Jacob Springs broiler production
Thanks for being a good and flexible customer!
You may not know this but we always have SO MUCH DEMAND that I’m constantly turning people away, but you are the ideal type of customer for a small farm like ours, you order in bulk, pay upfront, and are not demanding or high maintenance,
On chickens I can’t give you a simple answer unfortunately, I am not sure if you want to know all the details but I’m going to a write them down anyway since i’ve been meaning to summarize this issue for our team - you don’t have to read all this - to give you an alternative simple answer - we can’t guarantee any meat chickens this year.
We are constantly trying to refine and develop our methods of regenerative agriculture and our meat chicken program has been a subject of much debate and discussion here. And we are planning to try an experiment this year.
here are the factors:
1. We are not very happy with the sustainability of our product in the current model. Unlike herbivores like cattle and sheep which eat grass (grass is very efficient to produce) in our current model we feed our chickens grain. Although we feed organic grain from a local source, we are not really happy about it. With our other omnivores: pigs and egg laying chickens, we have managed to cut out all purchased feeds and we are only feeding them organic people food that would otherwise go to waste. We like that a lot more from a sustainability perspective and we have also seen a major improvement in the quality of our pork and eggs because of a more varied and fresh diet.
2. Frankly - our current meat chicken production model is unprofitable We make us very little money for all the time, effort and money we put into raising and processing meat chickens. Like it or not, the expectations of our customers are at least partly shaped by a giant and very “efficient” (labor and capital efficient - but not calorie, land or energy efficient) chicken industry - most customers - even the “enlightened” ones, expect a plump, tender, white meat bird at a fairly low price (even considering the premium that they pay for our meat).
3. We are not 100% happy with the quality of our product in the current model. When I eat our chicken, it tastes good, but I can taste a hint of the fish meal from the feed. It’s an approved organic ingredient used to boost the protein in the feed - but it makes me uneasy. I think it's probably by-catch leftovers from commercial fisheries, which is at least not wasting it, but I’m just not sure about things like mercury, heavy metals, and other contaminants in the ocean. I’m also not sure I want to support that business model.
Historically, prior to the 1940’s, in the age before cheap grain and agro-industry, chicken was a special treat and relatively expensive, it came from the unwanted boys - male chicken castoffs from the egg flock - frequently they were “caponed” to make them grow fatter and faster but they still matured very slowly (6 months - 24 weeks) usually outdoors, on forage and some grain. This product would probably not “fly” with todays customer - it’ll be tougher, darker, have more flavor (most of us like our chicken mild) and different in shape with long drumsticks, thin breasts and a sharp, prominent keel bone.
Over the last 50 years the chicken has changed shape, the new birds grow really fast (6-8 weeks) and so their nutritional needs are very high. We think they don’t forage terribly well. They can’t run fast or defend themselves and they are not “situationally aware” so they need to be housed in shelters.
In our current “old” production model they live in shelters that that have to be moved daily. They eat a lot of expensive feed. They are so big they can’t breed easily on a normal farm, so we have to buy them in.
We have an idea but we are not sure if it will work. We want to try raising meat chickens on food scraps. We can get plenty from local food companies - that’s not a problem. We currently maintain our egg layers on food scraps, but we still raise them on grain. We are just not sure if food scraps will provide a balanced enough diet to allow the chickens to thrive and grow quickly into what customers expect. We have never heard of anyone doing this with meat chickens but we think it might be possible.
If we fail with the Cornish cross breed (the only breed with plump, white, breast meat) we may need to try again with a different breed of chicken like the freedom ranger - which is still being developed. We are going to give it a try but there is a good chance that something could go wrong. Experimenting like this is expensive for us. We have no sponsor and we have to make a living off the farm, so we have to experiment on a fairly small scale. This means that even if we succeed and prove to ourselves that a more sustainable model is possible, we won’t have many birds to offer this summer. We do have to produce some birds in our old way to meet our our meat CSA commitment. Even if we succeed we won’t be able to scale up the new system probably until next spring 2016. Agriculture cycles are slow.
If we fail it could happen in a couple ways.
Best case failure: chickens grow really slow, this means more labor and less production potential, possibly small birds, possibly tough meat, taste could be gamey
Worst case failure: lots of chicks die, we pull the plug on the program and switch to conventional feed to finish the ones that remain.
Long story short:
I want to raise meat chickens differently or not at all I don’t feel comfortable taking payment in advance since that would involve a guarantee from me to provide an acceptable product. Without cash upfront from sales I can’t afford a large experiment so I’ll have to keep it small I can’t be sure if I’ll have anything worth selling later on either
If the experiment is successful:
We will have a win-win: Lower cost of production and higher quality product I will have a, good product and a profitable, sustainable and regenerative business model that I can scale up next year Let hope!
Feel free to give us your thoughts. Sorry to disappoint! Hope you’ll try us again! If we have worked out a good system you’ll be first in line!