by 25 to 30 people. Additional workshops were also given at other NPSAS conferences. We had an open house here at the farm in the fall of 2005 with several people attending. Extension folks have been invited to see the unit in operation and it has been listed on the NDSU list serve. Our processing facility has been discussed with local economic development folks in the area. Whenever we get a chance to tell our story, we do it. I have also displayed it at a local farmers market. This summer, we will be attending a symposium at which time we will promote it again.
I feel this is a very good program. It helps develop alternative and sustainable projects that would not otherwise be done. I hope the funding will be continued or expanded to allow more producers to take advantage of it.