Twenty-first Century Pastured Poultry

Final report for FNE18-889

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: Letterbox Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Nichole Carangelo
Letterbox Farm Collective
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Project Information

Summary:

It’s been over twenty years since the publication of Pastured Poultry Profits changed the American farmscape forever. For decades, beginning and established farmers alike have turned to this dynamic resource for its practical, step-by-step enterprise guidelines, inspiring perspective on transparent farm-to-consumer marketing, and the sage wisdom of its author, Joel Salatin. 

This thoughtful guide will most certainly continue to garner esteem from the farming community for years come. But as they say, “the times, they are a changin,’” and the pastured poultry industry is no exception. We believe it is time to ask an important question: Is Joel Salatin’s promise of 25k in 6 months on 20 acres still possible in 2020? 

That's the question we asked, and we're happy to report that's the question we answered when we researched and wrote a 45 page addendum to Mr. Salatin’s guide called 21st Century Pastured Poultry. This resource includes:

- A summary of our farm’s origin and growth

- An in-depth look into our production methods

- Up-to-date and all-encompassing enterprise budgets

- Marketing plans and sales reports

-A side by side comparison of Mr. Salatin's enterprise as described in Pastured Poultry Profit$ and our own contemporary operation. 

21st-Century Pastured Poultry a fully illustrated and photographed in an effort to provide accurate information that is clear and systems that are replicable for new and established farmers of every scale.  

Project Objectives:

We see an opportunity to create an updated pastured poultry resource that can be used in conjunction with the work that already exists. We would like to close the above information gaps and equip farmers with the information necessary to create a pastured poultry operation that can thrive in today’s economic and cultural landscapes.

We envision a 30-40 page PDF guide titled 21st-Century Pastured Poultry that is:

  • Based on thorough, primary research methods, not second-hand information or anecdotal evidence Includes data from contemporary pastured poultry producers used to assess the modern trends of the industry
  • Details a system that is relevant to commercial-scale farmers, combining financial feasibility with humane and sustainable practices
  • Presents a comprehensive management system, detailing all major aspects of production including brooding, housing, feeding, disease mitigation and management, processing, and marketing Includes complete start-up and operating budgets
  • Illustrates replicable building plans for mobile chicken tractors in an easy-to-follow format Is made available through extensive outreach, including both online sources and in-person demonstrations and workshops.

We’ll also answer that initial question from our summary: Is Joel Salatin’s promise of 25k in 6 months on 20 acres still possible in 2018? If so, what does an effective model look like today?

Introduction:

This past summer, our livestock manager, was rereading Pastured Poultry Profits in preparation for this grant proposal. The book was lying on a table in our farm’s pack shed when one of our crew members picked it up and said aloud, “20 grand in 6 months? Maybe that made sense in 1990...”

Here, in this offhanded comment, lies the most important problem: that the single most available resource in pastured poultry management was written more than two decades ago. In the 1990s, the American agricultural, economic, and culinary landscapes looked vastly different than their contemporary counterparts do. For example, today, pasturable land is scarcer and more costly, “Big Organic” has filled our grocery stores with deceptive marketing creating a more confusing landscape for the consumer, a still palpable economic recession has changed the way many Americans spend their money, and new, ever-changing food trends are keeping modern day producers on their toes. Throughout all of these changes and more, no comprehensive resources on the business of pastured poultry has been written to address the vastly different landscape in which new producers are working.

The purpose of this project is to create a comprehensive resource for farmers seeking to develop, expand or improve a pastured poultry enterprise in the 21st century. Using Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profits as our guide, we've set forth to produce an updated enterprise guide that takes into account subsequently discovered improvements, contemporary production costs and current market trends in hopes that the update will provide the information necessary to develop operations that can survive and thrive in modern economic and cultural landscapes.

Description of farm operation:

Letterbox Farm Collective is a diversified market farm wrapping up its fifth year of operation. The business is owned and operated by Nichki Carangelo, Laszlo Lazar, and Faith Gilbert. Cumulatively, the owners have 18 years of farming experience in a diversity of enterprises. This season, we will have raised 3 acres of diversified specialty vegetables, 2,800 heritage breed meat birds, 300 pastured rabbits, 300 pastured laying hens, and 20 pastured pigs, which were distributed through restaurant accounts, high-volume farmer's markets, and a full-diet CSA membership. Our gross sales are anticipated to reach $250,000. Our management team includes:

Nichki Carangelo: Nichki is a full-time, sixth-year farmer who manages livestock at Letterbox
Farm. She is a graduate of Holistic Management International’s Beginning Women Farmer Training Program and has extensive research training from her undergraduate program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the author of NE-SARE resource Pastured Rabbit for Profit and a board
member of the Hudson Valley Coalition.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Steve Hadcock - Technical Advisor

Research

Materials and methods:

The purpose of this project is to create a comprehensive resource for farmers seeking to develop, expand or improve a pastured poultry enterprise in the 21st century. Using Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profits as my guide, I've set forth to produce an updated enterprise guide that takes into account subsequently discovered improvements, contemporary production costs and current market trends in hopes that the update will provide the information necessary to develop operations that can survive and thrive in modern economic and cultural landscapes.

