SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING # 9
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
Phone (501) 292-3714; E-mail: HN3551@handsnet.org
Keith Richards, Editor
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING is the bi-monthly voice of
the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations working for
more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern states.
Hard copy subscriptions via U. S. postal service:
$15 per year or $25 for two years.
CONTENTS, part 2:
* ADDING VALUE TO CHICKENS ON THE FARM
* LAST CHANCE FOR INPUT ON NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS
* PUBLICATIONS OF NOTE
ADDING VALUE TO CHICKENS ON THE FARM
FULL SEASON FARM, Umbarger, TX
by Keith Richards
Chris and Sara Weick figure they've developed a base of about 100
customers who drive out to their farm regularly, with another 300-400 who
come by occasionally. Located on the Texas High Plains 10 miles out of the
town of Canyon and almost an hour from Amarillo, the Weicks realize how
precious their customers are and treat them accordingly. Chris says,
"There ain't nothing worth losing a customer over. We just never lose
anybody unless they move away or something."
What their customers come for is "farm-raised" chicken--as opposed
to a "factory-raised" bird--with taste and quality they can't find in the
meat department of their local supermarket. Chris says, "Most people buy
from us because they want a chicken that tastes like when they used to
In 1990 the Weicks were farming 3000 acres of wheat and forage
crops when they bought 500 chicks, raised them, and had them butchered at a
processing facility 100 miles away. After selling the birds to friends,
and getting praised for the quality, they decided it was time to go into
the poultry business. Their goal was to make a living on a half section of
Now Chris and Sara, along with their teenage children, Salem and
Seth, farm 500 acres of feed crops and rent a little more land for pasture.
Besides raising about 8000 chickens per year, and turkeys seasonally, they
also raise cattle and a few hogs.
Production is Kept Simple
"The production end is really pretty simple," says Chris. Day old
chicks are bought from area hatcheries in batches of 600-800 every three to
four weeks. The chicks are raised on Weick's grain supplemented by feed
from a local mill. Never fed antibiotics or additives, they are allowed to
move freely in the yard during the day and are kept in a simple tin coop at
When the first ones reach about 2-1/2 lbs dressed out, Chris will
start processing them. With the help of two neighbor ladies, he butchers a
batch every two weeks until the last are about 4-1/2 lbs dressed out. This
ensures a steady supply of meat for his customers. If sales slack off, he
can delay starting another batch, so all meat is sold within one week of
The Weicks sell whole chickens, halves, quarters, ground meat,
thighs, breasts, mixed parts with no breast, and a brisket that is
mesquite-smoked and seasoned. All meat is sealed in vacuum packaging and
frozen immediately after processing.
On-Farm Processing Plant
What makes Full Season Farm unique from other farms raising
chickens is their state-inspected processing plant. Chris is pretty sure
theirs is the first farm-size poultry plant to be built in Texas. The
small building has two processing rooms, a sales room, and a walk-in
"Putting a plant in is like buying a small farm," says Chris. The
Weicks took out a five-year $75,000 loan to finance the building and
equipment. Since this type of structure was new to him, Chris
sub-contracted the construction to others. Now he says he could do it
For about six weeks he went back and forth with the state health
department to get the plant's plans and specifications okayed. Chris says
working with the state health department turned out to be easier than he
expected. State and Federal regulations allow farmers to process up to
20,000 birds per year without a USDA inspector on hand as long as the birds
are sold within the state. The state inspector comes out and checks their
operation every six months. He recently praised their plant for its
First Goal is a Happy Customer
"You've got to have the guts--the processing plant--to do this, but
marketing is the really interesting part," Chris says.
After the success of selling 500 chickens to their friends, he
remembers, "We just opened our doors and thought people would beat a path
in." Instead, for about six to eight months, no new customers came along.
The Weicks kept selling to the same friends, worried that their sales would
By focusing on producing a top quality product and really servicing
those customers who did come out, though, their business slowly grew. "If
you start small, keep your quality high, and set your goals realistically,
you'll grow," says Chris.
Satisfied customers turned out to be their best source of
promotion. "My first goal is to have a happy customer," Chris says.
"He'll tell 10 to 15 others about your product. But if you tick one off,
he'll tell 50 people."
Almost all of their sales are from the farm store. A few chickens
are sold to a natural food store in Amarillo, but Chris doesn't push that
market. It gets their chicken a little more name recognition, but he
doesn't like wholesaling because he can't control the quality of his
product once it leaves the farm and because it adds the job of collecting
About half of their customers come out to the farm during store
hours of 10-2 on Saturdays, and about half call ahead to set up special
times during the week.
"Other farmers always say, 'I can't work with the general public.'
Who is this general public?" asks Chris. "I get along with them. They come
out to my farm and give me money. You just have to treat 'em like you want
to be treated." He thinks other farmers use this excuse because they don't
want to be tied down.
Adding Further Value
Chris says none of their customers complain about prices. "Price
isn't that big of a consideration for those who come out here," he
explains. "They're coming for the best you can get."
