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Unlocking the Potential: Embracing Heritage Breeds for Diverse Poultry Selection

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Today, small farmers have discovered the potential of pasturing chickens and turkeys, but sometimes, relying solely on these options may not be enough.

That’s where heritage breeds come in, offering an opportunity to expand your poultry selection and bring diversity to your farm.

The term “fowl” encompasses both land and water birds. Land birds belong to the Galliformes order, while waterfowl are part of the Anseriformes order.

Waterfowl includes popular varieties like ducks, geese, and swans, while landfowl consists of chicken, turkey, and game birds.

Game birds are traditionally associated with hunting but can also be raised domestically. This group includes partridge, pheasant, squab, quail, grouse, chachalacas, doves, woodcock, and guinea fowl.

Beyond these options, other bird types have been domesticated for meat. This includes impressive ratites like ostriches, rheas, and emus, large flightless birds.

The term “poultry” generally encompasses domesticated fowl kept for eggs, meat, or feathers, although the definition can be somewhat ambiguous for farmers.

By carefully planning and considering the possibilities, establishing a sideline business focused on raising specialty poultry for meat can become a viable option for your farm.

Specialty poultry encompasses a wide range of fowl, with the most sought-after varieties being chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.

For those seeking a more exotic touch, there are captivating options like guinea fowl and pheasants. Specialty poultry can also include quail and pigeons, known as squab.

The market for these unique fowl is thriving, offering lucrative opportunities for farm businesses.

Regarding food safety and livestock slaughter regulations, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) play crucial roles.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides exemptions that allow on-farm poultry slaughter, streamlining the process for farmers.

However, the regulations for processing non-traditional domesticated poultry differ from those for mainstream poultry species, such as domestic ducks and geese.

It’s important to note that ratites, despite being domesticated and farmed, must undergo USDA inspection to meet regulatory standards.

Additionally, not all game bird species, even when domesticated, are subject to the FSIS poultry slaughter regulations. State regulations for poultry processing and sales may also vary, while the FDA oversees the processing of wild game birds.

Venturing into specialty poultry can elevate your farm’s profitability and captivate discerning consumers. Embrace the diverse range of fowl available and embark on a journey that promises success and excitement.

Keep abreast of regulations and compliance measures, and witness your farm thrive in this flourishing industry.

Strategize Your Specialty Poultry Business for Success

To ensure profitability, it’s essential to understand consumers’ preferences in your local area regarding poultry. Promoting your specialty fowl repeatedly will create awareness among buyers, generate interest, and highlight the unique offerings you raise.

It’s crucial to be realistic about pricing and consider the amount local consumers are willing to pay. Learning about your customers’ preferences takes time and may extend beyond the first year of operation.

Starting small, testing the market, and gradually expanding as you discover what works best for you is often the most prudent approach.

Strategize Your Specialty Poultry Business for Success
Credit: hobbyfarms

One challenge that specialty poultry producers often face is the fierce competition from large retailers, who can offer turkeys and chickens at meager prices, especially during holidays.

This reality should not discourage you, but it’s a fact that needs careful consideration when planning your venture. Thankfully, specialty producers have a range of options beyond chickens and turkeys.

Farm-raised duck, delectable holiday goose, pheasants, and guinea fowl offer exciting opportunities. While duck and goose consumption has declined in North America over the years, there is still untapped potential in these markets.

You can cultivate a loyal customer base by enticing local consumers to try these specialty fowl and potentially by providing enticing recipes. The same applies to farm-raised guinea fowl and pheasants.

Since there is often limited competition from grocery chains in these niche markets, these fowl retain an exotic appeal in people’s minds. This perception of rarity and uniqueness increases the likelihood of securing more profitable prices per bird.

Strategic planning and budgeting for a consistent advertising campaign targeting local consumers will be pivotal in your business plan. Letting people know who you are, the superiority of your products, and your location is crucial.

Without effective advertising, sales rarely materialize. Allocate funds in your annual operating budget for frequent and repeated advertising efforts. The return on investment will far exceed the initial cost, ensuring the growth and success of your business.

In the dynamic world of specialty poultry, understanding consumer preferences, effective promotion, and smart budgeting are the cornerstones of your path to profitability.

Embrace these strategies, captivate your local market, and witness your business thrive in the realm of extraordinary poultry offerings.