This past season has been focused on collecting important data from our own pastured poultry enterprise. As a result, I have immaculate records of production and sales. From this, I have determined the cost of production per animal, average feed conversion, labor expenditures, average income per bird and average profit per bird. This year, our income from this enterprise was approximately $54,000. Our cost of production was approximately $37,000. Our poultry enterprise thus operated at a 31% margin, yielding a net profit of $17,000.

This is within striking distance of Joel Salatin's promised $20,000 annual net profit, and with a few necessary changes gleaned from this year's results I do believe we will attain the required $3,000 increase in 2019. Next year, we will also be consulting with 4 other pastured poultry producers to obtain case studies useful for concluding whether our results are average or unique. We will also collect feed conversion, marketability and cost of production information from a batch of cornish cross chickens, so the data can be shared in juxtaposition with that from the red broilers we use in production.

Research results and discussion:

We were able to complete all of our target research goals and put together the anticipated comprehensive guide which does three things:

  1. Summarizes the data from Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profit$ and translates it into contemporary economic terms
  2. Outlines in detail our pastured poultry enterprise at Letterbox Farm, including our animal husbandry practices, priorities and decision making processes, production and sales data and comprehensive investment and operating budgets. 
  3. Compares our data to Joel Salatin's data and draws conclusions about how the industry has changed over the past 3 decades. 

Our original plan was to also include case studies from other pastured poultry producers in our area, in order to widen the data pool. However, an important note that was brought to our attention in receiving our survey results from these other farms was that producers are having a very difficult time keeping records and putting the information together in order to glean the information necessary to build, foster and sustain a functional operation. Learning this caused us to redirect some of our initial plans and spend more time on the importance of data collection and to include simple step by step guidelines for how to collect and utilize the most valuable data without taxing producers limited resources: time and energy. 

These guidelines are presented in a powerpoint presentation and also touched upon in the final guide. We've used our own extensive data to create a 100 slide presentation titled "Pastured Poultry on the Diversified Farm" which details our in-house production of approximately 2800 meatbirds in 2019. It includes all of our methods, from ordering and brooding chicks, building appropriate and affordable housing, day to day production, processing and sales - all with a heavy and clear emphasis on the economics of each step. This presentation also demonstrates how to extract valuable information and use it to determine useful data such as: unit economics, how to calculate and apply overhead expenses, finding feed conversion ratios, estimating feed costs and more. 

PDF: 21stCPP

Power Point: PPOTDF

Research conclusions:

The purpose of this project was to create a comprehensive resource for farmers seeking to develop, expand or improve a pastured poultry enterprise in the 21st century. Using Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profit$ as our guide, we set forth to produce an updated enterprise guide that takes into account subsequently discovered improvements, contemporary production costs and current market trends. We were very pleased to learn that a well managed, modern pastured poultry enterprise can actually out perform the one outlined in Pastured Poultry Profit$ - despite an overall downward trend in the American agricultural industry.

We're pleased to report we answered our original queries and met all of our objectives. We believe our enterprise guide provides much of the information necessary to develop operations that can survive and thrive in modern economic and cultural landscapes.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

3 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

60 Farmers
2 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

We created a 100 slide presentation on our research which we presented at the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers Annual Conference and for the students at Cornell Cooperative Extension's "Livestock School" program.  21st Century PP.presentaion

We also created a 45 page, fully illustrated and photographed enterprise guide, which we advertised on our social media outlets and shared with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Greenhorns, ACRES Magazine and Young Agrarians so they could in turn share the project as well. We hope to present our research at more conferences in 2020 as well. 21stCPP_full_guide

Learning Outcomes

20 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

We've received a lot of positive feedback from the farmers and farm educators we've presented to thus far. In general, folks have noted a specific appreciation for the thoroughness of both the data and the step-by-step guide to animal husbandry practices. We've also been told the resource and the presentations we've given are especially relatable. We believe this is because the information is presented specifically so that it can be applied to farms of most any scale. 

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

Because this research culminated in the publication of a free resource, the effects of the work remain to be seen. We hope it will encourage more farmers to begin, expand or refine their own pastured poultry enterprise and save them time, money and energy as they do so. 

Information Products

  • 21st Century Pastured Poultry (Book/Handbook)
  • Pastured Poultry On The Diversified Farm (Conference/Presentation Material)
  • 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.