A Comprehensive Educational Program to Teach Farmers and Other Agricultural Professionals How to Produce and Market Free-Range Poultry

Final Report for LNC99-147

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $60,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Linda Lee
Resilience
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Project Information

Summary:

A total of 350 farmers and their supporting agency personnel attended half-day interactive seminars that were conducted at nine different sites throughout the North Central region. Five three-day participatory workshops were conducted at Locust Grove Farm in Southern Ohio; 41 individuals attended the workshops as part of this project. A broadcast quality video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was produced and utilized at the seminars. Three hundred participants received a copy of the video and the companion manual, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing: A Guide to Raising, Processing, and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey & Eggs, plus a subscription to the journal, Free-Range Poultry Forum. The educational materials have also been presented to at least one sustainable agriculture organization and a sustainable agriculture extension office in each of the North Central states.

Objectives:
1. Farmers and other agriculture professionals were trained to produce, process and market free-range poultry, both chickens and turkeys.
2. A video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was produced, which gives an overview of the American Free-Range system developed at Locust Grove Farm.

Methods/Approach:
1. To disseminate information widely about the Free-Range Poultry Production, Processing and Marketing System, half-day interactive seminars were conducted at nine different locations throughout the NC SARE region.
2. Five workshops were conducted at Locust Grove Farm in southern Ohio. In each three-day comprehensive workshop, students participated in both field and classroom experiences that included poultry slaughter in an on-farm facility.
3. An educational video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was produced, which provides information valuable to farmers interested in producing and marketing poultry raised on range. The video highlights the differences between the “pastured poultry” system and the free-range system. Regardless of the production method chosen by the farmer the video is relevant and informative about feed rations, processing and marketing.
4. Three hundred participants received a copy of the video and the companion manual, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing: A Guide to Raising, Processing and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs, plus a subscription to the journal, Free-Range Poultry Forum: The Journal of Producing, Processing and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs.
5. A copy of the manual and the video plus a journal subscription were presented to a state sustainable agriculture extension office and to a sustainable agriculture organization in each of the 12 NCR SARE states.

Results:

Three hundred fifty farmers and their supporting agency personnel attended the half-day seminars. Sixty scholarships were granted and 41 students participated in the three-day workshops.
Impacts and Potential Contributions:
1. Free-range poultry production is a site-specific, integrated farming system.
2. Free-range is a sustainable way to produce human food over the long term.
3. Free-ranging poultry enhance the environment as they naturally spread their manure. On-farm processing and composting of eviscerate and dead birds add to the efficient integration of on-farm biological resources.
4. Direct marketing the premium product, free-range poultry, is an opportunity to enhance the economic viability of the individual farm operation.
5. The quality of rural life is enhanced by the opportunity for self-employment.
6. Human health and safety is protected in many ways due to the smaller scale of this method of poultry production. One obvious way is that hand evisceration of poultry (the method taught at Locust Grove Farm) is less likely to spill intestinal contents onto the meat.
7. This method promotes enterprise diversity and the well being of animals.

Project Objectives:

1. Farmers and their supporting agency personnel were trained to produce, process and market free-range poultry, both chickens and turkeys. Seminars and workshops were designed and conducted to teach farmers and others the American Free-Range Poultry System with emphasis on the holistic approach utilized at Locust Grove Farm.

2. Educational materials were created and disseminated to enhance the training. A video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was produced, which gives an overview of the free-range system developed and utilized at Locust Grove Farm. Included in the video is information about the other grass based poultry methods currently used in the United States. This tool was used throughout the NC SARE region to introduce farmers and other agricultural professionals to the concept of raising poultry on grass with emphasis on the free-range poultry system. The video is a companion to the manual, Free-Range Poultry Production, Processing and Marketing: A Guide to Raising, Processing, and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs, by Herman Beck-Chenoweth, the text upon which the workshops are based. Three hundred seminar and workshop participants received a copy of the manual, the video and a one-year subscription to the Free-Range Poultry Forum: The Journal of Producing, Processing and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs. In addition, a copy of the video, the manual and a one-year subscription to the journal has been presented to a state sustainable agriculture extension office and to one sustainable agriculture organization per state throughout the NC SARE region.

