Small flock growers to discuss processing facility
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
WESTMINSTER, Md. — On Saturday, Feb. 4, as an estimated 400 growers of chickens crowded into the Carroll County Ag Center for the Mid-Atlantic Poultry Expo, it was evident that the industry, apart from integrators on the Eastern Shore, needed some attention.
Under the leadership and encouragement of Ginger Myers, they will get it.
Myers is the director of the Maryland Rural Enterprise Development Center and a University of Maryland Extension marketing specialist based at the university’s Western Maryland Research and Extension Center in Keedysville.
She has slated a meeting for small and mid-sized poultry growers for April 25, starting at 7 p.m., to discuss their need for a poultry processing facility and a joint marketing group in Central Maryland.
The meeting will be held at Farmer Tom’s in Reisterstown, the livestock and vegetable operations of Tom and Joan Reynolds.
Myers’ reasoning is this: If there are 400 poultry growers out there, they represent a lot of chickens.
“Need them processed?” Myers asks. “Looking to rein in production costs through group purchases and services? Could you use an additional volume market for your poultry?”
Processing birds for a highly regulated market could very well be beyond the means of any individual grower.
A cooler alone, Myers said, could run as much as $20,000.
However, a small three-grower group already exists. It includes Tom Reynolds, Farmer Tom. It has been functioning for 20 years. Farmer Tom’s processing facility can handle 2,500 birds a day.
She said the new and enlarged group, envisioned by Myers, would have a four pronged mission:
• Provide safe, environmentally responsible, and economically feasible processing services to small and mid-sized poultry producers;
• Organize a buying group for chicks, poults, feeds, and poultry supplies to secure quantity discounts;
• Provide training and continuing education about regulations, marketing, and production; and
• Service volume sales accounts through aggregation of group member birds to provide an additional outlet to group members and sufficient supplies to volume buyers.
In 2010, the MDA and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene implemented a training course for on-farm processing of poultry. While passing the training and getting the license does allow for retail sale of on-farm processed poultry now, it substantially raises the investment bar.
For example, it requires every farm to purchase its own set of processing equipment. It requires each farmer to develop a composting or treatment system for processing wastes. And it provides for limited traceability of product.
Members in an expanded poultry processing and marketing group would be required to complete the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s poultry processing license training and receive a license from the state before processing birds with this group.
Interestingly, two days after the meeting at Farmer Tom’s, MDA, in partnership with the University of Maryland, will conduct a training workshop for on-farm poultry and rabbit slaughter and processing.
Training will be conducted April 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center in Boonsboro, Md.
Farmer Tom’s has been in the Reynolds family since 1952.
The farm originally was an orchard, but the family began raising pigs, chickens and various crops and in 1985, after attending Penn State, Tom turned to farming full time, raising turkeys, pigs, cows and a variety of vegetable crops.
The farm boasts a large on-farm market offering fresh produce and all-natural meats.