Tuesday, October 18, 2011

River Hills Purebred Poultry Marketing Alliance Research Project

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant #FNC07-687 – Paul J. and Kelly Harter, Kelly and Phyllis Klober, Nathan and Sarah Price, Mark and Michelle Wagstaff of Silex, MO

Objective: Local farmers supplying eggs to the River Hills Poultry Project Alliance (RHPA) project have been maintaining laying flocks and producing eggs for years, but the market for those eggs has been limited by the lack of a delivery system to connect producers and consumers. The project seeks to develop a marketing approach for both eggs and live chicks to expand opportunities for the alliance’s producer members, who specialize in heirloom poultry breeds.

Results: Four families operating small poultry operations in east central Missouri specialize in heirloom poultry breeds such as Orpingtons and Delawares, which used to be common on family farms but now are considered rare and endangered. These birds are hardy and well-adapted to the traditional, natural production methods these small farmers prefer.

Initially, the alliance conducted surveys on breed preferences, existing ventures, marketing methods and outlets, and seed stock sources and pricing. The surveys showed a preference for classic, heritage breeds; a desire for better seed stock; and a strong interest in buying from farmers rather than commercial hatcheries. One factor the surveys didn’t initially reflect is that many of the farmers supplying table eggs use hybrid layers primarily, while farmers maintaining flocks for both table eggs and baby chicks are using heirloom breeds. This information represents the reality of certain trends that currently exist among small producers, each having specific goals and management systems.

The alliance’s local table egg marketing efforts, headed up by Mark and Michelle Wagstaff, have moved beyond the initial grant support and were self-sustaining in 2009, with a steady supply of 300 dozen eggs every week provided to customers in the St. Louis, MO, area. Deliveries for the 2010 season have increased to over 500 dozen per week. While many Community Supported Agriculture ventures require customers to pick up their goods, the alliance provides weekly deliveries, which has led to increased orders from RHPA.

The increased success of the table egg market has enabled the alliance to solve one of its initial challenges – the high cost of shipping egg cartons. Now that the alliance is buying in bulk, its supplier is waiving shipping costs.

Interest in locally produced poultry and eggs is even higher than the RHPA expected. Urban consumers have been especially interested.

A second portion of the project – the shipping of live chicks – is already underway in earnest in 2010, with an initial order for 25 Delaware chicks sent to a buyer in Tennessee. Individual RHPA members have started websites to encourage sales (www.backtothefarmMO.com). Local chick sales have been steady, with customers willing to pick up orders themselves, enjoying a farm visit in the process. This type of “hands-on” approach brings buyers and producers together on a personal level, something that is missing from the majority of chick orders today.

Plans for 2010 and 2011 also are to develop a local hatchery for heritage breeds.

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