NC State Extension

2007 Niche Market Poultry Project

Debbie Roos, Agricultural Extension Agent.

This project was funded by the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center,
a national information resource for value-added agriculture.


Project partners include:

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
Growers’ Choice

In the Triangle region of North Carolina demand for pasture-raised, locally grown poultry far exceeds supply. Local pastured poultry producers formed a growers’ cooperative called Growers’ Choice in 2005 to help strengthen the ability of growers to meet this demand. Local producers were interested in learning more about operating a regional hatchery and improving access to processing.

The objectives of this project were to: 1) educate a select group of poultry producers in the issues associated with breeder flock and hatchery management, pastured poultry production, animal welfare standards and certification, processing, marketing, economics, and managing a cooperative; 2) develop a set of Grower Guidelines to facilitate the interface between producers and the processing plant to ensure a successful outcome for all parties.

A three day conference was held in August 2007 for 42 area pastured poultry producers, most of whom are members of Growers’ Choice. Frank Reese, Jr. of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch (GSTR) was brought in from Kansas as the primary presenter at the conference. GSTR is the national leader in the reintroduction of purebred “heritage” turkeys to the consumer, and they have developed a regional hatchery with a network of growers to cooperatively raise and market poultry.

GSTR marketing

Image courtesy of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch

Conference topics included Breeder Flock and Hatchery Management, Hatching Best Management Practices, Small Hatchery Management, Sanitizers and Disinfectants, Pastured Poultry Production, Animal Welfare Standards and Certification, Processing, Markets and Marketing, Administration, Pastured Poultry Economics, and Lessons Learned.

Click here to view the Power Point presentations from the conference.

It became apparent from the conference how important it was for producers to have a strong working relationship with their processor. The question of access to processing became the bottleneck for area poultry producers when the only poultry processing facility in the state closed its doors in 2007. In the absence of a USDA-inspected poultry processing plant, the Growers’ Choice Cooperative worked with a local red-meat processor to add a poultry processing line which is scheduled to open in March 2008.

A set of Grower Guidelines was developed to help both producers understand the steps needed to have a successful experience at the processing plant. The guidelines addressed the issues of scheduling processing (assessing live weights, time to market weight, lot size, scheduling a processing date, processing options, and labeling), preparation and transport to the processor (crating equipment, biosecurity, feed and water withdrawal, crating procedures, etc.), processing (expectations, uncrating, condemnation of birds, pick-up and storage at the plant), and post-processing (transport and storage).

Check out these great resources:

Frank Reese

Frank Reese, Jr. of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Kansas.
(Photo courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute)

Turkey in grass

A happy turkey in high grass.
(Photo courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute)

GSTR turkeys on pasture

Turkeys on pasture at Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Kansas.
(Photo courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute)

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