Central North Dakota Pastured Poultry Institute

Final Report for FNC05-587

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $17,910.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Linda Grotberg
Prairie Farm Pilot Project
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Project Information


Dick and Linda Grotberg, Dick Lovestrand, Rilla Miller, and Virginia Grotberg live and work together as a Christian community in the Bethany Prairie Farm Fellowship. The farm consists of:
* 550 acres of tillable land. The farmland is being converted from conventional to organic agriculture. Hopefully we will be certified organic by 2009.
* 60 Scottish Highland cows. The cattle are part of our bio-diverse, holistic, synergistic, farming plan which is: healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy meat, eggs, and milk = healthy people.
* 12 to 15 head of Highland beef. The cattle are cell grazed, grass finished, and hormone and antibiotic free. The meat is sold locally. The number of animals for harvest will be increased to 30.
* 10 Welsh mares. The horses, part of the synergistic grazing plan, are grazed with the cattle and bred to an American Baskin Curly stallion. Sheep or lambs will be added as a part of the multi-species grazing use.
* 300 to 500 broilers and 150 laying hens. The poultry is pastured during the grass season and the hens are housed in insulated coops with outdoor access in the winter.

We are committed to sustainable, organic, responsible agriculture and convinced that it is our responsibility to teach the concept to others.

Other partners in this project are Dwight and Alison Grotberg and their children, Emmery, Frazer, Ezra, Isabella, and Soren, (Magdalena and Eli are too young this year) of Sanborn, ND. Dwight and Alison home school their children and raise about 4,000 acres of small grains. They are looking at pastured poultry as a means to insure food security for their family and provide a home-based business for their school children. Josh and Carolyn Abraham of Hannaford, ND have a 20-acre farm near Hannaford and are working to make it completely sustainable. When the Abrahams have children they want to be able to have Carolyn quit her off-farm job.

From 1963 to 1970, Dick and Linda Grotberg raised 100 to 500 chickens per year, but it was not pastured or free range. The summer of 2005, they raised 150 pastured chickens and 15 pastured heritage turkeys.

The goal of this grant is to establish the Central North Dakota Pastured Poultry Institute (CNDPPI). The main objective of the Institute is to teach and train people to raise pastured poultry and to provide the necessary tools for the production of pastured poultry. These tools shall include providing know how to build pasture pens, to care for poultry, to provide organic feed and rations, and to process the birds.

The purpose of the Institute is:
• To move away from mass production in cages seen in large production facilities.
• To feed organic feeds to poultry that is pastured in movable pens.
• To provide a means for farm families, retirees, homesteaders, and hobby farmers to provide and improve food security, increase and maintain farm sustainability, and to increase sustainability of rural communities.
• To provide the necessary tools for the production including building pens, caring for poultry, and processing.

The phases of the project are:
• Phase I: establishment of the Institute and a pastured poultry-farming model for use by the Institute.
• Phase II: on site training, workshops, seminars, family vacations, farm experiences, and retreats.
• Phase III: field trials, research, and marketing.

The 5 major components of the Pastured Poultry Institute include:
1. Feed system with storage bins for organic grains, mix mill feed grinder, and organic feed distribution center.
2. Pasture pen-working models
3. Processing facility
4. Teaching curriculum
5. Pasture production model

The Central North Dakota Pastured Poultry Institute (CNDPPI) consists of a group of farmers in the Wimbledon area which have the same dream of becoming sustainable on their family farm. Linda and Dick Grotberg are the lead organizers. The group began brainstorming to find an idea which would make them sustainable and profitable. Pastured poultry was that idea.

The Institute is organized as a non-profit organization and located on the Grotberg farm in the former Bethany Prairie School Building which is where the Grotberg children were home schooled for many years. Now that the Grotberg children are grown, and have their own children it seemed only fitting to convert the school house into an Institute for teaching the public about how to become sustainable through raising pastured poultry.

The equipment for processing the organic feeds is located on the site where Dick and Linda Grotberg used to have their farrow to finish hog operation. The Grotbergs are the primary responsibility of operations which entail grant administration, inventing equipment for the CNDPPI to make it more efficient, developing and maintaining the organic feed system and grinding the grain, producing and evaluating the pastured poultry to produce the best product. The CNDPPI group will share utilities and insurance costs and the Grotberg farm will provide the facilities at no cost except for a minimal cost for maintaining the CNDPPI Institute.