Research

Materials and methods:

Objective one: Farmers and other agriculture professionals were trained to produce, process, and market free-range poultry. Two levels of training were implemented. Interactive seminars and participatory workshops were designed and conducted. The training was conducted by Herman Beck-Chenoweth, farmer and author of Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing. Resilience collaborated with Extension and sustainable agriculture organizations throughout the region to promote the educational experiences and to select appropriate facilities in strategic locations to ensure the greatest number of participants per workshop.

In order to disseminate information widely about the Free-Range system, half-day interactive seminars were conducted to introduce the basic concepts of free-range poultry production, processing and marketing. These seminars were presented at nine locations throughout the North Central region in order to reach diverse farming communities. The presentations were conducted in a variety of sites from a barn on a working farm to churches and extension facilities. The material was prepared to be of interest to a wide range of farmers, from “wannabe” or beginning farmers to grain or livestock farmers who wish to diversify their enterprises.

Kankakee, Illinois, was the first seminar site. The farmers in attendance included several members of the Pembroke Farmers Cooperative, an organization of disadvantaged African American farmers. This seminar was coordinated by the Kankakee County Unit Leader, Bob Curry and the Kankakee County FSA Executive Director, Merrill Marxman. An extra half-day seminar on direct marketing of farm products was also conducted by Beck-Chenoweth.

The second seminar location was in Southern Illinois at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. Coordinators for this presentation were Juli Brussell, The Farm Gate, and Mike Plumer, Carbondale Extension. This group also chose to add an additional segment on direct marketing of agricultural products. Farmers in attendance included Amish and Mennonite representatives.

Northridge School, Johnstown, Ohio, was the setting for the third seminar, which was conducted and promoted as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Associations annual conference.

The fourth seminar presentation was coordinated by Susan Smalley, Extension Specialist, Sustainable Food and Farming Systems, Michigan State University as part of Agriculture and Natural Resources Week. Promotion and coordination was also provided by Laura DeLind, MSU, and Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance.

Turkey Run State Park in west central Indiana was the fifth seminar location. This event was coordinated by Steve Bonney, Sustainable Earth. The Parke County area is home to an Amish settlement and Melvin Fisher, a young Amish entrepreneur who raises free-range poultry and who has built a state-inspected processing plant on his farm. The seminar day concluded with a tour of his farm and facility.

Sixth on the seminar trail was a presentation in Northfield, Minnesota, at the United Church of Christ. Free-range poultry was the main presentation at the Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association, Cannon River Chapter annual meeting. Coordinator of the event was Bridget Renlund. Promotion and coordination was also provided by Mary Hanks, Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Risley Agricultural Center in northeast Ohio was the seventh seminar site. This half-day event was held in a barn on a clear and windy below-zero day in March. Gary Mennell, a retired farmer, has started an educational center in this county where development pressure is quickly eliminating the farming lifestyle. Mennell and Medina County Extension Agent, Mike Miller, coordinated the event and took registrations. The day was also promoted by Innovative Farmers of Ohio and Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Agent, Mike Hogan.

Debi Kelly, Missouri Alternatives Center, and Deni Durham, Missouri Organic Association, cooperated to coordinate and promote the eighth seminar, held at the Newman Center in Columbia, Missouri. An additional half-day concentration on direct marketing was supported by the two organizations and Joan Benjamin, Sustainable Ag Extension Program, University of Missouri-Columbia. In addition, the events were promoted by Sustaining People Through Agriculture Network (SPAN) a Farmer to Farmer Network.

The ninth, and last seminar was conducted at the St. James Community Center near Hartington, Nebraska. The event coordinator was Linda Kleinschmidt, member of the Nebraska EQUAL IMPACT Group. Sponsors and promoters of the seminar included EQUAL, the Center for Rural Affairs, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Nebraska Farmers Union and Cedar County Extension. An additional half-day focus on direct marketing was included in this presentation.

Participatory workshops were also conducted. Five on-farm hands-on workshops, each three days in length, were held at Locust Grove Farm in Southern Ohio. These comprehensive training experiences included both classroom and field work. The curriculum focus was on a whole farm approach to poultry production, from hatching eggs to marketing the processed poultry. Design and construction of feeders, range structures and processing facilities were included, along with feed formulation and details on the development of a breeder flock. The hands-on experience enabled the participants to become familiar with a small-scale processing facility and the equipment necessary to set up an on-farm system.

