The River Hills Purebred Poultry Marketing Alliance Research Project
Thus far we have been developing and fielding a survey on poultry interests as they pertain to breed preferences, ventures being pursued, marketing methods and outlets, and seedstock sources and pricing. Our survey has been circulated at two nationally promoted events, the Small Farm Today Trade Show, and will be also circulated at this year's Acres USA Conference.
Results currently show a clear preference for the classic, heritage breeds (Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, R.I. Red, etc.), a desire for better bred seed-stock, and a strong desire to buy from farmers rather than commercial hatcheries.
Funding did not arrive in time to do much in the way of chick and egg shipping trials. We have researched a number of options for shipping hatching eggs and will be pushing forward with them early in 2009. The key seems to lie with the packing methods for the eggs and enforcing the need for careful handling of the packages in transit.
With baby chick shipments from a local point the key is to begin with approved shipping containers that assure proper ventilation and containment of body heat. Helping the local postal authorities become better informed is the best way to handle such shipments. We have been made aware that there are numerous misunderstandings about these regulations.
The heirloom poultry breeds are continuing to find much support and interest, but movement now is beyond simply maintaining vestige populations of these breeds. Issues to be addressed now are the need to maintain absolute genetic purity and begin a long term plan of selective breeding for improved performance. We will be supplying some birds for breed specific taste and cooking tests and hope to assist with a proposed project to test egg and egg shell differences between specific pure breeds.
The egg marketing research has gone well. A local market has grown up quickly and the easily observable differences between heritage breed eggs is emerging as a marketing plus. With some breeds and older hens we are getting some eggs that are quite large. They seem to delight consumers due to their size and appeal as getting something extra. The different shell colors and tints seem to affirm their nature as fresh from the farm. We have been blending white, green, dark brown, parchment, and lighter brown shelled eggs in the same carton with good results. They are a sort of variety pack that may be sparking egg consumption and consumer desire for more as they seek an answer to their, "Why do they look this way?" question.
Simple pulp cartons have environmental appeal and we have created a volume purchase point that lowers their cost to our allied producers.
Local flooding has slowed some of our project work, but we are planning to move forward with Internet Marketing early in the spring. We plan to do more breed profiling , have worked with the area Slow Foods Program, have extended our studies to work with white egg-laying breeds, and are developing a presence before the public of our River Hills signature ID.
a) Farm fresh eggs are highly valued and the more distinctive personal stamp you can put on them the better. Our eco-friendly, plain gray pulp carton opens to reveal an array of different hued eggs. Often even a green shelled egg or two can appeal to the youngest of consumers. Unlike highly sugared cereals, our variety-pak is all natural.
b) The old, main line breeds still remain the most popular. There is a great need for serious breeders to take them up with a plan for improving their productivity. This was once common with these breeds and continued well into the 1950's.
c) What we know as producers has value. With the right plan, our knowledge can be marketed right along with the birds.
d) A lot of misinformation about poultry exists and many depend too much on the blurbs and pictures in commercial catalogs.
e) Poultry keeping is rapidly growing in popularity as a youth project.
f) A strong seasonal price and buying trend continues with poultry. Many wish to buy ready-to-lay birds, but are not aware of the costs to produce such a bird now.
g) Much is written in the poultry field, but it is often scattershot in its coverage. Small flock producers really need a publication with reference points that are truly their own.
h) It is crucial that a good secondary market be sustained for cull birds, spent hens, and surplus males. We do this through having a secondary bird market as a part of our local famers' market, reaching out to ethnic buyers, and cultivating a number of volume buyers of poultry for processing or re-marketing into more urban areas. We also have plans to market birds through a local CSA.
WORK PLAN FOR 2009
In the year ahead we will be doing more with chick and hatching egg marketing. A number of cooperating producers have been lined up for shipping trials of our locally hatched chicks and to measure the hatchability of shipped eggs.
Results from our survey are being used to guide flock building and to create a core group of breeders to build marketing potential from our area. Our first marketing zone appears to be an area outward to about 200 miles from our own farms. These will primarily be direct hand-to-hand sales, with some orders requiring mail delivery. Sales beyond this zone will take longer to grow, but early indications are that they can be achieved.
We are expanding our special themed events (Family Farm Expo and Fall Poultry Fest) for both increased marketing and information sharing opportunities. We hope to soon include teaching seminars. We are experimenting with a number of other marketing options including themed auctions and establishing delivery points for large lot sales. An Illinois based processor now comes twice each year to buy birds and would come more often if we could assure large numbers.
We plan to go on to produce a number of poultry themed, how-to pamphlets and a producer directory/breed guide to serve as our marketing "catalog". Individual breed trials are under way on co-operator farms and we are pondering an individual bird testing project involving treating female vents with different food colors to help track laying performance and establish pedigreed matings.
Thus far we have incorporated some survey results into magazine articles, hosted two poultry themed events where we explained our project and shared SARE materials with producers from several states, met with a reporter from Missouri Farmer Today for an article on differences in poultry meat, have judged at area poultry shows and spoke to youngsters, spoke at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference sponsored by Small Farm Today (SFT), and will be speaking at the Acres USA event in December 2008. At the SFT show in November, we conducted several hands-on demonstrations with live birds, and set up a demonstration poultry market. Our demonstrations attracted as many as 25-30 people. The myriad of questions following these demonstrations so far has confirmed the interest many folks still have in keeping poultry. We believe this interest to be necessary for the future of these breeds.
All co-operators in the project were at the Columbia, Missouri show (National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference) as they were at previous market events this year. We hope to sponsor a larger spring show in 2009 with seminars of our own. More articles are planned, also.