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Essential Considerations for Specialty Poultry Meat Producers

Operating as a specialty poultry meat producer entails adhering to various regulations, including local health, zoning, and livestock codes.

The aspects of slaughter, processing, and distribution of the final product are subject to food safety regulations overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or local state departments of agriculture or health.

Fortunately, federal regulations for small poultry meat growers are straightforward and can be easily met with careful planning and operational foresight.

As part of your preparation process, it is crucial to thoroughly read and comprehend both federal and state laws governing your operation.

Under the federal law known as the 1,000 Bird Exemption, small poultry farmers who produce poultry for the market can slaughter and sell up to 1,000 birds per year within their states without federal oversight or inspection.

However, there are specific requirements to be met. Direct sales to consumers must occur on the farm where the birds were slaughtered and processed, with no transportation allowed to farmers’ markets or secondary retail vendors. Growers who sell through these channels must fulfill additional inspection requirements.

The specifics of state laws vary for growers who process poultry below the 1,000-bird exemption threshold. Some states impose minimal additional restrictions as long as the slaughter areas and methods used maintain sanitary conditions.

However, other states have more stringent regulations for small producers. Some states permit open-air (outdoor) slaughter and processing of market poultry, while others prohibit this practice.

Surprisingly, California allows open-air processing, while Kentucky prohibits open-air slaughter and processing of market birds. Also, states may have specific codes concerning offal and slaughter waste disposal, while others may have minimal regulations.

When planning your operation, understanding your specific area’s requirements is vital. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in local health inspectors shutting down your business.

While the laws governing poultry slaughter and sale are not overly complex, there are nuances to be aware of within the federal 1,000-bird exemption statute. Each chicken or duck is counted as one bird, while each turkey or goose counts as four birds.

This means that legally, you can only slaughter and sell 250 turkeys or 250 geese under this law. Additionally, the birds must originate from a single farm, not multiple producers or farmers.

If multiple individuals are farming together on the same farm, they cannot raise and slaughter 1,000 birds individually. Instead, they can collectively slaughter 1,000 birds (or the legal equivalent of turkeys or geese).

Another federal statute, called the 20,000 bird exemption, applies to growers who produce and slaughter more than 1,000 but no more than 20,000 birds annually. This category involves facility inspections and more regulated packaging, sales, and distribution laws.

This article will not delve further into the 20,000 bird exemption. However, if you aspire to expand your sales operation beyond 1,000 birds per year, you must know, understand, and comply with this set of regulations.

By diligently navigating and adhering to the relevant regulations, you can establish a specialty poultry meat production business that meets legal requirements and operates with integrity and consumer trust.

Essential Considerations for Specialty Poultry Meat Producers
Credit: hobbyfarms

Building a Solid Foundation: Planning a Specialty Poultry Meat Production Business

Establishing a specialty poultry meat production business requires meticulous planning and a long-term perspective. Realistically, this process can span anywhere from one to two years before you even purchase your first batch of baby fowl.

While it may be tempting to jump right in, it’s advisable to start small and progress gradually during the initial year or two, allowing for experimentation and market testing.

To ensure your business’s long-term viability, engaging in advanced and comprehensive planning is paramount. Consider everything, from housing and brooders to feeders and your home slaughter and processing facility.

Even the design and appearance of your sales area should be carefully thought out. Solid, strategic planning is the cornerstone of this multi-faceted venture you construct and nurture. Don’t underestimate its value.

Begin with a clear vision of your end product. Conduct thorough research and identify different types of poultry that prospective buyers would find appealing.

If you opt for heritage breeds, seek out breeds that, when dressed, meet customers’ initial expectations and desires. As you build your customer base, you can gradually introduce them to more unique and exclusive offerings.

Calculate feed consumption and select breeds that exhibit excellent feed-to-meat conversion ratios. Consider the number of weeks required for the breeds you raise to reach the desired market weight.

Determine if grain-based fattening is a common practice for the chosen breed at the end of the growing period. It’s worth noting that raising heritage breeds often entails a longer growth period compared to modern production strains.

Heritage breeds tend to consume more feed during the growing phase than commercial meat strains. Pasture-raising poultry can significantly reduce feed costs.

However, it’s essential to know that some heritage breeds traditionally require grain-fattening for at least two weeks before slaughter.

While an excess layer of fat may not be as desirable as once, certain heritage breeds may not exhibit the desired plumpness and appearance without it. The additional feed these breeds consume can become a significant expense for growers.