Objective two: Educational materials were created and disseminated to enhance the training. A broadcast quality video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was created with the assistance of Agri Broadcast Network, a professional video producer. The video gives an overview of the free-range system developed and utilized at Locust Grove Farm. Included in the video is information about “pastured poultry,” the other grass based poultry method currently used in the United States.

This tool was used throughout the NC SARE region to introduce farmers and other agricultural professionals to the concept of raising poultry on grass with emphasis on the free-range poultry system. The video is a companion to the manual, Free-Range Poultry Production, Processing and Marketing: A Guide to Raising, Processing, and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs, by Herman Beck-Chenoweth, the text upon which the workshops are based. Three hundred participants received a copy of the manual, the video and a one-year subscription to the Free-Range Poultry Forum: The Journal of Producing, Processing and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs. In addition, a copy of the video, the manual and a one-year subscription to the journal has been presented to a state sustainable agriculture extension office and to one sustainable agriculture organization per state throughout the NC SARE region.

Research results and discussion:

1. Farmers and their supporting agency personnel were trained to produce, process and market free-range poultry. Eight seminars to teach farmers and others the American Free-Range Poultry System had been proposed, nine seminars were conducted. The attendance goal for the seminars was 250. Three hundred fifty participants attended the seminars and were presented with a basic overview of the Free-Range System.

Participatory workshops were also conducted. Three workshops were proposed. Five on-farm hands-on workshops, each three days in length, were held at Locust Grove Farm in southern Ohio. The goal was to train 50 people. Sixty scholarships were awarded and 41 people attended the workshops as part of this project.

2. Educational materials were created and disseminated to enhance the training. A video, Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing, was produced, which gives an overview of the free-range system developed and utilized at Locust Grove Farm. The video includes information about the holistic ways the method can be applied to an individual farm. The importance of the farmer not only raising the poultry, but also processing and marketing it, is stressed. Ways to decrease inputs, such as growing and mixing the feed on-farm and managing the poultry to distribute manure are included. Also included in the video is information about the other grass based poultry method currently used in the United States. This tool was used throughout the NC SARE region to introduce farmers and other agricultural professionals to the concept of raising poultry on grass with emphasis on the American Free-Range Poultry system.

The video is a companion to the manual, Free-Range Poultry Production, Processing and Marketing: A Guide to Raising, Processing, and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs, by Herman Beck-Chenoweth, the text upon which the workshops are based. Three hundred participants received a copy of the manual, the video and a one year subscription to the Free-Range Poultry Forum: The Journal of Producing, Processing and Marketing Premium Quality Chicken, Turkey and Eggs. In addition, a copy of the video, the manual and a one-year subscription to the journal has been presented to a state sustainable agriculture extension office and to one sustainable agriculture organization per state throughout the NC SARE region. Those farmers who were unable to attend the training and agriculture professionals in position to disseminate information will have access to the tools through the libraries of each state extension office and sustainable agriculture organizations.

An evaluation form was designed and was completed by seminar and workshop participants. In addition, we will survey the 41 participants who attend the on-farm workshops within the next two months to determine the impact on their farming operation during the past growing season.

Research conclusions:

This method of poultry production is a family-farm scale system that can be employed to raise up 20,000 chickens per year with a potential $225,000 in sales and/or turkeys with potential net income of $17,000 per 1,000 birds. This alternative method of poultry production can be implemented economically by beginning or low-income farmers as well as those who are experiencing economic hardship due to the current trends in industrialized agriculture.

This system is of particular interest to farmers within the corn belt who produce commodities such as grains and pulses. The grain farmer can either sell the grain products direct to other local farmers or can add even more value to their commodities by feeding their own grain to poultry and thus diversifying their operation as well.

Production and direct marketing of free-range poultry products is an appropriate enterprise for young people and those with small acreage. Dairy and beef farmers can also diversify with free-range poultry.

Producing, on-farm processing, and marketing a specialty product such as free-range poultry has social, ecological and economic impacts on farm families and rural areas.

