If you've decided to start a small farm business raising chickens for meat, you're probably wondering where to begin. Sure, get some chicks, raise them to slaughtering size, process them or get them processed, and sell them, right? Sounds easy. But organizing your chicken broiler business takes some work. Follow these steps and you'll be off and running - and making money selling delicious, fresh pastured chicken - very soon.
Know the Laws
You should begin by investigating your state and local laws around poultry sales. This is going to feed into the next two steps, where you will determine your market and write a business plan.
What do we mean by the laws? Many states require that meat chickens be processed in a USDA-approved facility in order to be legally sold to the public. However, in some states, if your poultry operation is small enough in scale, you can sell whole chickens directly to restaurants. And you may be allowed to sell whole chickens to the public as long as you sell them directly from your farm.
Research the laws that apply to you, because knowing where you'll get the chickens processed and how much that will cost will affect your business plan.
Learn How to Raise Chickens for Meat
If you don't already know, research research research. How will you raise your chickens? On pasture or confined? Learn how to keep baby chicks healthy and raise them to market size without losing too many to illness or predators.
Know Your Market
Figuring out your market is the next step for your new chicken business. Who are your local buyers? Will you sell to consumers directly from your farm (and if so, how will they know where to find you)? Will you sell to restaurants?
Also consider whether you will sell conventional Cornish Rocks, the fast-growing cross that is the large-scale poultry industry standard, or go for an heirloom breed or hybrid specially designed to forage on pasture, like Freedom Rangers. Your market will determine this; are you selling to people who know the difference and care? Birds raised on pasture may take longer to reach market weight, ultimately costing you more money. Will the market support the price per pound you'll need to charge to be profitable?
Write a Business Plan
Identifying your market is part of your business plan, but you'll need more information than just that to create a guide for your business as you move along toward its creation.
Another part of the business plan is making specific, measurable goals. How many broilers will you raise for your first run? What is the market size? What equipment will you need for them: fencing, housing, waterers, and feeders?
Also, make sure to consider capital. Specifically, how much of it do you have? You'll need to factor in any equipment costs such as the construction of a coop. Another cost is the chicks themselves. And you'll need to pay for all the feed they will gobble up at an alarming rate until they reach market size. You may need medications or supplements as well.
Raise Your Chicks
Once you have your chicks, you can get underway. Baby chicks need some special care - the temperature must be kept constantly warm, just like if their mother hen was there to keep them warm. And you'll need to prevent early problems like pasting up and monitor for illnesses such as coccidiosis.
Process the Birds
Depending on the laws, your markets, and your comfort level, you may decide to slaughter and process the chickens on the farm. I've done it both ways: myself and taking them to a slaughterhouse. While the slaughterhouse is far easier, it's also incredibly expensive and adds a lot to the cost of each bird.
There are also mobile slaughterhouses in some areas - a trailer or "mobile poultry processing unit" comes to your farm and processes the birds on-farm for you. Some of these have a minimum number of birds, so be sure to consider that when making your business plan.
Sell the Chickens
Your birds are processed, packaged, and in the freezer - so now it's time to put that marketing plan into action and sell them. Whether you're bringing them to the farmers market, selling to restaurants, or direct to consumers, you'll need to refer back to your business plan to sell the chickens you've so carefully raised.
Reassess and Reevaluate
Like with any business, you should regularly reassess and reevaluate to see if things are still working. Did your marketing plan work or does it need to be retooled? Do you want to raise more birds next time or fewer? Did you find on-farm processing to work well, or will you hire out that job next time?