Throughout the planning process, meticulously crunching the numbers. Devise long-term strategies for providing the necessary nutrition to your birds most cost-effectively during the growing period.

While they may require supplementary grain-based feeds, fowl such as geese can largely forage for their food in a pasture setting once they reach 5 or 6 weeks of age.

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Turkeys, chickens, and ducks also thrive when given access to pasture. Ensure that secure shelters and fencing are in place to protect them from inclement weather and potential predators.

Dedicating time and effort to comprehensive planning will lay a solid foundation for your specialty poultry meat production business.

This strategic approach will not only enhance your chances of long-term success but also enable you to provide high-quality products that meet the expectations of your discerning customers.

Strategically Designing Your Specialty Poultry Slaughter and Sales Area

Before your first batch of baby birds even arrives, planning, designing, and constructing a dedicated area for the sanitary slaughter of the fowl you will raise is crucial. Alternatively, you can purchase a purpose-built mobile unit designed for this task.

Avoid the temptation to rush the setup process while simultaneously tending to the birds – it can be more overwhelming than you anticipate.

This designated unit should be carefully organized for efficient killing, plucking, dressing, chilling, and packaging of the fowl.

Ideally, it should be established before commencing the actual growing operations. Additionally, investing in suitable freezer units for storing dressed carcasses is essential.

Take the time to explore and calculate the costs involved in constructing your processing area versus purchasing a trailer or mobile unit designed for this specific purpose.

Consider the operating costs, potential repairs, and depreciation or allocated costs allowed by the tax code for each option. This also encompasses any equipment and housing used in the growing operations.

While there may be regions where mobile processing units can be rented, they are still relatively uncommon in most areas. Familiarizing yourself with these realities in advance will contribute to the profitability of your business.

Some fortunate growers may be located near a regional processor inspected under federal or state programs. These processors can handle the slaughter and processing of poultry for a predetermined price per bird.

As a licensed and inspected facility, they often permit the sale of processed birds at various locations such as farmers’ markets or offer delivery services to customers.

If you find yourself in such a favorable situation, it is crucial to have plans for transporting live birds to the processor and arranging for the return of the dressed birds to your home or farm.

Ensure you can maintain the dressed fowl at temperatures mandated by law during transit. Reserve slaughter dates well in advance, even before ordering or hatching your baby poultry.

Calculate the anticipated number of weeks required for the growing fowl to reach marketable size and plan your operations accordingly.

Lastly, give careful thought to your sales area well in advance. If you already have a farm stand for produce sales, incorporating a freezer and poultry display is often straightforward.

If not, determine where you will meet customers who come to pick up their purchases. Remember, the sales and delivery area’s visual presentation, attractiveness, and cleanliness create an immediate and lasting impression on customers.

Embarking on a specialty poultry meat production business offers a wealth of possibilities. With careful forethought and planning, it can become a thriving venture that brings success for many years.

Strategically Designing Your Specialty Poultry Slaughter and Sales Area
Credit: hobbyfarms

Meet the Poultry Powerhouses: Feisty Acres

Feisty Acres, located on the North Fork of Long Island, New York, is a thriving venture led by partners Abra Morawiec and Chris Pinto.

Specializing in pasture-raised poultry and game birds, they have experienced remarkable growth since their inception in 2015, starting with 200 quail and expanding to approximately 2,000 quail and 750 other meat birds sold in 2018, captivating local markets, including New York City.

While Feisty Acres was once certified organic, the decision to relinquish its organic certification was thoughtful. They deliberated extensively over the pros and cons, realizing that the integrity of organic certifications had diminished over time.

Barn-raised fowl had become synonymous with the robust, pasture-raised birds they provide to the Long Island and New York City markets.

With a business model built on direct relationships with their customers, Feisty Acres comfortably surpassed the standards set forth by the USDA, deciding to part ways with their certified organic status.

What began with Coturnix (Japanese) quail has now expanded to include an array of exquisite additions. French guinea fowl, Chukar partridge, Silkie chickens, heritage breed turkeys, and their latest addition, ducks, have found their place at Feisty Acres.

The possibility of introducing squab to their repertoire looms on the horizon, promising even more culinary delights.

Meet the Poultry Powerhouses: Feisty Acres
credit: ecofarmingdaily

Feisty Acres prides itself on its meticulous processing methods. Birds are expertly handled through a mobile processing unit owned and licensed by Browder’s Birds in nearby Mattituck.

