I am part of a third generation family farm operation that grows 1200 acres of irrigated corn and soybeans using conventional row crop production methods. The other primary members in our Pastured Poultry group are also involved in similar conventional operations.
Before receiving this grant none of the participants carried out any sustainable practices. We also had no experience direct marketing agriculture products to customers.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
A. Project Goals:
a. Broaden the agricultural diversity of our community
b. Provide a low-cost, entry-level vehicle to beginning farmers
c. Offer an opportunity to existing farmers who are willing to diversify
d. Provide a product directly to consumers, which is superior in quality
We chose a production, processing and marketing model that differentiated our broilers from the conventional methods used in the poultry industry today.
Our birds were raised on pasture that is fresh daily, along with a balanced ration that did not include antibiotics. Birds were placed in10’x12’ pens and moved every morning to provide fresh grass for supplemental nutrition and new bedding. This model gave bird’s access to sunlight and plentiful amounts of fresh air. New ground daily also eliminated any disease problems attributed to conventional production models.
The birds were processed with a MPU (mobile processing unit) on our own farms. We were able to process over two hundred birds before noon.
The customers previously ordered the birds were notified when their order was ready. The customers purchased and picked up fresh whole birds the same day they were processed. Customers were asked to bring their own coolers to take birds home so they could cut-up and bag them to their personal preference.
– David Bosle, Gerald Quinn, Russ Ochsner, Bill Henkel, and Paul Huenefeld
Adams County Extension Educator
– Paul Swanson
We measured results by customer surveys and profit and loss results to this enterprise. There was a 90% reorder rate from the existing customers for the second year because of the quality of the broilers. All cooperators had recovered their original investment in pens and variable costs from the first year production.
We have decided to raise the price per pound of dressed bird next year to increase our returns back to labor and management. We also want to redesign our mobile processing to make it more efficient and less labor intensive.
We learned that when we cooperated together and worked as a team we could achieve more. For example we experienced initial production challenges and by communicating promptly we were able to fix or not repeat the problem. We also got a price break on some feed ingredients, baby chicks, pen materials, and other production inputs necessary for a pastured poultry production model such as this. We initially cleaned the birds together so that we each helped and learned from one another in processing part of the project. We also helped each other with exchanging birds and customers to help fill orders and manage supplies.
The advantages of implementing a project such as this is that as a direct market producer you can easily build a customer base to sell other products to. The disadvantage is in the learning curve. It is hard work to direct market a product. Lots of phone calls and personal contacts need to be made to build a customer base. Direct marketing may be uncomfortable to most people especially tradition commodity producers.
One very important thing that I would share with a producer is in the design of the portable pens. That suggestion is to build them as light as possible. Another suggestion is to find a local group to cooperate and build a MPU. The mobile processor shared by a group will bring you initial investment cost down considerably and hasten the return of your original investment capital.
The impact we had on the community was beyond economic in that many people have the opportunity to have the freshest, safest, healthiest, and best tasting product that anyone can ever remember eating. It is hard to put in words the feeling you have when customers share their appreciation and tell their friends and family to come to the farm and purchase these broilers.
We shared our project with the local Chamber of Commerce during Ag days. There were some 50+ people that attended including many press, radio, and TV representatives. This helped to sell more poultry and got the word out to other producers about our project.
We had many regional and area publications that contacted us and published stories about our project. This lead to many individual producers form across Nebraska and other states such as Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Iowa and perhaps others that made phone calls asking for more information about one aspect or another concerning this project. Many of those same folks visited the farm and even worked with us during the processing stage to gain hands on learning.
We also conducted several off site presentations and workshops with the Sustainable Agriculture group in Sidney, Columbus and Lincoln Nebraska. The average attendance was about 15 to 20.
We are also planning to produce a short videotape of our system from the delivery of the baby chicks, growing, processing to the customers picking up the birds.