Layers, Porter Valley Farms, Uncategorized

I’m Back

It’s hard to believe, but my last post was July 22 of last year! Needless to say, a lot has happened. Where do I even start? Let’s update on the chickens first.

We are kicking off our farm business with the incredible, edible egg.  Remember that commercial?  Careful now, you will be telling your age!  Anyhow, we are going to be offering two kinds of eggs;  large brown eggs and multi-colored eggs.  Our colored egg layers are still in the brooder, but they have feathered out and with the warm weather we will be transitioning them to the hen house.  They will not go on pasture until they grow large enough so that they cannot slip through the poultry netting we use to protect them from predators.  Below are pictures of our brooder.  It’s 3 levels with doors in the middle and on each end.  The middle section is a breezeway that allows the baby chicks to get fresh air and sunshine.  This is also the area where we put the feeders.  One end contains the water tank.  The other end contains the heat lamp and roosts.  We put shavings in this end and the chicks huddle here, beneath the heat lamp, when it is cold.  We bought this brooder from a local farm and it has been quite handy.  Our first flock of birds were kept in the hen house when they were babies and we lost the majority of the flock to weasels.  I’ve since put wire mesh down across the outdoor area of the hen house and it is now weasel-proof.  

Okay, so let’s talk about the brown egg layers. Everyone wants big brown eggs to make a big country breakfast and the bird we selected for our brown egg layers is none other than the Rhode Island Red.

The Rhode Island Red is an American breed of domestic chicken. It’s the state bird of Rhode Island and was developed there (and in Massachusetts) in the late nineteenth century, by crossbreeding birds of Oriental origin such as the Malay with brown Leghorn birds from Italy. They are a prolific layer of large to extra large brown eggs and they are as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. We have a few that survived the weasel Armageddon but we had to purchase a new flock and they will not be laying until May or June.

Another thing that everyone wants is free-range eggs. What are free-range eggs and why does everyone want them? Well, let’s talk about why everyone wants them first and then we will talk about what free-range actually means.

There are two main reasons for the free-range craze. First, the eggs taste better. They have a darker yolk and a richer flavor. Second, the eggs are healthier.

Look at the picture below. The egg on the bottom is an egg purchased from a well-known national retailer. Usually, when you buy eggs from a supermarket, they are not fresh. They could be two months old (or older). Now, look at the egg on top. See how dark the yolk is compared to the supermarket egg? This is a free-range egg and the difference in taste is quite remarkable.

Supermarket Egg vs Free-Range Eggs

In addition to tasting better, free-range eggs are healthier. They have…

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2x more omega-3
  • 3x more vitamin E
  • 7x more beta carotene

Now that you know why people want free-range eggs, what exactly makes an egg a free-range egg?

Consider this. In the United States, USDA free range regulations currently apply only to poultry and indicate that the hens have been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range, nor the duration of time the hens must have access. The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture and there may be access to only dirt or gravel. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.

What does all of this mean? It means, when you buy “free-range” eggs at a supermarket, you may be purchasing eggs from a producer that has thousands of chickens crammed into a building that has one tiny little door giving the chickens access to a small patch of dirt, gravel, or even concrete. That’s why I believe in buying local. Buy your eggs from farmers who will let you come out and visit their operations. See for yourself where your eggs are coming from!

Now, back to our Rhode Island Reds. The last flock we purchased (22 birds) is on pasture now and should be laying eggs by May or June. Out where we live, we cannot let our birds roam totally free. We have too many predators such as coyotes, foxes, weasels, raccoons, hawks, and owls. To remedy this, we keep our flock contained on the pasture with electric poultry netting. We also have a mobile hen house to give them a place to roost at night and a place for shade during the day. Every two to three days we move this mobile pen to a new location where the chickens can forage on fresh grass and insects. It is the natural forage that gives these eggs their rich flavor and healthy attributes and access to this natural forage designates these eggs as free-range.

Below is a picture of our Rhode Island Reds enjoying a sunny day on the farm. You can see the electric poultry netting in the background. The mobile hen house has 4 nesting boxes in the rear and the roof opens up to allow access to the inside.

Free-Range Rhode Island Reds on Pasture

Here’s a couple of pictures of the eggs we sell.

One Dozen Large Brown Free-Range Rhode Island Red Chicken Eggs
The Finished Product

One last thing before I close this post. We just started selling our eggs on the CAFE (Clemson Area Food Exchange). I posted 8 dozen eggs for sale Friday night. Half of them sold that night. The other half sold the next morning. To the people who purchased those eggs, I want to thank you and express my humble gratitude. I hope you thoroughly enjoy them and I hope you will continue to buy from us, because when you buy eggs from Porter Valley Farms you can rest assured your eggs are coming from happy, healthy hens that are thriving on clean water, green grass, fresh air, and sunshine, but don’t take our word for it. Give us a call and arrange a visit.