Operating under the strict regulations of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Browder ensures that the process adheres to the highest standards.

Morawiec explains that the USDA acknowledges the distinct biological hazards associated with game species of birds compared to traditional poultry.

Hence, Feisty Acres had to secure a waiver to process some of their game birds using the mobile poultry unit, maintaining an unwavering commitment to quality and safety.

Feisty Acres stands as a testament to the passion and dedication of its founders.

Their quest for excellence, combined with their expanding repertoire and adherence to the highest standards, guarantees an exceptional culinary experience for those fortunate enough to savor the fruits of their labor.

With Feisty Acres, every bite tells a story of meticulous care, unwavering commitment, and unparalleled flavors.

A Haven for Palatable Pastures and Flavorful Fowl

In 2018, Feisty Acres marked its first year on the current property, embarking on a journey of discovery and understanding between the land and its avian inhabitants.

Their 8-acre lease, nestled within a nature preserve, presented diverse native vegetation, including the potentially toxic dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), which the birds instinctively avoid. Unfortunately, mugwort also made its unwelcome presence known.

To counter these challenges, they diligently manage the dogbane to prevent seeding, while their Silkies swiftly take care of the mugwort through mowing.

Surprisingly, poison ivy has emerged as an unexpected favorite among their flock.

“Before this year, neither Chris nor myself knew that game birds and poultry could consume poison ivy without adverse effects. However, it turns out that poison ivy is a vital food source for many local animals,” reveals Morawiec.

Feisty Acres boasts a pasture adorned primarily with native grasses, including switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Tridens flavus (commonly known as purple top), and deer tongue grass—a clump-forming perennial.

While some may perceive this mix as mere weeds, it serves as the foundation for a gourmet diet for both the fowl and the fortunate consumers of their poultry.

As the season nears its end, Morawiec and Chris anticipate that they won’t embark on orchestrated pasture seeding. The existing vegetation harmoniously caters to their birds, who have become adept foragers.

This unique pasture imparts an unmatched flavor to their birds. When poultry and game birds have access to a diverse range of nourishment, their meat and eggs reach superior levels of quality.

Feisty Acres demonstrates how an intricately balanced ecosystem and a carefully crafted diet can elevate the culinary experience for feathered friends and enthusiastic connoisseurs.

The synergy between the land, the vegetation, and their birds’ discerning palates creates a truly unparalleled culinary masterpiece.

Nurturing Natural Behaviors and Optimal Nutrition at Feisty Acres 

At Feisty Acres, all the birds enjoy a pasture-raised lifestyle and can forage naturally to a great extent.

What sets them apart is that they haven’t been selectively bred for confined production, which makes them exceptional foragers with enhanced disease resistance and hardiness compared to birds developed for intensive indoor systems.

These birds take longer to reach market weight but experience fewer health issues than their industrial counterparts.

Feisty Acres value the natural breeding capabilities of their birds. They are embarking on a heritage turkey breeding program, utilizing Black Spanish and Narragansett varieties.

Additionally, they maintain a breeding flock of approximately 400 laying quail to ensure a steady supply of eggs for their customers.

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While they don’t breed other bird species, they carefully source day-old chicks and poults from reputable specialty breeders across the United States, ensuring strong genetic lines compatible with their pasture-raised operations.

Each species at Feisty Acres has unique foraging requirements and provides supplemental feed accordingly. The birds are housed in a manner that accommodates their innate needs and offers protection from predators.

While coyotes are not a concern, hawks and raccoons pose potential threats. Turkeys, for example, find their sanctuary among cedar and aspen groves, roosting in trees at night and seeking shade on hot days.

Feisty Acres is designing rolling roost structures on old trailers to provide roosts even in the absence of trees.

As the turkeys grow, they spend four weeks in the brooder after arriving in April. Once their wings are clipped, they are moved to a roofed structure with an open bottom, allowing them to forage in the pasture.

They learn the boundaries defined by poultry netting. The turkeys graze the underbrush until they are ready for harvest in November, after which they are moved to different areas of the farm.

Guinea fowl, like turkeys, are exceptional foragers. However, they are nervous and tend to fly up into trees when excited or frightened. Feisty Acres ensures sturdy roofs contain them and provide a sense of protection.

