Who, me? A chicken farmer?!
Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Twelve years ago my experience with chickens consisted of the usual grocery store shopping for eggs and chicken parts. There was the one time when I was about 10 that I went with a friend's family to visit their friends in Kentucky where my buddy and I decided to clean out their chicken coop. Then another time when a hen showed up and deposited an egg a day until we left for Thanksgiving holiday; our feathery homesteader abandoned us and moved on down to the next neighbor to gift them. So nothing in my life really prepared me for what we're into now!
Because our younger son was graduating with a degree in sustainable agriculture and our older son, who had restaurant and gardening experience, wanted to get into farming, we all agreed a family farm/estate would be a great venture. My recently retired husband and I, almost-ready-to-retire director of after-school programs, looked at land in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and in Delaware and points anywhere south of Maine, but nothing suited. The Maine farm we finally chose in Unity has 82 acres, a renovated farmhouse, a refurbished barn, and other outbuildings. We had a place and a mission.
The mission was to grow and process meat ducks as our main product since it seemed no one really raised ducks in large enough quantities to sell to restaurants and meat markets in Maine. Most duck was coming from Long Island, NY, and Indiana. That's another story, but the first big snag was trying to process ducks. The Pekins, large, white Donald Duck types, have to be processed at eight, 12, or 18 weeks after their feathers have grown in, or you would forever be pulling out pin feathers, tediously time consuming. But that became less of an issue over time, and we were headed in the direction of filling a niche. Meanwhile, we also raised broiler chickens to sell. A considerably easier process.
When younger son left, our older son, husband, and I had to decide whether to continue or wrap up that phase of our lives. Since it was later in the year, we opted to finish out with chickens and provide the best quality we could. We would then have all winter to plan our next move.
The mutual decision was "Go for it", so with the help of You Tube videos on best techniques for cutting up chicken, several on-field chicken "tractor" design trials, a new silo obtained through a grant, and many lessons learned the hard way, we have trudged through the last 10 years persevering through drought, predators, hatchery mishaps, and Covid-19 emerging as a well-known, small producer of high-quality poultry and game bird products.
As we head into our next season in 2021, we hope you'll stop by one of our farmers' markets, say "Hello", and try our pasture-raised, air-chilled chicken. We think you'll conclude, like so many before you, that you'll never buy grocery store chicken again!