Establishing a Wisconsin Hatchery to Produce and Sell Organically Raised Pastured Poultry Chicks

Final Report for FNC03-495

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $5,981.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,573.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


PROJECT BACKGROUND When we first applied for this grant, our farm consisted of 83 acres. Much of that was wetland and woods. The front part of our property had space to raise approximately 300 to 400 chickens on pasture. During the spring of 2003, to our dismay, a neighbor began converting the 40-acre field directly across the road from us into five 8-acre housing plots. At this same time, we were putting some of our woods into the State of Wisconsin Managed Forest Program. As part of that process, my husband Vince met with our neighbor immediately to the east to mark trees along our joint property line. That neighbor owned a 14-acre field next to us that he rented out to a conventional farmer who planted corn and beans. In light of the development across from us, Vince proposed that we purchase the 14-acre field and farm it in a sustainable manner. Our neighbor accepted this proposal. This actually turned out to be a win-win situation for both of us as we were able to acquire more acreage for raising poultry and vegetables. Our neighbor was able to sell his land knowing that we would not be using it for housing development. He was also able to build an outbuilding and put away money for his children’s college education. Thus, we now own 97 acres. During our first year of owning the field, we planted oats. Due to a significant late summer drought, we did not harvest anything off the field. We also had soil testing done by Midwest Bio-Ag. This season, we fertilized based upon soil test recommendations and planted a dry-tolerant pasture mixture. We also planted approximately ¼ acre of vegetables. Our long term goal is to develop a pasture rotation of chickens and vegetables. Closer to our house, we have a large organic garden that supplies the majority of our produce needs. During 2003, we also had a small six-family CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We sell pastured poultry, eggs and goat milk soap to customers on the farm and through a local Downtown Farmer’s Market in Eau Claire, WI. Vince works in town full-time. Julie works two days per week during the school year. Our goal is to spend more time farming and less time working in town. We have four children. Ben (22) is a college senior. Marissa (17) is a high school senior. Our sons Sasha (9) and Ilya (5) were adopted from Russia. Going to Russia and seeing how much of the rest of the world lives has inspired in us a deep appreciation for sustainable family- and environmentally-friendly agriculture. We believe a family farm is an excellent place to raise responsible children. Our boys have daily chores and help with the chickens as much as they can. Before receiving this grant, we did raise pastured poultry and laying hens. All of our livestock was and is fed certified organic feed, which we purchase locally from S&S Grains in Arcadia, WI. Prior to receiving this grant, all of our chicks were purchased via mail order from out of state. Our vegetables have all been grown “organically” although we have not been certified. PROJECT GOAL The goal of this project has been to establish the first Wisconsin-based hatchery to produce organically raised chicks specifically bred for a pasture-based poultry production system. The problems addressed included: being able to produce a chicken less prone to the heart attack and leg problems commonly seen in the standard Cornish Cross meat chicken, and establishing a local source for Western Wisconsin poultry producers to obtain quality chicks. The breed we selected for this project was the Corndel Cross developed by Timothy Shell of Mt. Solon, Virginia. At the start of our project, there were 49 Wisconsin members of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (“APPPA Grit!,” Issue 23, Winter 2003). It was estimated that the majority of these producers purchased Cornish Cross chicks shipped in from out of state hatcheries. These chicks came from breeding stock raised for confinement poultry operations. Both factors can lead to significant problems. Shipping stress can cause a higher mortality rate and lower dressed weights resulting in lower producer profits. Confinement genetics can lead to death due to inactivity, heart attack, and leg problems. We proposed that breeding, hatching and raising chickens on our farm would reduce the problems associated with shipping stress. Following the 9/11 tragedies and anthrax scares, there was concern as to whether shipping carriers would even transport poultry. Although this appears to be resolved, it is not inconceivable that this problem could resurface. During 2003, quarantines were placed on poultry in other states due to outbreaks of Newcastle disease and Avian Influenza. Producers who relied on these birds had orders postponed