When the farm family decides to process and market a product as well as produce it, more involvement of people is required. The farm family can work together and utilize the skills and capabilities of all generations. The community benefits by having healthy food available and by the presence of a successful rural enterprise.

The community benefits further because the environment is enhanced, rather than degraded, by this system. Manure is distributed naturally by the birds as they forage on the range; this is in contrast to manure produced by confinement raised poultry. Manure generated in large confinement operations can quickly become a liability with inadequate acreage for proper application and then possible over application of both nitrogen and phosphorus.

The free-range method of grazing chickens and turkeys on pasture differs greatly from the also currently popular “pastured poultry” method, which is basically a confinement system on grass and too labor intensive to be used for large numbers of birds and totally inappropriate for bigger birds such as turkeys. The concept of free-ranging turkeys is demonstrated with views of roosts and other necessary equipment different from that used with chickens.

Many of the farmer participants in the seminars who have tried the pastured poultry method have determined that it is not practical for them and expressed appreciation for this less labor intense system. Several families who had utilized the “pastured” system had quit producing poultry because of problems with that system and are now reporting success with the free-range method.

Many more farmers are interested in producing and marketing poultry but most agriculture professionals have few, if any, resources to provide. Other than the video created as part of this project and the manual utilized there are currently no educational materials available in this country about the free-range system of poultry production. This video is a tool that trainers can use to introduce farmers to the free-range concept and to compare two grass based poultry production systems, pastured poultry and the American Free-Range System.

Farmer Adoption

A total of 300 farmers attended the seminars and 40 of them participated in the three-day workshops. The audience ranged from farmers with one acre to those with 1,000 acres, and in age from an eight-year-old to retirees who want to start a new enterprise in their retirement. The level of experience ranged from none to those who have farmed all of their lives and were seeking new markets or products. They included market gardeners, grain farmers, livestock farmers and those who already produce poultry but wanted more information about the free-range system.

We have been promoting the free-range poultry system for nine years and are aware of many farmers converting or starting to raise poultry utilizing this method. Free-range is a system that can be implemented by young or beginning farmers and those with a few acres; that is one area in which we see interest and adoption of the system. We have heard from a family in Ohio who successfully raised 100 chickens and 10 turkeys this year as their first farming enterprise with plans to expand next year. The family has several school age children who are involved. Another parent from Minnesota reported that her son has raised 25 turkeys this year as a direct result of watching the video that was produced as part of this project.

Melvin Fisher, an Indiana farmer, converted several years ago from the pastured poultry method, which he found to be too labor intensive, to the free-range system. He has constructed a state inspected processing facility and plans to produce 16,000 chickens plus turkeys next year. He markets his poultry within Indiana.

We continue to work with the Pembroke Farmers Cooperative in Illinois and are currently helping them develop a business plan that will enable them to enter the Chicago restaurant market.

We recommend that farmers stop raising poultry in confinement, whether it is in buildings or in pens with grass floors. The birds need to be able to range freely for their own health and the quality of the meat produced. Farmers should produce their own grain and mix their own feed on farm or purchase locally grown products. All animals should be fed antibiotic and hormone free feed. Farmers should add value to their poultry products by processing on farm and direct marketing the products.

Involvement of Other Organizations

All of the nine seminars were coordinated by other organizations. Seven Extension offices were directly involved in planning, promoting and hosting the events. Three Extension facilities provided facilities and equipment for the seminars. The Farm Service Agency was also involved in planning and promoting educational experiences. Ten sustainable agriculture organizations other than extension were active participants in the seminars. There were over twenty school age students who attended the seminars and five who participated in the workshops. Several Extension agents attended the seminars and at least one NRCS staff member attended a seminar and a workshop.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing manual and video plus the Free-Range Poultry Forum were distributed as noted above in the Results section. They continue to be promoted and distributed through Back Forty Books.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

The nutritional evaluation of poultry raised on range should be studied, along with other grass-fed animals. Methods of local distribution of agricultural products is necessary for the support of family farm and rural areas.

This project could be expanded to the rest of the United States, throughout the NCR-SARE region, and to the other regions. Seminar participants request more opportunities to learn how to process poultry. The facilities in which to provide that experience throughout the region do not exist.

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.