Pastured poultry enterprise: Profits, production, and processing support with new and diversifying small-scale farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,987.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, animal protection and health, free-range, feed rations, grazing management, manure management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, watering systems
  • Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, agricultural finance, market study, risk management
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    Navigating new enterprises requires producers to look closely at sustainable production practices and efficient systems management for profitability. Barriers to local small-scale poultry production include board of health requirements, zoning, permitting/licensing, processing, and raising and marketing poultry for efficient production of meat and eggs. Many niche poultry producers are relatively unaware of actual costs of production. Opportunities to fine-tune poultry production systems for maximum profitability, adopt innovations, and plan management of poultry enterprises to enhance quality of the soil and pastures, protect natural resources, and prevent agricultural pollution are needed. This SARE Partnership Project aims to work with producers to research and develop detailed producer case studies that highlight innovative production systems; diversified marketing strategies; and local, field-tested financial models at different scales of production for small-scale operations producing meat and eggs for direct markets in New England. Collaborating producers at different scales and experience levels will analyze their poultry enterprises for specific production systems and challenges, business management decisions, marketing mix, and costs of inputs to gain insight into profitability and to establish realistic expectations.

    All participating producers will commit to monitoring poultry production data and income and expense categories throughout the 2013 growing season. Each will receive individual technical assistance. At least four statewide poultry field trainings and workshops offered will augment producer capacity. Results of these producer case studies and lessons learned will be incorporated into a Northeast Poultry Producer Enterprise Manual and disseminated broadly via listservs, Extension, and poultry websites throughout the region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To engage new and diversifying producers in this small-scale poultry production SARE Partnership Project, several steps are needed. First, New Entry staff, cooperating farmers, and research team will meet to set realistic goals for the research and describe any potential barriers or pitfalls of the project. All participating producers will commit to monitoring poultry production processes, input costs, systems management decisions, market outlets, income and expense categories throughout the 2013 growing season. Unique approaches to production, processing, and profitability will be tracked. Baseline data will be collected from producers’ 2012 production season as a comparison to their planned 2013 production. Baseline information on producer startup, resource base, and overall experience in agriculture will be documented.

    As background, staff and partners will assemble and review dozens of existing poultry production research reports and enterprise budgets to assess current formats, ease of use, types of information shared, line-item producer budget categories, and comprehensive income and expense projections to set up monitoring and tracking protocols for the project. Secondly, staff and farmers will identify key poultry production “systems innovations” to review and research to strengthen overall profitability of poultry operations in the region. These field innovations will be highlighted and disseminated to participating farmers in the project (and beyond) for adaptation and determination of cost savings and practicality in implementation. For example, one producer in the region has adopted a unique mobile pasture-based poultry watering system that operates on mobile wagon with a 250-gallon tank, RV pump, solar panel, and hosing with float valve to save labor in filling broiler coop waterers by hand. It is estimated the producer saves at least 30 minutes per day of labor and multi-tasks moving fencing, filling feeders while simultaneously refilling waterers. Another grower engineered a table-top automatic egg washing machine that saves significant labor in processing and packaging eggs for markets, again saving up to 1 hour in egg washing per day at their scale of production.

    A local poultry processor recently began utilizing an electronic data loggers with waterproof probes to track poultry temperatures during processing to better meet regulatory requirements and to save processing and record-keeping labor. Another producer utilizes a livestock guardian dog with his pastured laying hens, reducing losses from predation and maintaining a side enterprise in selling trained livestock/poultry guardian dogs at a premium price. These types of production innovations on farms are common and will be researched, highlighted, and pilot-tested with the collaborating farmers to determine changes in productivity, cost savings, and whether these new innovations and others like them directly impact the bottom line. Third, each producer will receive extensive individual technical assistance and financial management coaching to develop enterprise budgets and contribute to a detailed case study/farm profile.

    In each poultry enterprise, particular attention will be paid to primary sources of revenue and expenses that are the largest for each producer. Line items in the variable expense budgets will be analyzed against producer records, financial statements or against other budgets of similar businesses to be sure that all major expense categories are covered and can be highlighted to pinpoint areas for cost savings. Each producer will be assisted to review financials, develop enterprise budgets, and make adjustments that will bring their budget into alignment with their profitability goals. These tools will also be used to determine an actual cost of production on which producers can make effective pricing decisions and incorporate return to labor and capital/depreciation of farm assets. Fourth, New Entry will survey its 400+ livestock and poultry farmer mailing list to determine poultry production challenges, systems management innovations and best practices, unique marketing opportunities, average pricing for products, and to gather a list of learning needs and technical assistance topics. Possible training topics included in the survey will cover: understanding regulations, selecting breeds and genetics, feed and nutrition, infrastructure, pasture and manure management, holistic poultry health care, humane slaughter and processing, food safety training, and marketing. Other topics will be identified via consultations with our farmer participants and advisory partners. New Entry will use this feedback and data collected to enhance annual poultry production training programs with an eye toward producer profitability and capturing more market share in the locally grown poultry industry.

    New Entry will conduct at least four, full-day poultry production training workshops in 2013-2014 to address the topics of greatest importance indentified by poultry producers. Fifth, this partnership project will collect best practices, producer case studies, field-tested and vetted enterprise budgets, and composite financial statements (including infrastructure costs, pricing/incomes, and other data) for various scales of poultry production and distinct enterprises (broilers, eggs, and turkeys). This research and information will be used to develop a “Poultry Production Enterprise Manual” to be disseminated broadly among new and expanding poultry producers in the region. The Enterprise Manual will be posted digitally on New Entry’s website, via the Beginning Farmer Network of Mass (BFN/ website, and disseminated broadly to regional project partners. Evaluation: And finally, we will use a logic model for outcome-based evaluation. A colleague from the Tufts Evaluation Program will provide oversight on our design and overall evaluation steps. For major objectives, we identified measurable targets for participation that we will evaluate from an outcome perspective. Quantitative data collected will include numbers of poultry producers, beginning and other small farmers who complete poultry trainings, certification, poultry processing, or marketing opportunities and who access the Producer Enterprise Manual . We will establish milestones that allow us to track progress towards outcomes.

    Some outcomes are tangible, such as numbers of chickens produced, processed, distributed, or sold. Qualitative experiences and innovations will also be assessed. For process evaluation, we will monitor major programmatic steps to identify problems or obstacles and to make course changes as needed. We will provide detailed reporting of how the partnership project operated to help others replicate or adapt this approach with different enterprises. We will incorporate lessons learned and best practices into guidance materials and will include this in our annual / final SARE Report.

    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.