or cancelled. Should shipping cease even temporarily, it would negatively impact us and other local pastured poultry producers. THE PROCESS The following objectives were used to complete the steps necessary to conduct our project: Objective 1: Raise and over winter breeding stock to produce chicks for the 2004 season. Steps to Reach Goal: Our initial plan was to purchase 100 Corndel Cross chicks from Timothy Shell and to identify the 30 peak performers for use as a breeder flock. Shortly after we began this project, we learned that Mr. Shell and his family would be relocating to China by the end of the year. As we would be one of the few producers in this country with Corndel breeding stock, we decided to keep as many chickens as we could for our breeder flock. At this time, we know of only two to three other producers who have flocks of Corndel Cross breeders. Our 102 chicks were shipped from Virginia on 7/29/03. They arrived at the Eau Claire, WI postal station approximately 10:30 p.m. on 7/30/03 and were settled into the brooder by 12:30 p.m. on 7/31/03. As chicks were handled during brooder placement, it was noted that their body style seemed different than the regular Cornish Cross (i.e. larger rib cage). They were also observed to be a lot more active in the brooder than the Cornish Cross. One chick was dead in the box. One chick died on 8/5/03. On 8/18/03, at 20 days of age, the chicks were moved to the pasture pen with the help of our two young boys, Sasha and Ilya. The chickens were raised on pasture in a portable pen that was moved at least daily. The pen was surrounded by a portable electric fence. During their time on pasture, we experienced a significant drought that severely reduced the amount of grasses and clovers available for the chickens to eat. We noted a significant amount of feather picking among the flock during the month of September. In consulting with Timothy Shell and Jeff Mattocks of the Fertrell Corporation, the possibilities for this included lice, overcrowding and/or boredom. We had raised the same number of chickens in this pen arrangement several times before and had never seen feather picking. Thus we were not sure this was an overcrowding problem. At Jeff’s recommendation, we treated the birds organically for lice although we did not see any visual signs of them. This treatment did not appear to make a difference. This led us to believe that the problem may have been caused by boredom and/or depleted pasture due to the significant drought we were experiencing at that point in the season. We lost one rooster on September 22 for no apparent reason. It did not appear die from any obvious disease or heart attack. On September 29th, we took 34 birds to a federally inspected processing plant. Dressed weights averaged 3.33 pounds at 9 weeks. Although we were somewhat disappointed with the low weights, these chickens were purposely culled for small size. In addition, we believe the drought may have impacted the processed weights. Going out another one to three weeks before processing would have been another option to improve weights. This likely would have been the best option, after consulting with Tim Shell, as he expects this breed to have an even longer grow out when raised using this “day range” model with the moveable fencing as the birds exercise more. We kept 53 hens and 12 roosters to winter over for our breeder flock. One hen was lost to a hawk attack. In September, one hen and one rooster looked as though they slipped a tendon as they were limping. These were butchered. When the weather turned below zero, we lost a few more chickens. In December and January, a few chickens appeared sick and some died. We will address this further in the next section on winter housing. We went into the hatching phase with 46 hens and 10 roosters. Winter Housing: We spent a lot of time researching winter housing for our flock. We decided to erect a 14 x 24 hoophouse that was 6 feet high in the center. Rationale for this housing included: •Structure had the potential for multiuse •Chickens could add fertility to our garden area through deep bedding •During nice winter weather, the chickens will have access to a large fenced-in area providing them with more space as well as continuing to improve our soil fertility •We have a neighbor who is Amish who has built his own greenhouse and who could assist us in building construction The chickens were moved in on 10/27/03. Our electrician installed an exhaust fan connected to a humidistat. Deep bedding was placed in the hoophouse and was added to on a regular basis. Despite the fan and two vents on the opposite side of the structure, we experienced significant moisture problems at times. This was particularly problematic when we received large amounts of wet snow. At those times, moisture built up on the cover within the hoophouse and “rained” into the building despite our best efforts to use a shammy cloth to remove the excess water. In December, two hens died during a severe below zero cold spell. In January, one