[If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. If broken by an inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.]

Broilers, dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Poultry Building

We used to heat our home and water with a Hardy boiler furnace.  This is essentially a giant outdoor wood burning stove surrounded by a tank of water and it kept our house and water toasty in cold weather.  We usually fired it up the first of November and kept it burning until the first of April. Keeping it burning meant stuffing it with firewood twice a day.  When the weather was cold, I’d burn a full-sized truckload of wood every week.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get a heat pump.  And the money I saved burning firewood all those years?  It MIGHT pay for the surgery I am going to need one day to replace the saddle joints in my thumbs where I wore the cartilage out picking up large sticks of firewood.  Anyhow, I built a large shed over the stove to keep the wood supply dry (and me when it was raining).  This shed is 16′ x 20′ and we are thinking of repurposing it for our poultry operations.  It has electricity and water, and it is located conveniently close to the house.  In the picture below, you can see it on the left side and slightly behind our house.

IMG_1720

Below are a couple of pics of the inside, looking up at the ceiling.  I think I will take the old metal roofing off and put down boards all the way across the tops of the rafters, from the ridge down to the bottom.  I’ll cover the top of the boards with tar paper, then add slats to screw the new metal roof onto, and I’ll put foam insulation between the slats.  This will insulate the roof and keep it from sweating and it will also let me keep the inside ceiling area open (which will just look nicer).  All of the interior beams and boards will be painted white and all of the metal brackets will be painted a glossy black.

IMG_1715

IMG_1716

I want to build a covered patio off the back of this building and add a door leading out onto the patio.  This will be the area we will use when we process our own broilers.  This will be where we have the kill cones, the scalder, the plucker, a table for gutting the birds, a hose to wash them, a vat of cold water with vinegar to soak them for about 10 minutes, and a vat of ice water to cool them down before taking them inside to part up and package.  Inside the main building, we will have several freezers and refrigerators.  We’ll probably start out with two freezers (for broilers) and one refrigerator (for eggs).  This building will be air-conditioned too.  There will be a stainless steel table for cutting the birds, a sink for washing them, and an electric burner to boil water so that we can heat-shrink the poultry bags onto the birds before putting them into the freezers.  Off the side of the main building, I’d like to have a small storage room.  This will be where we keep the poultry transport cages, the scalder, the plucker, tables, hoses and any other outdoor processing equipment.  Below is the layout of how I envision this.

Poultry Barn

I plan to put black metal roofing on the top of the building and board and batten siding on the sides.  I will paint the siding white and paint a picture of our logo in black on the long side facing the drive coming up to the house.

PVFJPG-BW

I’d also like to paint this on the gable over the door.

eggsign

And have an old farm lamp hanging over it to illuminate the sign (and the entrance) at night time.

lamp

Here’s what the white board and batten siding will look like.  Actually, the front of this building is very much what I envision the front of my poultry building to look like, except where there is a window in the gable of this particular building, mine would have the fresh egg sign and the farm lamp would be mounted higher, over the sign.

siding

This project is not on the list for this year, but definitely on the to-do-list next spring.  Once we complete this project, our poultry operations (layers, broilers, stew hens) should be in full swing.

[Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.  ~Henry Ford]

dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Egg License

Our egg license came in the mail today, so our layer operation is official!  Our flock of chicks will not be laying until the October/November timeframe, but that’s okay because we still have lots to do…

  • Purchase electric poultry netting.
  • Purchase small trailer to mount water tanks, feed containers, feeders, battery and solar fence charger.
  • Purchase egg washer, egg scales, egg candle.
  • Order cartons and stamps.
  • Build a mobile shelter with nesting boxes.
  • Prepare a winter shelter and enclosure for the months when forage is no longer available (December, January, February).
  • Build a feed storage facility so we can buy our feed in bulk.
  • Put the finishing touches on our brochures and signs.

license

[The key to everything is patience.  You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not smashing it.]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

The Numbers Are In

I ran the numbers on our broilers today.  The first bag of feed (when they were tiny little chicks) lasted 3 weeks.  During weeks 4, 5, and 6 we fed one bag per week.  Finally, through weeks 7 and 8 we fed 2 bags per week.  That’s a total of 8 bags of feed and at $22 per bag, that brings our total feed bill to $176.  Since we processed 22 birds, our average cost per bird was $8 per bird or $1 per week per bird.  Not bad.