When the group decided to research their options they came upon Joel Salatin, Pastured Poultry Guru from Virginia. Joel has published “how to” books on becoming sustainable through pastured poultry. Once the group decided their focus would be on pastured poultry, they began researching the conventional poultry industry. Joel Salatin has his own impression of the commercial industry. Environmentally there is a problem with the conventional poultry industry. Joel Salatin, in his book Pastured Poultry Profits states, “We end up with a chicken that has been raised in a horrible way, fed horrible feed, processed horribly and isn’t fit to eat.” Salatin goes on, “Just grow good chickens, one at a time, and devote your energies to a positive alternative for you family and your community.” Locally it is very hard to find organic range fed poultry to eat. This product must be shipped frozen long distances. The threat of Avian Influenza outbreaks and bio- terrorism has made food security a real issue. As the movement for local grass fed meats grows, so will the market for pastured poultry.

The group with the leadership of Dick and Linda Grotberg put together a plan to raise pastured poultry. CNDPPI was developed as an institute. This institute would teach others how to become sustainable and profitable in rural America. It is important to rural residents to be able to live and work on their family farm. A key component would be for the institute to raise birds in the same model that would be used on individual producer farms. Our plan is to work out the problems, do the “how to” research, and experience the “hands on” working of what we plan to teach others about pastured poultry production. The results of this planning process would then be moved to the satellite producers, the Dwight Grotberg family and Josh and Carolyn Abraham, and they would complete a first year trial production.

The project was planned and conducted based on the obstacles that keep small producers and families from raising pastured poultry. This is the list of what we believe keep people in our locale from raising pastured chickens and what we did to overcome these obstacles.

These obstacles include:
1. Lack of knowledge in raising backyard poultry and pasture poultry production.
2. Inability to obtain pasture pens.
3. Organic feed for poultry is not available in small quantities.
4. Processing the birds is intimidating and processing facilities are not available.
5. Established market for pastured poultry within 100 miles
6. Public awareness of the health benefits of pastured poultry
7. Large farmer mentality is dominant in the service area

The first step after receiving the SARE grant was to have a producer meeting to talk about and plan how the grant would actually be implemented. It was decided that we would follow the guidelines of the grant as closely as possible and complete Phase I of the project by December 2006. Linda will be the project general manager. Through the summer we met informally weekly to discuss and evaluate how the project was working. The first annual meeting of CNDPPI will be scheduled in December 2006. Officers will be elected and by-laws presented to dues paying members. Dues will be $25 per family.

Dick Lovestrand and Dick and Linda Grotberg began gathering teaching materials, keeping diaries, and researching the methods that would be used to teach and train others to raise pastured poultry.

By the end of April, Dick Lovestrand started building the pasture pens and hoop coops. He spent a total of 137.5 hours building 4 hen coops, 4 ten foot by twelve foot flat pens, and 2 eight foot by eight foot flat pasture pens. He also purchased materials to make 5 pen and coop kits. The eight by eight pens were built for ease of moving by the children and for ease of building at the institute and moving to another site. He used the basic design for all units, but experimented with various used and re-cycled materials to make them adaptable to each producer. Dick completed detailed drawings and photos of the pen manufacturing process for use by the institute and other producers wanting to build their own pens. With the help of Dick, Josh Abraham built a pen at the Bethany Prairie facilities for use at the Abrahams farm.

Gordon and Joanne Etter purchased and picked up feed for their 150 broilers. The Etters purchased and picked up a 10x12 pasture pen.

The first chicks, 312 Cornish Cross broilers, arrived at the Institute by mail on May 16, 2006. All of the 2006 birds were started in brooders in a garage on the Grotberg/Lovestrand Bethany Prairie Farm. The Dwight and Alison Grotberg children, Emmery, Frazer, Ezra, Isabella, and Soren helped establish the chicks in their new home and learned the basics of the first day in the life of a chicken. The instruction sheet from the hatchery was followed to the letter with good success: 301 of the 312 birds were harvested for the freezer by July 21st.

Dick Grotberg worked to lower shipping and feed costs by obtaining Fertrel mineral from a salesman who would drop off mineral at nearby towns along the Interstate. Feed was ground in an old hog feed grinding complex. A total of 7,000 pounds was ground for the use by the CNDPPI model farm and the satellite producers. Plans were made to move in small wooden granaries to make the feed preparation efficient and self-serve to the public. The buildings were moved in by the end of the season. The new feed center will be in fully operational in the spring of 2007.

On June 19th, 52 started Cornish chicks were moved to the Dwight Grotberg farm. Emmery was the leader of the project. A hen coop and 20 hens were moved there at that time as well. Emmery called Grandma Linda for advice and she called on Dick Lovestrand twice to come over and repair the pens. Dick also helped the children winterize the coop and pen.

Fifty Buff Orphington cockerels and 50 Silver Wyandotte pullets arrived June 22. The cockerels were raised to compare body structure and taste with Cornish Cross broilers. The pullets were purchased for next year’s layers.