hen died and another appeared sick. Jeff Mattocks of Fertrell Corporation was consulted. He felt the illness may have been due to the straw bedding not being absorbent enough and suggested we switch to wood shavings. We did not have any sick chickens after making this change. However, we spent significantly more than anticipated on bedding ($250.11). We had budgeted $45. Our hens laid their first eggs on January 14th at 24 weeks of age. As of March 15th, the hens were producing up to 32 eggs per day. Some of these eggs were sold as table eggs for $2.75/dozen. The incubator and hatcher were set up on a large table in the furnace room of our basement. We added a sink to that room in January. This proved invaluable for keeping the incubator and hatcher water reservoirs filled as well as for cleaning both units. In the spring, before hatching our first chicks, we enclosed a 16 ft. x 24 ft. area in one of our outbuildings to make a separate more rodent-proof area for our brooder. A propane connection was installed to accommodate a propane brooder hood. Over the course of the summer, we selected the best hens and roosters from each of our hatches until we had 75 saved out as our 2005 breeder flock. We consulted with a number of individuals who have experience raising breeder flocks (i.e. Tim Shell, Tom Delahany, Matt John) to determine how to select our 2005 birds. Our options were to either take all of the new breeders from one hatch or to select the best from each flock. The consultants recommended selecting the best from each flock. Their logic was that we could choose the best of the best from each flock. They also recommended growing out the chickens as long as possible so we could get a better idea of how they would look as mature adults. Over the course of the summer, we had a new barn built. Given the challenges faced with winter housing last year, we had one of the lean-to sides insulated and made into winter housing for our 2005 breeder flock. Objective 2: Evaluate the economic viability of our on-farm hatchery operation. Our financial data was entered into the Quicken program over the course of this project. I had initially tried to use the Pastured Poultry Budget system designed by Don Schuster however found Quicken to be much easier to use for overall expense tracking purposes. During the project, we consulted with Don Schuster, Project Economist for the Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with our CPA Dan Borreson as planned. We also began working with Carl Rainey of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to develop a business plan. Carl has done an excellent job of presenting financial information in a manner we can easily understand. We are continuing to work with Carl. Our goal is to use him to objectively evaluate the profit potential of each of our farming enterprises. Breeder Flock Feed Consumption was calculated as follows: Breeder Flock Feed consumption Aug 200 lbs. @ .21 42.00 1500 lbs. @ .18 270.00 September 9/24 550 lbs. 102.12 Oct 10/20/04 300 lbs. 57.36 Nov 11/21/04 400lbs. 80.96 Dec Jan 1/02/04 600 lbs. 126.00 Feb 550 lbs. @ .21 115.50 Mar 560 lbs. @ 21 117.60 April 540 lbs. @ .21 113.40 May 560 lbs. 117.60 June 540 lbs. 113.40 July 590 lbs. 123.90 Aug 560 lbs. 117.60 September (9 days) 162 lbs. 34.02 TOTAL: $1,531.46 One of the questions raised by this objective is whether brooding can be profitable or not. If not, what factors need to be improved to make it profitable. At this point, it appears that raising chicks does have the potential to be a profitable enterprise for our farm. Financially, when examining costs we will assign the chicks a value of $1.00 each. We raised 441 chicks to adulthood. Of these, 366 were processed for our eating and sales. Seventy five were kept as our 2005 breeder flock. The four producers who assisted us in our study received a total of 322 chicks. These farmers were given their chicks at no cost in exchange for project participation. Throughout the course of this project, we were contacted by numerous small poultry producers from all over the country who were asking to buy chicks. As we did not have any data upon which to base chick production, we decided to only provide chicks to farmers who wanted relatively small numbers of chicks and who could pick them up at our farm. We charged $1.00 a piece for those chicks. The total number of chicks raised for our use, our project participants, and for on-farm sales was therefore: 968 (441 + 322 + 205). At $1.00 per chick, this would potentially be $968.00. Significant capital expenses offset this income. For example, our incubator, hatcher, and other incubation supplies cost $1,387.18. In addition, winter housing and supplies totaled: $1,830.91. Bedding for the winter housing far exceeded our expected cost at: $250.11. After working with these chicks for a year, it is our impression that it is only worthwhile to try to maintain a breeder flock of chickens that are relatively rare such as these Corndel Crosses. With the fairly cheap cost of