Can a Small Poultry Business Bolster the Rural Economy?

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A small poultry business mainly supported by the local community will benefit the rural economy through the movement of goods and cash within the community.
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In "Beyond the Chicken," renowned author and poultry keeper Kelly Klober offers a wealth of information for aspiring poultry keepers looking for something other than chickens, whether water fowl or land, game birds or highly domesticated breeds.

While producing and selling chickens and eggs may remain the most common American poultry venture, Kelly Klober invites reader to explore the possibilities of other poultry varieties in Beyond the Chicken (Acres U.S.A., 2014). Practical advice interspersed with humorous personal anecdotes guides poultry producers through the process of creating or expanding an alternative poultry venture, raising and caring for each type of bird discussed and building a customer base in local markets. The following excerpt is from Chapter 8, “More than a Fad: Keeping the Poultry Renaissance Alive.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Beyond the Chicken.

So You Have a Poultry Business; Now What?

As diverse as poultry species are, they all pose the same question to potential producers: What, ultimately, is to be done with them? To what role and level will they be restored? There is no fast food chain featuring goose nuggets. There are no rural buying stations for ducks or pigeons. Nor are there stockyards for creatures that cackle, squawk, quack, gobble, or honk. These birds have held on in a few places because there were weekly community or consignment auctions where you would find some feathered stock in the offering. In my youth there were any number of small towns with mercantiles or feed stores that also bought eggs, spent hens, spring and summer fryers, and just about anything else with feathers.

I can still remember walking around the by then long-abandoned poultry pens at the old Alderson Bros. mercantile in our little country town. They were soon to be torn down, but I had seen them filled with birds and crowded coops, piled atop each other on the loading dock awaiting the transport trucks. I had walked them often in the past looking for a bird of unusual variety or color to take back home. The birds were generally all played out but were nonetheless traces of what poultry production had once been in our part of Missouri and in most other states.

Some of this culture is coming back, although it is still as delicate as the last of the feathers that blew through those old holding pens in our little country town back in the sixties. A place to sell them—actually many places—are essential if these birds are going to continue in any form beyond a mere novelty. With the growing roles of direct marketing and local foods there must be meeting places for producers and consumers, points of education and information sharing, building points for a new infrastructure, and gates through which money and support can flow to build new flocks and sustain those already about the task of flock building.

Time and again, studies have revealed that the best way to improve the rural economy and the way of life there is simply to improve farmer income. A dollar spent with a farmer will turn nine to thirteen times before it leaves the immediate community. It will move up and down Main Street from the farmer to the feed store to the local diner to the hardware store to the mom and pop grocery. Direct marketing returns more of the selling price to the farmer/producer than any other form of marketing. It is also the marketing system with the greatest level of transparency as the farmer and the consumer have to meet face-to-face and strike a bargain over the actual item.

Poultry markets—and the whole of the livestock trade, actually—come under excessive and undue scrutiny every time a chicken sneezes in China now. Yes, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 was a terrible thing; it was also nearly a hundred years ago and lifetimes away as far as medical developments are concerned. Dad would tell stories of having to tend his stricken family all alone at the age of eleven. Neighbors would bring food and what health measures were then available and leave them at their front gate. It was an act of great kindness, but my dad was also told that he ran the risk of being shot if he left their little farm before the disease had run its course.

Yes, some of those flus that have emerged recently in the East have had a porcine or an avian link. Sometimes quite a faint one. Public health care there is not what it is in more developed parts of the world. Generally, in those regions the people live in close proximity to their birds, often even sleeping directly above them to protect them from theft and predation. Cockfighting continues in many parts of these regions. A practice in the fighting pit in many areas is to catch up a bird with head or chest wounds and, using the human mouth, suck out the clotting blood from airways before setting the bird back down to continue the fight. There, too, cooking methods are not always the best, and fresh poultry blood may be consumed. In one of the more recent rounds of concern it was revealed that in many of the street markets in China birds are slaughtered and processed on site and in the open areas of the markets. There are no guidelines, and the scalding and picking fills the air with droplets and water vapor that can widely spread any harmful organisms.

Rural Business Supports the Rural Economy

Neither here nor abroad do the birds of small, independent producers represent the health risks that cramped, stressed, and rigidly confined poultry flocks do. Much is made of the supposed “bio-security” of modern confinement units, but ask any farmer you know if there really is such a thing as a bird- and rodent-free steel building. At the height of one avian flu scare a few years ago, a major hurricane roared through the South, breaking open scores of poultry buildings. Hundreds of thousands of badly stressed and controlled environment–dependent birds were dumped into a damaged environment. And this just as the major fall migration of wild birds was flowing into and across that region. I’m not a believer in conspiracy theories, but with all of those confinement-derived birds dumped into the environment, talk about avian flu went quickly away. Nor are six hens in a crate at a local bird market being subjected to the same harsh life and treatment as birds packed into a colony house or mega-cage unit. They are there for but a few hours, were generally caught up from feed and water earlier that morning, and will be back into new quarters before the day is over. As a countermeasure to E. coli problems, birds destined for harvest should be held off of feed for twenty-four hours to assure that they are processed with an empty digestive track. It is a mandated condition for on-farm processing in many states now.

Without markets to give the birds a measurable economic value and an outlet for surplus production the then-valueless birds will assuredly slip away into extinction. That appears to be the goal of some in the animal rights sector, but it is very much at odds with all of the work that has gone on in recent years to preserve and protect all the rare and heirloom breeding. There would have been no Renaissance without patrons and an economic undergirding to support those doing the actual work, and the same is now true of this poultry keeping renaissance of ours.

Consumers and producers alike will be best served by open and honest marketing options where the birds and the trading is open to all and open for all to see. Restrictive and unenlightened regulation will not serve this, but will drive out and then kill this form of marketing as it is still aborning.

More from Beyond the Chicken:

Getting Into the Heritage Poultry Business
Heritage Turkey Breeds for Homesteaders
Raising Guinea Fowl

Reprinted with permission from Beyond the Chicken: A Guide to Alternative Poultry Species for the Small Farm by Kelly Klober and published by Acres U.S.A., 2014. Buy this book from our store: Beyond the Chicken.