Crowding is avoided to prevent smothering, and moveable coops are designed to accommodate their flying tendencies and roosting habits.

Guinea fowl are excellent pasture grasses and vegetation mowers, prompting the houses’ daily movement to keep up with their voracious consumption.

Silkie chickens, partridges, and quail each have Salatin-style chicken tractors that can be easily relocated across the pasture, offering fresh foraging grounds. The pens have high ceilings to accommodate the quail’s instinct to flush up.

Partridges reside in taller and longer pens with small roosting areas since they don’t nest on the ground like quail. Both quail and partridges prefer low pasture growth, typically no more than 4 to 6 inches.

The pens feature roll-up sides for improved air circulation and higher ceilings for easy access. Housing is moved based on manure load and forage availability. The lightweight PVC construction allows convenient relocation by two people.

However, the houses must be tethered down during winds exceeding about 20 mph to prevent them from being blown over and the birds from becoming vulnerable to hawks.

Water and feed are transported from the barn, a quarter mile away, to the birds. Five-gallon buckets of water are delivered daily, while a week’s worth of feed is stored in containers on the pasture.

In addition to specialty feeds, Feisty Acres feeds the birds certified organic vegetable scraps collected from neighboring produce farms and farmers’ market vendors.

The consumption habits of the birds vary throughout the seasons, influenced by factors such as grass availability, vegetation, flowers, seeds, and insects.

Feisty Acres has observed preferences for spring and fall grasses and vegetation, although the summer offers a greater abundance of flowers, seeds, and insects.

To meet each species’ diverse nutritional needs and growth rates, Feisty Acres provides custom feed mixes with protein levels ranging from 19 to 26 percent.

These high-quality, high-protein feeds are sourced from Panorama Organics, an organic farmer named Vernon Burkholder based in Oley, Pennsylvania.

Vernon’s invaluable expertise and guidance in maximizing the birds’ nutrition have made him highly recommended by Feisty Acres.

Feisty Acres’ commitment to nurturing their birds’ natural behaviors, exceptional foraging abilities, and optimal nutrition showcases the farm’s dedication to producing poultry of the highest quality, resulting in a truly outstanding culinary experience.

Nurturing Natural Behaviors and Optimal Nutrition at Feisty Acres 
Credit: ecofarmingdaily

Related post: Winter Care for Chickens: Tips to Keep Your Flock Healthy and Happy

Meeting Customer Demands with Specialty Meats: Feisty Acres’ Approach

During the winter months, when the mobile processing unit is inactive, Feisty Acres is taking steps to obtain a state license that would enable them to process birds from their farm and other producers.

Despite the smaller number of birds raised in winter compared to the peak summer season, there is still a consistent demand from customers.

Feisty Acres follows specific raising and processing procedures for different bird species. They order quail in batches of 500, using some to refresh the laying flock.

Silkies and guineafowl are raised in varying quantities, typically ranging from 50 to 100 birds at a time, with successive batches raised and processed throughout the season.

On the other hand, partridge and turkeys are raised in single batches each season, with fall being the designated time for slaughter. While most of their meat sales occur in the fall, they also have a significant demand for quail meat and eggs during summer.

The time it takes for birds to reach market weight varies. Quail require approximately 8 to 10 weeks, while partridge take 16 weeks. Chicken and guinea fowl have a growth period of 12 to 14 weeks.

Feisty Acres offers meat and quail egg shares through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and local farmers’ markets. Their pickled quail eggs, brine, and stock are prevalent and quickly sell out.

Meeting Customer Demands with Specialty Meats
Credit: ecofarmingdaily

Value-added and convenience products have become highly sought after in the market, and Feisty Acres recognizes the strong demand for these types of offerings.

As Feisty Acres primarily serves the New York City market, farmers in other regions must conduct market research before expanding into specialty meats. Understanding customer preferences and demand is crucial for success.

Morawiec, the co-founder of Feisty Acres, advises farmers looking to diversify their poultry operations to pay close attention to the behaviors of the birds, which various factors can influence.

Understanding the unique dynamics between the animals and their environment is critical to successfully raising different types of birds on pastures.

Feisty Acres’ commitment to meeting customer demands, exploring value-added products, and carefully observing the interactions between their birds and the land sets them apart as a reliable and knowledgeable source of specialty meats.

Read more about Chicken Keeping 101: Expert Advice on How to Protect Yourself and Your Flock from Illness

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