standard Cornish Cross chicks, it would not be worth the capital costs and significant amount of winter labor to raise something so common and inexpensive. Other less tangible factors to consider include the fact that raising our own chicks makes our farm more sustainable. It provides a great educational tool for customers and their children. The chicks are excellent “good will ambassadors” for our farm. We also believe the Corndel Cross chickens are a very tasty, healthy chicken that has significant benefits over the industry standard Cornish Cross. One of these benefits is the lower mortality rate. This makes them more fun for a family to raise, especially when children are involved. Our son Sasha is very sensitive and has a tendency to cry when we discover dead chickens. Having a hardier chicken in our family translates into having a happier child on that account. Factors that may improve the profitability of our hatchery enterprise include: increasing the size of our breeder flock so we could raise more chicks at once and/or have the ability to fill larger local orders. Raising more at once would increase profitability by reducing our labor costs. Raising smaller flocks as we did this year meant taking care of fewer chickens for a longer period of time thus significantly increasing our labor. Objective 3: Provide at least 100 organically raised pastured poultry chicks to each the following local producers beginning approximately April 19, 2004 and continuing through approximately August 18, 2004: Jenny Dubiel – Osseo, WI (Small Producer), Melvin and Shawn Seuferer (Small Producers), Randy and Lynn Anderson –Arkansaw, WI (Medium Producer) and Mike and Debra Hansen – Milladore, WI (Large Producer). Prior to the hatching season, we contacted each of our participating producers. They were asked to provide us with the dates they wished to receive their chicks. A hatching calendar was then created around those dates. Mel and Shawn Seufer received 85 chicks from us on April 27th. They requested less than 100 as that would work best for their operation. Randy and Lynn Anderson were scheduled to receive their chicks in mid-June. The hatching calendar had been set up so that enough eggs would be set aside to produce a hatch of at least 100 chicks. Randy typically grows out two batches of 500 chickens. The large commercial hatchery that was supplying the majority of his chickens ended up changing the delivery date of his chicks. When he called me to change his date, he needed his chicks in 18 days. Given that chicks take 21 days to hatch, he was limited to the chicks that would result from the eggs in the incubator at that time. Thus, he only received 88 chicks instead of the 100 we had planned. Jenny Dubiel picked up her chicks on August 27th. She received 85 chicks. That hatch was planned to produce over 100 chicks however the hatchability rate had dropped to 55 percent at that point. Our family delivered 70 chicks to Mike and Debra Hansen on August 14th. Mike and Deb had also been on the original hatch schedule for a different week and then had their chick delivery date changed by their large commercial hatchery. If the original hatch date had remained the same, I believe we could have provided them with the 100 chicks as planned. Over the course of the summer, I gathered hatch data including the number of eggs set versus the number of live chicks hatched. This ranged from a low of 49 percent at the end of the season to a high of 77 percent early in the season. This data will be invaluable in planning for next year. Without any hatching experience before starting this project, I had erroneously assumed the hatchability would be higher than it was. Objective 4: Maintain regular contact with local growers regarding chick health and growth. This and keeping accurate up-to-date records was one of our most challenging objectives to accomplish due to everyone’s busy summer farming schedule. We attempted to maintain contact through e-mail. This was a more effective way to communicate than by phone as people could respond on their own time schedule. We had planned to do a fall producer’s meeting at our home. However, due to an illness in our family and other complications of scheduling we were not able to get this on our fall calendar. We believe a more reasonable alternative is to schedule a face-to-face meeting in conjunction with one of the winter farming conferences. We are currently checking with our participating producers to see whether the Value Added Farming Conference in Eau Claire in January 2005 or the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse in February 2005 would be the best option for a meeting. We have submitted presentation proposals to both conferences. If not chosen to do a presentation, we will schedule a meeting outside the published conference hours at either our home or the conference site. PEOPLE Producers: Jenny Dubiel – Osseo, WI (Small Producer) Melvin and Shawn Seuferer (Small Producers) Randy and Lynn Anderson –Arkansaw, WI (Medium Producer) Mike