The birds were cleaned and packaged outside this year. During this winter the processing room in the old farmhouse will be finished. The freezers and coolers are in place in the building and this year’s crop is stored there now. Dick Grotberg, Linda, Virginia, Frazer, Ezra, Emmery, Isabella, Soren, and Dick Lovestrand were involved in catching, killing, scalding, plucking, cleaning and packaging the birds. The last day we processed 109 Cornish broilers and 4 geese in 6 hours.

August 3rd the last order of chicks arrived – 100 Black Astrolorpe pullets and 250 Cornish Cross broilers. The pullets will be wintered over for next years laying hens. The last of this group of Cornish was harvested to the freezer October 9th. The tops of the pens were removed for winter storage and the coops and pens were parked out of the way until spring 2007.

A business plan has been written and the operation is within budget. Additional grants are being pursued for operations.

Joel Salatin, Master Pastured Poultry Farmer and Author, Polyface, Inc., 43 Pure Meadows Lane, Swoope, Virginia, Phone 540.885.3590. Joel served by telephone as expert advisor and consultant for CNDPPI. He was called upon many times in the beginning stages of the project and his book is used extensively as a working and teaching tool.

Carol Peterson, Coordinator, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service assisting the Sheyenne James RC&D Council, Inc. to carry out the USDA Resource Conservation and Development Program. 1301 Business Loop East, Jamestown, ND 58401-5946, 701-252-2521 Ex.126, Website: www.ndrcd.org . Carol provided technical resources to the project in the form of grant searches, grant review, follow-up on grants, and resource contacts for the project.

Steve Zwinger, Agronomy Research Specialist, NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center,663 Hwy. 281 North, Carrington, ND, Phone 701.652.2951. Steve has provided research on annual pasture grasses and rotation and organic grains for chicken production.

Randy Grueneich, County Agent, NDSU Extension Service, Barnes County, Phone 701.845.8528. Randy is the contact person for Extension resources.

Jim Lees, Director, Small Business Development Corporation, South Central Regional Council, 210 10th St SE, Jamestown, ND, Phone 701.252.8060. Jim assisted in business planning, financial advice, and writing a comprehensive business plan.

Myron & Georgean Lick, Commercial Pastured Poultry Producers, Ruso, ND, Phone 701.448.9160. The Licks are experienced commercial producers who answered questions for day to day production. A summer visit was made to the Lick’s farm to see their pasture model.

Tara Holt, Women in Technology Partnership, Center for Technology and Business, 115 N 2nd St, Bismarck, ND, Phone 701.223.0707. Tara advised on technology and economic development. She was instrumental in the legal structuring of the organization.

Michael Ward, Pastor, United Methodist Church, Wimbledon, ND, Phone 701.435.2314. Pastor Ward advised and encouraged community and spiritual development.

All 5 major components of CNDPPI are in operation.
1. Feed system with storage bins for organic grains, mix mill feed grinder, and organic feed distribution center.

The group received a $5,000 APUC grant for moving and refurbishing three granaries with hopper bins which were moved to the farm along with a fourth granary which serves as the feed room to house a Mix Mill grinder and bins to accommodate self service feed customers.

The Grotbergs will begin the organic certification process on their farm in 2007 and by the year 2010 the feed center will grind and mix a complete organic poultry feed ration from local grains. The goal by that time is to provide feed for 20 producers, each raising 300 birds, at 9 pounds of feed per bird, or 27 tons of feed annually. The net profit, to the Institute, from feed processing will be about $3,600 annually. This year 4 tons of feed was produced for the model farm and 4 other producers.

2. Pasture pen-working models
The 2 satellite producers, the Abrahams, and the Dwight Grotbergs reported a positive experience raising pastured poultry and their involvement with CNDPPI. The Grotberg children were able to complete all of poultry raising tasks with minimal supervision. They are making plans for next year to raise 150 birds to sell and 150 birds for their family’s use. The Abrahams found that pastured poultry will be a positive asset for their sustainable homestead.

This year’s producers numbered 5 families. By 2010 we are planning to increase that number to 20 producers, each raising 300 birds, by 2009 which means we have accomplished 25% of our goal!

3. Processing facility
A grant from Barnes County Development Corporation of $5,000 was received to supplement the purchase of the processing equipment which includes a plucker, a scalder, and several coolers and freezers.

* Plucker – materials purchased and assembled by Dick Lovestrand to clean 4 birds at a time.
* Scalder – purchased from an auction and refurbished – scalds 4 birds at a time.
* Coolers – purchased from a grocery store in Buffalo, ND.
* Chest Freezers – purchased on auction and refurbished from a butchery plant in Tolna, ND.
* Upright Freezers- purchased on auction and used to quick freeze the poultry.

