Marketing of Small Amounts of Organic Grains through Alternative Broiler Feeds and Direct to Consumer Sales

Final Report for FNC07-671

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $3,226.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our farm is a very diverse certified organic operation. We’re currently farming 22 acres, and are in the process of purchasing 40 more. There are 3 acres dedicated to small and large fruits, 2-3 acres in produce and flowers, and the balance is in hay, pasture, cover crops, and grain. Also included in our crops are fungi, honey, beef, poultry, lamb, goat, and eggs. Most of our grain is either direct marketed to consumers in the forms of flour and meals (wheat and corn) or is fed to our animals. The balance is taken to a local conventional elevator (due to the difficulty transporting grain to the nearest organic elevator). Our produce is mainly sold through our CSA, u-pick and farmer’s markets. A small percentage is sold to retail stores, and we have some on-farm sales besides the u-pick. Our livestock is rotationally grazed with the ruminants mainly grass-fed. Currently all of our meats are sold direct to consumer.

We are certified organic since 2004, and rotationally graze animals.

Goals :
1) To direct market organically grown grain to consumers.
2) Study alternative animal feeds (barley and field peas), to feed our own grain and not have to haul it.

Direct marketing: We started by talking to the Department of Agriculture to understand requirements, researching equipment needed, and finally engaging in marketing at farmers’ markets and discussions with various retail purchasers. Most retail contact was done by phone or email – it would certainly be more effective to show up with samples for sale.

Marketing direct to consumer yields a much higher price than hauling to the elevator. Navigating the rules for direct marketing is difficult, and your state Department of Agriculture is the easiest place to start. It is easiest to grind flours in a certified kitchen if one is available. It is often fairly inexpensive to rent. We intend to continue on this route, until we complete our certified honey house, which will also be suitable for flour. The main concern is making sure grains are free of mycotoxins. It is easy to quickly screen on farm using a black light. If the grain fluoresces, it has to be sent to a lab for further testing, since the black light test can give false positives. It can also miss mycotoxins if the sampling method is poor. State screening labs can check samples for about $60 to $100.

Finding small scale, affordable equipment is difficult. Luckily, there is a farm/seed business nearby which offers custom cleaning and bagging for just over $1 per bag. Since they do not clean treated seed in their system, residues would not be a problem. Our understanding for organic clean-out is that we can discard the first several bags as possibly contaminated, with the rest being organic. Mills can be easily found for a couple thousand dollars. We purchased a small grain cleaner to clean easy-to-clean seeds like peas out of season, since commercial cleaning operations are typically set up for wheat and small grain in summer, and beans in the fall.

For the alternative animal feed: Currently, most people use soybean meal, corn, minerals, and sometimes fish meal in feed. We’re adding small grain and field peas.

Since we have a small acreage, it is not worth it to haul grain to the nearest organic elevator. Therefore we try to use as much grain here as possible, feeding some to animals and marketing the balance direct to consumers. When we do haul grain in, it goes to a conventional elevator, at a much lower price.

And since we are certified organic, we’d like to include many more crops in our row crop rotation. We prefer growing small grains (wheat, rye, barley, etc) to corn.

Crop/Feed Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages: Complete 48% protein
Disadvantages: Hard to source organic soybeans and meals, Beans must be cooked/processed before feeding.

Advantages: High yielding
Disadvantages: Stalks are a pain to deal with after harvest, It takes a lot of nitrogen (manure), Weeds are a problem, A lot of hauling to the elevator.

Advantages: Low weed pressure, Straw as a byproduct, Easy to underseed with clovers yielding pasture, cover crop or hay later.
Disadvantages: Lower yields than corn.

Advantages: About half way between corn and soybeans in both yield (in theory) and protein content (22%), Can feed raw.
Disadvantages: Incomplete protein, Needs to be early spring drilled.

Advantages: Complete protein with optimal amino acid balance.
Disadvantages: Overfishing concerns with all seafood, Safety issues with sea food.

The Feedstocks Used: We had originally wanted to use feeds with soybeans, corn, barley, and field peas. Two years in a row, our barley crop failed. Our pea crop failed in 2008, and did okay in 2009. This was due to the wetness, and the fields they were in. Both would have done better in different ground. The feed included a small amount of wheat in place of barley.

Our pea yield was disappointing- a little over 45 bushels/acre. This was due to the wet spring. It was impossible to rotary hoe to control weeds, and smart weed took over toward the end of the season. On the plus side, it seemed like all the Japanese beetles on the farm were in that field and not on our more valuable crops. We also wound up with a lot of beetles in our harvested peas. This may or may not be a good thing in feed. The old gleaner combine was run with the head relatively high to avoid the worst of the weeds, so we left about 10-20% of our crop in the field. We tend not to worry about that – it is just leaving nitrogen out there for next year’s crop.

Broiler Management: We used three different feed mixes, starting with 105 straight run broiler chicks. For the first three weeks, they all received normal feed and lived together in a brooder (because we went on vacation and didn’t want to leave anyone else in charge of keeping feed straight!).

Once in the field, they lived in portable coops with doors – we let them out during the day into paddocks of electric netting and locked them up at night. We started with 51 broilers on normal feed, and 26 each on half field pea feed, and full field pea feed. The electric fence has the huge advantage of keeping out the huge numbers of predators we have around here (being near the river, we see mink, weasels, possums, raccoons, coyotes, fox, and dogs). Sending them out during the day gives them fresher pasture all day-they are messy, messy birds when stuck in one spot.

Our Feed Recipes/ Ton of Feed 19% protein: We used normal feed, a feed that used equal amounts of soybean meal and field peas with corn and wheat, and a feed that used field peas with no soybean meal.