and Debra Hansen – Milladore, WI (Large Producer) Consultants: Timothy Shell – Primary project consultant. Timothy developed the Corndel Cross breed and has provided a wealth of helpful information. Matt John – Owner/Operator of Shady Lane Poultry Farm, Inc. in Kentucky. After Tim Shell moved to China, I had some difficulty contacting him. At that point, I contacted Matt who shared freely of his knowledge and expertise. Tom Delahany – Tom has a flock of Tim Shell’s Corndel Cross chickens. He and I have been in contact to share information about our flocks. Tom has a lot more experience doing this that I and has been a very valuable resource. Steve Stevenson – Steve works for the Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies at the University of WI-Madison. He has provided valuable insights and information based upon his extensive experience working with other pastured poultry producers. Don Schuster – Don designed the Pastured Poultry Budget system and has provided phone consultation to us to clarify how to complete this resource. Carl Rainey – Carl provides financial consultation to farmers through his position with the WI Department of Agriculture. He is helping us to examine the profit potential of each of our enterprises. Mike Bandli – Mike coordinates the Agricultural Development and Diversification Program through the WI Department of Agriculture. Mike has assisted us by asking questions which have helped clarify our thinking and has directed us to appropriate resources when we have had questions. RESULTS 1. We were able to successfully overwinter a breeder flock of Corndel Cross Chickens in our harsh winter climate in Wisconsin. Of the 53 hens and 12 roosters we started the winter season with, 46 hens and 10 roosters survived. At the start of this project, I would have expected more to survive. However, I had not anticipated the problems we encountered with winter housing. We have changed this for 2005 by using a more permanent insulated structure as opposed to a hoophouse. 2. Our breeder flock produced at least 1,589 eggs that were put into the incubator. It is estimated that the flock laid at least twice that many eggs. Many were culled immediately due to being soiled or cracked. Some were double yolked and thus were not incubated. All of the clean eggs were weighed. Those less than 60 grams were either eaten or sold. I had not expected there to be so many eggs that would not make it to the incubator. This information will be valuable in planning for next year. 3. Hatchability rates varied from 49 to 77 percent. This was lower than I had projected but consistent with information later obtained from Tim Shell. I had also not anticipated the variability in hatch rates, but that too was consistent with information provided by Mr. Shell. 4. Our family raised 366 Corndel Cross chickens that were processed for meat. An additional 75 were raised and kept as our 2005 breeder flock. This totals 441 Corndel Cross Chickens. 5. Grazing – The Corndels loved to eat grass. In the morning when we would let them out of their pen, many of them would start to eat grass even though their grain was in the feeders. This would be very unusual for Cornish Cross chickens. In addition, they were less aggressive in heading to the feeders as compared to the Cornish. 6. Roosting – The Corndels were far more likely to roost than the Cornish. At night, their roost bars would be full. This also seemed to contribute to a much cleaner appearance. 7. Flavor – We felt the flavor of the Corndel Cross was excellent. Some customers commented that it was a “chewier” meat although not tough. We believe this increased texture was likely due to these being a more active chicken. 8. Feed Consumption – This was difficult to track once we started hatching chicks. We ended up with chicks from several different hatches combined into one flock. In addition, we purchased our feed in bulk to save on cost. From the bulk bins, we were feeding the Corndel Cross meat chickens plus several different flocks of turkeys. We also purchased layer feed in bulk which was shared between the Corndel breeder flock and our other laying chickens. 9. Processed Weights – Corndel Cross: (a chart showing the number of birds processed as whole chickens, the number of weeks grown, weight range, total weight, and average weight is available from the NCR-SARE office upon request. For a copy, call 1-800-529-1342 or e-mail: [email protected]). These data demonstrate that the Corndel does take significantly longer to grow out than the Cornish. This is what we expected. We did find our Farmer’s Market customers tended to prefer smaller chickens which was one advantage to the smaller processed weights of the Corndel. 