4. Teaching curriculum
Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits book will be the Institute’s training manual. Linda Grotberg, farmer and CNDPPI founder is writing the material for the training programs, workshops, and seminars. Pastured poultry feed needs and rations will also be taught to participants in workshops at the institute.

5. Pasture production model 2006 Season: 800 birds were pastured in moveable pens and hoop coops. The birds included 550 Cornish cross broilers, 150 pullets, 50 laying hens and 50 heritage cockerels.

Our goal with the institute’s pasture model was to experience as much of what a first time individual producer might experience – good and bad. The years total mortality rate was less than 10%. Of the first 312 birds raised, 301 birds were harvested. The last 250 Cornish Cross broilers arrived in the heat of August. The hatchery stacked and banded the boxes – the second and third boxes were extremely heat stressed. As we took them out of the boxes and dipped their beaks into the water to get them started, they were so dehydrated that they sat at the waterers and got the others wet, and then started to chill. We worked quickly to separate the wet birds and get them under a heat lamp. We saved most of the chicks but the death rate of that batch was high. For the summer shipments of chicks we will remind the hatchery not to stack the boxes and to pack fewer chicks to each compartment.

Another problem that we encountered with the last batch of broilers was lack of muscle, and leg and heart problems. The problems started when we began multiple feedings. We learned that the birds would over eat and not grow properly. The problems subsided when we limited their feedings to twice daily. We also put in extra feeders so that all the birds could eat at once.

We raised 50 Buff cockerels in order to compare the body structure and taste with the Cornish Cross. The Buffs were slower growing, but required less feed. They were much easier to raise with no leg problems. The only death loss we experienced in the Buffs was when our Border Collie got into the brooder and herded some of them to death. There was more meat and less fat on the Cornish at a 4 week younger age. We have not completed the taste test.

Farm sustainability is the greatest barrier that we in rural America have to address. Sustainability is difficult to maintain on homesteads, on small and mid sized farms, and on farms that do not have access or do not want to go off the farm for an entire or partial income. There is a need all across the Midwest and in the Prairie Provinces of Canada to have some kind on the farmstead employment to offer families wanting to return to the area. There is also a need for retired and semi retired farmers to increase their income so that they can continue to live in the rural community. An additional income from the farm yard would certainly make that possibility of moving back or staying in the rural area even more attractive. Pastured poultry can provide that drawing card.

Pastured poultry is a means for farm families, retired folk, homesteaders, and hobby farmers to provide and improve food security, to increase and maintain farm sustainability, and to increase sustainability of rural communities. As a group of farmers working together to teach and train others to raise pastured poultry we are able to address that barrier with the necessary tools for success.

Pastured poultry requires only a small number of acres (the pens can be moved around the farm yard). The dollar return is high. Each bird requires about 9 person minutes. Fixed costs run approximately $2.00 per bird. At a selling price of $1.50 per pound and an average carcass weight of 4 pounds, this yields about $4.00 profit per bird, or $15 to $25 per hour for the producers’ time. We have the opportunity to raise healthy poultry right in our farmyards for our families to eat as well as sell whatever extra we produce locally.

1. CNDPPI will be listed in the Marketplace of Ideas Directory. The institute will showcase their project at Marketplace January 17, 2007 in Fargo, ND.

2. A website for CNDPPI. Our website is under construction and a grant is being sought from the Sheyenne James RC&D Council, Inc. to finance the website development.

3. Conducting annual CNDPPI field days. The first annual CNDPPI Open House and Field day was held July 12, 2006 at the facilities with 50 people in attendance.

Pasture pen working models with broilers, hens, and newly started chicks were on display. We gave a processing demonstration to show the use of the scalder and plucker. We used real birds and went through the entire process. The children were each at their station and completed the tasks that they were responsible for on an actual butchering day. The kids were disappointed when there were only 4 birds to do.

Rilla, Virginia, Carolyn and Linda, with the help of friends served a fried chicken dinner. The group stayed for questions and answers after lunch. Registration was manned by the children at the former Bethany Prairie School – now the Central ND Pastured Poultry Institute. Frozen chickens were given away as door prizes to each family attending. The Valley City Times Record attended the event and carried the story on the front page of the newspaper.

4. Plans are being made to have a booth at the NPSAS conference at Aberdeen SD in February 2007.

5. Our newsletter is being perfected and the mailing list increased. Our present circulation is 23. We hope to increase that number to 40 newsletters mailed bi-monthly from March to November.


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.