I did not weigh every bird, but half were roosters and half were hens and I weighed enough of them to know that most of the hens were a little over 5lbs and most of the roosters were a little over 6lbs.  There were a few hens just under 5lbs and conversely there were a few roosters just over 7 pounds.  Anyhow, I did weigh almost half of them after processing them and the average weight was 5.68lbs.  Multiplying that number by 22 birds brings the total weight to 124.96lbs (we’ll say 125lbs).

Since we could only fit the hens that were under 5lbs into the poultry bags, we had to part out the majority of the birds.  We bagged legs, thighs, wings, and (boneless) breasts on most of the birds and threw the carcass out.  I did weigh every bag that went into our freezer and the total weight of the “bagged” meat was 88.42lbs.

Using the average weight of 5.68lbs and a cost of $8 per bird for feed, our cost per pound for the whole bird was $1.40, but since we aren’t selling these and we put up 88.42lbs of meat our actual cost per pound came to $1.99.  Still, a very good price for pastured broilers fed certified organic and certified non-GMO feed.

We’re not ready to retail broilers yet.  There are several things we need to have in place before we do…

  • We want to build a couple of Joel Salatin style tractors that will house 50 birds each (we’d like to test the waters with 100 birds).
  • We have a building that we are going to convert to a processing and storage facility for our broilers and eggs.  We will only process our own broilers, but we will need two or three chest freezers to store our “retail” birds when we get them back from the USDA certified processor.  As our egg business grows, we will add refrigerators for storing eggs until they are delivered to market.
  • We have a trailer to haul the chickens, but we will need to purchase enough poultry crates to safely and comfortably deliver 100 birds.
  • When the birds are ready to pick up, we will need multiple large coolers to ice them down for the trip back to the farm.
  •  Lastly, we will need a feed storage building so that we may buy our feed in bulk to cut expense.

Cornish-cross broilers are selling on the Clemson Area Food Exchange (CAFE) for just over $28.  That’s for a bird that weighs between 5lbs and 6lbs.  I don’t know how much of a markup is put on the bird, but I’m guessing the grower is asking for $25 and the markup is $3.  If I can maintain a feed cost of $10 per bird (I know my cost for this batch was $8, but feed prices fluctuate) and assuming a processing fee of $5 per bird, my expenses (excluding gas and labor) will be $15 per bird.  That leaves us with a $10 profit per bird and with a batch of 100 birds that comes to $1000 or $125 per week income.

I know $125 per week income does not sound like much, but you have to consider that the amount of time spent caring for these birds each day would probably be 20 minutes or 140 minutes per week.  That comes to around $53.57 per hour.  Not bad when you look at it in that light.  The key for this to become a successful operation is to have a quality product, a reasonable price, and a great marketing plan.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

[Farming is a profession of hope.] 

dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Egg Marketing Tools

We received the final designs for our Farm logo today and I updated our marketing material for our free-range egg operations.  Before I show that, I must give credit to “The Logo Company” in New York.  I think these guys hit the ball out of the ballpark with our design.  They delivered exactly what we were looking for, they delivered it in a timely fashion, and their prices were very competitive.  I highly recommend them to anyone seeking a logo/trademark or any other marketing materials.

Once I received the files, I created the marketing materials myself, using Microsoft Publisher.  Below are the finished products.

Brochures

We are going to offer tri-fold brochures with information about our farm, our hens, and free-range eggs.  The stores that carry our eggs may place these on the counter.

Outside

EggBrochure1

Inside

EggBrochure2

Storefront Window Signs

We are also going to offer signs that stores may place in their storefront window.

EggWindow

Cooler Signs

And lastly, we are going to offer signs (stickers) that stores may place on their coolers where they keep the eggs.

EggCooler

We are still waiting for our egg license and we need to get some stamps for our egg cartons.  As soon as those come in, I’ll add another post and share what our finished product will look like.

[Your farm tells a story.  How will the next chapter begin?]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Processing Time This Weekend

Weather permitting, we are going to process these birds this weekend.  They have had a good life with plenty of fresh water, green grass, and sunshine.  They have been fed nothing but certified organic and certified non-GMO feed since birth.

chickens

I’m going to switch to the Joel Salatin style chicken tractor for our next batch of birds and I’ll use this one to grow out a couple of turkeys for Thanksgiving.  Any suggestions on a good breed?  A neighbor down the road has some Bourbon Red chicks for $11.

[Keep your soul clean and your boots dirty.]