1315 pounds corn
600 pounds soymeal
25 pounds calcium
60 pounds fertrell poultry nutribalancer

895 pounds corn
410 pounds soymeal
410 pounds peas
200 pounds wheat
25 pounds calcium
60 pounds fertrell poultry nutribalancer

125 pounds corn
1390 pounds peas
25 pounds calcium
400 pounds wheat
60 pounds fertrell poultry nutribalancer

Problems: We weighed the total weight of chickens going out. As it turned out, we caught all the biggest chicks first, so our first group of chickens wound up predominantly cockerels.
We lost three tiny chickens once they went outside in the normal feed group. They were so teeny relative to the others that we suspect they were leghorn chicks. Our coop with all pea feed was caught in a lowish spot during a 6 inch rain event that we weren’t expecting. We lost 3 birds in that coop, but the rest were probably fairly stressed and set back quite a bit.

There were some problems with part of the peas not grinding in our initial batches of feed, so the younger birds wound up not eating peas until they were bigger and ran out of the poorly ground feed. Many of the peas wound up on the ground. The all pea feed could probably use supplemental oil to increase the calories, since peas are lower in fat than corn and soymeal. Also, studies have shown that too high a percentage of peas will inhibit growth due to amino acid makeup.

We choose not to use fish meal in broiler rations due to environmental and organic concerns so the feed has a less than optimal amino acid balance, especially in the all pea version (which is fairly lysine deficient). Fish meal would improve results considerably.

There was some minor mixing of birds when the electric fence was grounded somewhere- they’d just walk through the fence. It seemed like once through the fence, they’d try to get back to their side, so it probably didn’t impact outcomes too much.

We weighed all of our birds weekly and at slaughter age of around 7 weeks, and evaluated the carcass quality of a representative sample.

For normal feed our average live weight for cockerels was 4.49 pounds, and hens 3.85 pounds. There were 33 hens and 14 cockerels in that batch. The average dressing percentage was 72.4%
For the ½ pea feed there were 16 cockerels and 10 hens. Average live weight for cockerels was 4.6 pounds and for hens was 4.02 pounds. The average dressing percentage was 74%.
For the all pea feed, there were 8 cockerels and 15 hens. Average live weight for cockerels was 3.85 pounds and for hens was 3.65 pounds. The average dressing percentage was 73%.
The amount of fat and carcass quality was similar between the normal and half pea feed. There was very little fat in the chickens on all pea feed. We cooked up several birds from each batch and none of our taste testers could agree on relative tenderness, texture, or flavor (other than tasty!). The livers seemed lighter in the normal feed birds.

We noticed the all pea feed chickens drank the least. The normal drank the most. The half pea feed group was the most active.

All the groups used about the same amount of feed per bird (the normal ate twice as much total feed, since there were almost twice as many, and the all pea group dropped a lot of peas on the ground) . Since the percentage of cockerels varied wildly in each group, we’re not sure what this means. Cockerels grow faster, so should eat more.

We’ll continue to use field peas for feed. Broilers on the half pea/half soybean meal performed better than our regular feed. We hope to increase our pea yields with better weed control – if next spring is as wet as this past one, we’ll underseed with oats to suppress weeds.

Direct marketing results: We encountered a lot of excitement over locally grown, certified organic grains. After a lot of phone time and discussions with potential buyers in a 50 mile radius (about how far we’re willing to drive), we identified extremely likely yearly sales for approximately 12,000 pounds of whole grain wheat, 4500 pounds of soymilk soybeans, and 6500 pounds of flour. Prices are around $0.60/ pound for wheat, and $0.80/pound for beans and flour. There was also considerable interest for other bean and grain products if we can produce them.

Particularly frustrating was our yellow field peas. Once the feed study was completed, we started selling the peas whole, in 1.25 pound bags for $2 per bag, using regular sandwich bags. We sold over 30 pounds a week at the farmers’ market for a month, and got great feedback and repeat customers. At the end of the season, many folks purchased larger quantities, up to 8 bags to stock up. Since we fed peas to all of our livestock (chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, ducks, beef), we ran out. At $1.60/ pound that makes the cost of feed far too high! We plan to grow extra peas, and save out 50-100 bushels for direct marketing.

Our biggest lesson was to direct market our legume crops before feeding them. There is a definite desire for local dried beans. We received dozens of requests to grow other crops – lentils, black beans, rye, and (sadly) barley. We hope to add a greater variety of beans and grains to our mix.

We also did not label weights on our bagged peas -- we should have. Folks assumed they were 1 pound bags. We fixed this after a couple weeks when one customer commented they had weighed their bag and it was heavier.

Showing up at stores and bakeries with samples would sell product easier than talking over the phone and through letters. Bread bakers also want to know the protein level of the grain, so having that available would be good.

We’ll continue to use field peas for feed. Broilers on the half pea/half soybean meal performed better than our regular feed. We hope to increase our pea yields with better weed control -- if next spring is as wet as this past one, we’ll underseed with oats to suppress weeds.

Our main method was to hold a field day. We mailed and passed out fliers to many folks and other producers. We were pretty nervous so didn’t remember to get folks to sign in, and had to estimate attendance based on how many plates we used! At our field day/potluck we had well over 100 people, mainly customers, and a few other producers. Our poster describing the project was near the food table, so most people read through at least parts of it, and we had longer discussions with other producers who read it more carefully. Preliminary copies of our report were available at the last couple farmers’ markets of the season.

We quite tardily put results on our website, but it is not accessible with newer browsers since links don’t show up. We’re planning on using different software.


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.