10. Mortality: Over the course of the summer, we raised 441 chickens. Of those, we lost only 10 chicks in the brooder and 5 chickens once they were put on pasture. One of the pasture birds died from accidental causes. Some of the chicks that died in the brooder likely would never been shipped to a customer. Many of the chicks that died were not very hearty to begin with and/or needed help coming out of their shells. Mortality Percentage Corndel Cross: 441/456 = 97% We also raised 100 Cornish Cross chicks at the end of the season. Four extra were included in the box for a total of 104. Nine died. Mortality Percentage Cornish Cross: 95/104 = 91% Thus our Corndels performed significantly better than the Cornish. Producer Reported Results: Randy & Lynn Anderson Report (Large Producer) I picked up 88 chicks at your farm on June 9, 2004. I lost 6 chicks in the brooder and 2 on pasture. They were in the brooder 5 weeks and on pasture 5 weeks. I fed them 398 lbs. of feed in the brooder and 868 on pasture. Total of 1,266 lbs. We processed 80 chickens on Aug 20. Total processed weight was 348 lbs., average weight was 4.35 lbs. This did not include any hearts, gizzards, or livers. The Corndel Cross chickens ate more forages. Based upon Randy’s report, I calculated: Feed Conversion: 1,266 lbs. / 80 = 15.825 lbs. feed per dressed chicken 1,266 lbs. / 348 lbs. = 3.63 lbs. 3.63 pounds of feed per pound of weight gain Feed cost per pound of broiler produced – Multiply the feed conversion times the cost per pound of feed. 3.63 x .195 = .71 feed cost/pound of live weight Mike & Deb Hansen, Gifts from the Good Earth, Report (Large Producer) Mortality - Normal. No different than our Cornish Cross. Feed consumption. I don't have separate data on feed consumption as they were in with our Cornish Cross birds. Dressed weights (and length of grow out). About 3 lbs. at 8 weeks. I have kept the majority of the Corndels as laying hens because even now at 14 weeks of age, they are only about 4 lbs. live weight for the hens. The cockrels are a bit larger, but not by much. Impressions you had of this breed versus the usual Cornish Cross. They did feather nice and have a good balanced frame and leg structure. Breast size is small and this is a hindrance if you are looking to work with restaurants. I am hopeful that these birds will do well as layers and we intend to cross them with traditional farm laying breeds like barred rock, etc. My final impression as it relates to meat bird production would be no. Melvin and Shawn Seuferer Report (Small Producer) Please see attached report prepared by Shawn. Their results included the following: “A comparison of cost of production was made between the Pastured Peepers and the Cornish-Rock breed grown previously. Previous records estimate the cost of feed to produce an eight-week, five-pound Cornish-Rock bird to be $3.86 per bird (20.29 pounds feed per bird at $.19 per pound). The cost of feed to produce a nine-week, four-pound Cornish-Delaware bird was estimated at $3.33 per bird (16.85 pounds feed per bird at $.195 per pound. Using the previous price for feed, $.19, and calculating an eight-week production period for the Cornish-Delaware bird, the cost of feed would be approximately $2.89 per bird (15.21 pounds feed per bird at $.19 per pound).” Jim & Mary Olsen, Tomah Area, Report We kept in regular e-mail contact with this family when they picked up their first batch of chicks from us. Of the 60 chicks in their first batch, they lost only one. According to Jim’s e-mail “that chick was having lung problems from about its 3rd or 4th day. They are great grazers!” DISCUSSION We learned and accomplished many things with this grant. Our major accomplishment has been to establish a small hatchery in Western Wisconsin that provides a unique breed of chicken that comes from parent stock raised on certified organic feed. Having a different breed of chicken will allow small producers to set themselves apart from other farmers who are raising the standard Cornish Cross. Thus, we are creating a niche market both for ourselves and other area farmers. We have also started to build a base of satisfied customers who have been sharing their success stories regarding the Corndel cross chicken with other local farmers. Another thing we have been able to demonstrate is that despite winter housing challenges, it is possible to raise a healthy flock of breeder chickens through a Wisconsin winter. The small producers we worked with really liked raising the Corndel Cross chickens. One family from the Tomah area purchased 60 chicks from us on May 12th and then returned again for another batch of chicks later in the season. We were able to maintain regular e-mail contact with them and they were very pleased with their chicks. Our Sportsman’s incubator and hatcher combination worked very well. We also have a small Styrofoam incubator that we tried using last year. There has been no comparison between these incubators. The Sportsman’s has been outstanding. We purchased clear doors for both the incubator and hatcher. These worked very week to visually monitor the hatches without having to open the doors and change the temperature and humidity unnecessarily. Raising our own chicks has made us more self-sufficient. We feel it has significantly reduced the amount of stress experienced by our chicks as they