Tuesday, June 10, 2014

At Least a Million Chicken Farmers

chicken on the grill

“That chicken was DELICIOUS!” Mr. Customer was beaming.

“You raise chicken the way ALL chicken should be raised!”

“I’m sure you agree!”





Now, hear me out on this one. 

I absolutely love what we do here on the hill (most days) and I am firmly committed to how we do it.  We work hard, give this place our all and provide excellent products.  Delicious, nutritious food with a personal touch…that’s what we do…that’s all we do.

…and I am truly appreciative of all those folks who are willing to get up early, come to the Market and purchase our products.  It is both gratifying and humbling to hear them sing our praises. 

…and quite honestly... 

I do think our food tastes best.

But, I do NOT for one minute think that our way is the ONLY way to do things. NOT AT ALL. And, I’m pretty sure that Mr. Customer really didn’t mean that all chickens should be raised just like ours.  But, what if he did?

Let’s consider, for just a moment, what it would take for all chicken to be produced like we do it.  Are you with me?

In Virginia alone, on average, 

250 MILLION broiler chickens are processed every year. 

(This number does not include all the pastured-poultry producers throughout the state. For sake of discussion, I’m just talking about the broilers that go through the processing plants in VA.) If ALL chickens were raised like ours, the entire system would have to change, and 250 million chickens would have to be produced in the backyards and farm fields of Virginia.  


A customer-friend once suggested that we wouldn’t need so many chickens if we just got “rid of fast food”. This sort of short-sighted thinking is worthy of its own post, so I won’t go off on it here.  Suffice it to say, the broiler producers are not raising so many chickens because they like them so much and they just want to have a lot of pets.  People are actually eating the chicken that is produced.

…and everyone needs to eat!

We process about 250 chickens annually here on the hill.  We could do more, but choose to direct our attentions elsewhere.  Our birds would account for about 1/1,000,000 of the chicken consumed in our state.  Just our state…and Virginia is not one of the big poultry producers. Virginia ranks #10 in the nation.

In order for ALL chicken to be raised like ours…there would need to be at least 1 MILLION chicken farmers in Virginia alone! 


1 MILLION. Chicken. Farmers. 

…in Virginia. Just Virginia.

I’m pretty sure we couldn’t pull that off if we tried.

Our small batches of chicks arrive once a month.

They are housed in the brooder for three weeks to get some size to them before moving to the pasture pen.
They grow out in the pasture pen until they’re eight weeks old.
At that point, we haul them to the backyard where we have processing equipment.

The chickens are killed, cleaned, chilled and frozen.

 We then offer these for sale at the Farmers’ Market.

warm under the brooder lights
From the end of March to the beginning of November, the broilers demand some sort of human attention. EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. They need light and warmth in the early days.  They require feed and water the entire time.   They must have some sort of shelter. When they move to pasture, the whole pen is moved daily.

You think we can find a MILLION people willing to take on this task every day from March to November every year ad infinitum? No one could quit...ever (without someone else taking their place). Food production has to be consistent, because people need to eat...on a very regular basis.
servicing broilers

Would the current poultry producers be willing to completely change their operations? What about all the support services that are part of the poultry industry?  What would this mean to all the restaurants that serve chicken?  Would they have a million chicken farmers lined up at the back doors to make deliveries?

No…I don’t think all chicken should be raised our way.

coming home from the post office

Unlike the large producers who get their peeps (day-old chicks) delivered by truck…ours arrive in a little box at the post office.  Can you imagine the chaos throughout the state as 1 MILLION boxes of cheeping chicks had to be processed through the beleaguered post offices?  Once a month?

How about the feedstores that would suddenly have to provide bags and bags and bags of chicken feed because the feed trucks would no longer be needed to deliver to the big poultry farms?  Oh, yeah…and the drivers of the feed trucks would suddenly be unemployed, too…right? Think the feedstores are ready for one MILLION more regular customers? Maybe they could hire the feedtruck drivers.

This is all based on the assumption that there are actually a million places throughout the state suitable to pasturing poultry. (don’t think so)  And, that one MILLION operations would have the processing equipment sitting in the back yard…and storage facilities…and a mode of transport to get the little batches of chickens to the customers.

broiler processing day
Did you know there’s lots of blood and guts in chicken processing? And feathers…bunches of feathers.  We have a system to clean up and compost all this gross stuff.  How could anyone make sure that ONE MILLION other operations would handle their waste in an environmentally friendly manner?

Consumers of chicken products throughout the state would also have to re-evaluate their consumption habits.  No more nuggets and breast meat. No parts. Nope.  You get a whole or a half chicken--frozen
Take it or leave it. (plan ahead…way ahead for that meal) Oh, and you can only get it from May through November (or a little later if frozen supply holds out). We just can’t raise pastured poultry here in the Old Dominion in the colder months.     Sorry, eaters.

Add to all of this the fact that our chicken is expensive.  (in comparison to the grocery store) Without benefit of buying in bulk, our input prices are far higher than large operations.  Some of the very folks who tell me how awesome it is that we do what we do are the ones who balk at a chicken that costs over $15.00. There are many people who simply cannot afford chickens raised this way, either. All consumers are not willing to pay far more money for our product that is not as convenient as what they are used to…nor are they willing to go out of their way to get it.

 And, I don’t blame them.

No, I really don’t think all chicken should be raised our way. 

Our little niche is wonderful (for us) and we strive to produce a high-quality product for others. 

…and there is nothin’…nothin’ like a home-made fried chicken supper using a chicken from the hill.

But, that does not negate the need for the large-scale production model.

Many consumers do not realize that the large-scale producers are doing so in award-winning, environmentally-friendly and humane ways and providing an affordable product year-round to consumers.

Rather than dictate unrealistic changes that would have far-reaching impacts throughout society…maybe we should understand and appreciate what wonderful choices we have.

...unless, of course, there are at least a million folks (in Virginia) who really want to be chicken farmers.

**Actual number of broilers processed in 2012 was 240,500,000. **
For more interesting facts about poultry in the State of Virginia, visit Virginia Poultry Federation at http://www.vapoultry.com


  1. Well you already know what I am thinking about this post, it is great! I could have never said it better.
    I like you am so thankful for all of the different ways consumers can get the products they need. Safe, healthy products. Thanks for all the commonsense you continually bring to us.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Kelly!
      ...and thanks to you and your family for all you do to put food on the tables of so many people. :)

  2. Well, I guess everyone could have a coupla chix in the yard. A little tricky for high rise dwellers, but, heck, that's what balconies are for, right?! :0

    1. Problem solved! I never thought of chickens on balconies. ;)

  3. As long as they don't "free range" too far!

    1. ...and then you have a whole new set of management problems. lol

  4. I wish all consumers understood this! Even an animal as small as a chicken is too much for a lot of consumers to raise. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Jodi!
      I wish consumers understood it, too. Guess I'll just keep pluggin' away at them. lol

  5. Wow, talk about putting it in perspective. Those are crazy numbers when you think about it! It seems like everyone could have backyard chickens in the US, and we'd still need more! Very cool information + insight into your process :)