To show how you can increase return on a single product, he
calculates a few figures in his head. At $1.39/lb, one three-pound
chicken, vacuum packed and frozen, sells for $4.17. If he cuts off the
breast, he can get $3.49 just for that part. If he cuts the chicken into
parts, it's price goes to $5.07. Chris believes a farmer can get the gross
profit up to $10-11 per bird by adding flavoring and other value. Once
again, it just depends on what you like to do.
He and his family have found what they like to do. Chris says the
store will soon make as much as the rest of the farm. "We're breaking even
now (after 5 years) and can easily see where we will make more than we did
with the full farm."
They paid off their five year loan, partially with the help of
other farm enterprises. "But now farming is kind of crappy and this
business is helping to pay for farming," Chris says.
He doesn't anticipate ever wanting to produce more than the 20,000
birds yearly allowed by law. If demand gets too high, he'll raise his
prices to adjust to the market. "When you market it yourself, you can
raise the price. Other farmers can't do that," says Chris. "And if we
have something that doesn't sell, we'll eat it. You can't beat that!"
* * *
This article was excerpted from MAKING IT ON THE FARM: INCREASING
SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH VALUE-ADDED PROCESSING AND MARKETING. Besides
including stories of farmers who are cutting out middlemen to increase farm
income, the booklet also discusses several of the keys to success in
adding value to farm products through processing, packaging, and promotion.
Compiled from interviews with successful Southern farmer/entrepreneurs,
MAKING IT ON THE FARM will be available from Southern SAWG in the Spring.
To order a copy, send check or money order for $12.00 payable to "Southern
SAWG," PO Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727.
* * *
LAST CHANCE FOR INPUT ON NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS
After five years of hearings and debate, the proposed regulations
for the National Organic Production Program are expected to be published in
the U.S. Federal Register sometime in May, 1996. All interested parties
will have 60-90 days to respond to the USDA from the date of publication.
After this public comment period, the USDA will then create the final
regulations. Look for details on where to get a copy of the proposed
regulations and how to respond in the May issue of Southern Sustainable
* * *
PUBLICATIONS OF NOTE
PROFITABLE DAIRY OPTIONS. Sustainable Agriculture Network. Focuses on
rotational grazing, innovative marketing strategies, and nutrient
management techniques for sustainable dairy production. Draws information
from SARE/ACE projects throughout the U.S. Highlights "pasture-user
support groups", the benefits of manures and composts, the pre-sidedress
soil nitrate test (PSNT), alternative silage crops, and other profitable
options. 8 pp. Free. From Andy Clark, SAN Coordinator, Room 304,
National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705-2351; phone (301)
504-6425; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A COMSERVATION BREEDING HANDBOOK. American Livestock Breeds
Conservancy. Describes livestock and poultry breeds as genetic resources
and explains how individual breeders can help in their conservation.
Addresses development of a philosophy, the concept and practice of
selection, a comparison of conservation and improvement breeding, and uses
of breeding systems. Discusses the considerations necessary in establishing
a conservation herd or flock, from choice of species and breed through
purchase of stock and participation in breed associations, registries and
other networks. Includes resource list, 90 photographs, charts and
drawings. 136 pp. $12.95 plus $3.00 shipping. From ALBC, PO Box 477,
Pittsboro, NC 27312; phone (919) 542-5704.
COLLEGES OF AGRICULTURE AT THE LAND GRANT UNIVERSITIES: A PROFILE. National
Research Council. Describes land-grant system's history and mission, and
provides data on research funding and allocation among different crops,
campus enrollment trends and demographics, financial characteristics of
farms and contribution of agricultural sector to U.S. economy. 144 pp.
$34.95. From National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, DC 20418; phone (800) 624-6242; e-mail email@example.com.
PESTS HAVE ENEMIES TOO: TEACHING YOUNG SCIENTISTS ABOUT BIOLOGICAL CONTROL.
Michael Jeffords & Audrey Hodgins. Explains biological control and
describes educational activities for teaching concepts to students in
grades five through ten. 64 pp. $4.50. Illinois Natural History Survey,
607 East Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL 61820; phone (217) 333-6880; fax
FARMING MORE SUSTAINABLY IN THE SOUTH, Vol II: MORE FARMERS' STORIES
highlights twelve pioneers of sustainable agriculture. Innovative Southern
producers of cotton, soybeans, sugarcane, citrus, vegetables, fruit, dairy,
livestock, and cut flowers share their experiences in creating more
profitable and enjoyable farming operations. This booklet compiles the
best stories previously published in Southern Sustainable Farming--all
updated--with several new pieces. Production practices and marketing
strategies are discussed. Though their methods vary widely, each story is
full of inspiration and ideas. 44pp. $12.00. Southern SAWG, PO Box 324,
Elkins, AR 72727; phone (501) 292-3714: e-mail HN3551@handsnet.org.
For a special price of $17.50 post paid you can receive FARMING MORE
SUSTAINABLY IN THE SOUTH, Vol I: NINE FARMERS' STORIES along with Volume
* * *
Sent: March 13, 1996 5:50 pm PST Item: R00NaMw