have had no shipping stress. We can also tell our customers that we have raised their birds from the beginning including their parents. Some of our customers have brought their children over to see the chicks hatch and/or in the brooder. We believe that this has been a great educational tool for people who normally would not encounter baby chicks. In addition, it has been a great learning experience for our two young boys Sasha (9) and Ilya (5). During early spring, when we did not have a full incubator, we hatched chicks out for some of our Amish neighbors from eggs produced from their own flocks. This had shown us that there may be another niche market for custom hatching chicks for other farmers. The Corndel chickens have been very aggressive grazers. We have noted that when let out of their pen in the morning, some of the chickens will forgo grain in favor of grass which we have never seen in the Cornish Cross chicken. One of our producers noted a significant difference in the amount of grass consumed by the Corndels in a moveable pasture pen as compared to the Cornish with the Corndels consuming significantly more grass. With the research showing grass fed beef etc. being healthier than grain fed, it seems that this may also translate into positive health benefits for the Corndels. This would of course need to be researched more objectively before making any claims such as this. When we took our first batch of chickens to our processor, he commented on how yellow their skin looked. He felt that this was an indicator of higher Omega 3’s from their increased grazing behavior. Steve Stevenson has been working on our behalf with the University of WI-Madison to arrange for nutritional testing of our chickens. The Corndel chickens had very few health problems making them enjoyable to raise. Over the course of the summer, we raised over 350 Corndel cross chickens here on our farm. During that time, we lost only 10 in the brooder and only 5 once they were turned out on pasture. Only one or two of those that died on pasture appeared to have heart attacks (i.e. were found flipped over). One of the deaths was accidental as a hen got caught in some chicken wire around an apple tree on a very hot day. Corndel vs Cornish: Over the past four years, we have raised chickens on pasture. For our first two years, we raised Cornish Cross exclusively. Last summer we began our experience with the Corndel Cross. This summer, we raised over 400 Corndel Cross chickens. Toward the end of the 2004 season, we did purchase 100 Cornish chicks. Based upon our experiences, we have noted a number of differences between the Corndel Cross and the standard Cornish Cross. The Corndel has been much more of a pleasure to raise. These birds are far more active than the Cornish. They tend to act more “chicken like.” For example, they appear to scratch more around their feeders and roost more than the Cornish. The increased scratching seems to result in less wasted feed. The Corndels tend to be more aggressive grazers. One of our participating producers raised their birds in moveable pens only (no portable fencing). At the same time as they were raising the Corndels, they were also growing out a flock of approximately 500 Cornish Cross chickens. They noted that when they moved the pens, it was obvious that the Corndels consistently ate more grass than the Cornish. When we took our Corndels to our processor, he commented that their skin was very yellow which was likely an indicator of higher Omega 3’s which could be attributed to eating more grass. Although we have not to date had this tested objectively, we would like to pursue having this done. The Corndels also remain very clean throughout their longer grow out. We think this is due to the Cornish getting heavy and lazy and not moving much. Less movement means they spend more time sitting in manure despite the fact that their pen and fencing is moved just as often as with the Corndel. Subjectively, there also seems to be a difference in the manure quality. The manure footprint left under the pens after they are moved in the morning seems to dissipate into the soil much faster for the Corndel than the Cornish. The biggest drawback to the Cornish is its mortality from heart attack and leg problems. At the end of the summer we did purchase 100 Cornish. We lost 9 altogether with 4 of those mortalities coming close to butcher time due to failed legs and one heart attack. By comparison, we rarely lost a Corndel once put out on pasture. The major drawback to the Corndel is its longer grow out. It took us approximately 11 to 13 weeks to reach an average 4 week dressed weight compared to 8 weeks for the Cornish. In addition, dressed weights had a wider range for the Corndel as compared to the Cornish. We have found that the Corndel appears to be a perfect chicken to fill a niche with the smaller family producer who is tired of the health problems frequently seen with the Cornish. The variability in processing weights also seems to help them fill orders for a small but diverse customer base who may want littler chickens to feed single people and/or couples as well as bigger birds to feed larger families. One of the things we learned early on was that chicks could fall out of the hatcher trays. The floor was a slippery metal and we were concerned about causing leg problems in the chicks. To solve the problem of chicks falling out, I used come of the cardboard barriers from my canning jars to keep them from falling over. Unfortunately, one chick got its neck stuck in one of the openings and hung itself. After that, we solved the problem by bending over these cardboard openings such that chicks could not get stuck there. We also covered the floor of the hatcher with either rubber shelf liner or paper towels. Things we will do differently based upon our experiences over the past year: • Schedule the hatching of chicks we will use first and then provide our customers with the remaining available dates to choose from. • Different winter housing for the breeder flock • Target smaller producers for our customer base • Institute better record keeping practices. Now that we have a better handle on the variables to track – particularly with hatching – this should be easier We deeply appreciate receiving this grant and the opportunities it has given us. Without it, we would not have been able to afford to take on this project. We have learned a great deal and feel we can use the knowledge gained during this year to expand and improve on our efforts at developing a local hatchery for organically raised Corndel Cross chickens. Since Timothy Shell, developer of this breed, has relocated out of the country we feel an added responsibility to continue raising these chickens, as we are one of the few producers who have a Corndel Cross breeder flock. Based upon our contacts with Timothy’s previous customers, we know these birds are in demand. Thank you again for this opportunity! Social Impact – Participation by our young children will be one of the measures used to evaluate this area. We will list and monitor the number of jobs they are able to do independently and with supervision. Our boys Sasha (9 yrs. old) and Ilya (5 yrs.) old have been very good “helpers” in caring for our flocks of chickens. Both have become quite proficient at “rounding” up chickens that have gotten out of their portable fence area. They have been able to help with the following jobs: •identifying whether eggs are fertile or not •counting chicks as they come out of the hatcher •transferring chicks (with supervision) to the brooder •transferring chicks to pasture •feeding in brooder and on pasture •watering when the chickens are on pasture Things I have not had them help with include: •feeding the breeder flock once they are on restricted feed – these chickens have a greater tendency to peck because they are hungry •moving portable pens/fencing One of the real advantages of a hatchery and pastured poultry enterprise is that our young children have gained an appreciation for where their food comes from. They are also able to participate in many tasks and chores without our fearing for their safety. OUTREACH MN Sustainable Agriculture Conference On February 21, we gave a presentation as part of a poultry panel at the MN Sustainable Agriculture Conference in St. Paul, MN. Approximately 30 people were in attendance. As a result, we had one couple from the Turtle Lake, WI area purchase 10 of our chicks. They told others about our grant at a pasture walk they attended this spring. The couple who hosted the walk called us after hearing about our project and they purchased chicks from us in July. All of these chicks were picked up at our farm at a cost of $1.00/chick. E-Mail/Phone Contacts Before moving out of the country, Timothy Shell sent an e-mail to his customers and placed a notice in the American Pastured Poultry Producers newsletter. In these communications, Mr. Shell stated that he would no longer be hatching the Corndel Cross chicks or Pastured Peepers but that we and two other farmers would have some of his stock. As a result, we have had numerous contacts from people all over the country who are interested in purchasing chicks from us. We believe we could have sold at least 1,500 chicks from these contacts. Since our main goal for this year was to hatch chicks for us and our producer partners, we did not sell any chicks to anyone outside Wisconsin. The few chicks we did have to spare were sold to four different farmers within the state. Many of the individuals who contacted us were small family farmers looking for an alternative to the regular Cornish Cross. We have taken their names and contact information and will have a good mailing list to build business from for the 2005 season. Publications When the 2004-2005 SARE grants were announced, we were contacted by Ann Hansen of “The Country Today” Newspaper. She came out and did a story on our project. The same story also appeared in our local newspaper “The Mondovi Herald.”


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.