Friday, October 10, 2008

Wisconsin Chicken Hatchers Receive SARE Grant for Unique Breed Hatching Experiement

Despite the cold Wisconsin winters, Julie Maro and her husband recently were able to establish a small hatchery in Western Wisconsin, hatching a unique breed of chicken that comes from parent stock raised on certified organic feed.

Although Maro and her husband had been raising meat chickens at Coon Creek Family Farm, they had a strong desire to establish the first Wisconsin-based hatchery to produce organically raised chicks specifically bred for a pasture-based poultry production system. The breed they selected for their project was the Corndel Cross developed by Timothy Shell of Mt. Solon, Virginia.

With a 2003 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for $5,981, they managed to raise a healthy flock of breeder chickens through a Wisconsin winter.

“After 9-11, there was some discussion about possibly discontinuing shipping of day old poultry through the mail. That potential threat as well as the desire to have a poultry system that was as sustainable as possible prompted us to consider establishing our own hatchery,” explained Maro.

The couple discovered, during their project that the with the costs of feeding, housing and caring for a breeder flock over our Wisconsin winters, the price of certified organic chicks became cost prohibitive to most. However, they did consider this project successful from several standpoints.

“The knowledge gained from our hatchery project has allowed us to successfully incubate a wide range of poultry and waterfowl both for our farm as well as neighboring farms,” said Maro. “It also put us in touch with a wide range of knowledgeable poultry persons whose expertise we continue to call upon even today.”

According to Maro, the Corndel Cross chickens had few health problems making them enjoyable to raise. Over the course of the summer, they raised more than 350 Corndel cross chickens on their farm. During that time, they lost only 10 in the brooder and only 5 once they were turned out on pasture.

A special insulated room was their structure of choice after a hoophouse proved to be less than ideal due to humidity and moisture build-up.

“The room we added as winter housing for our breeder flock has now been converted to a brooder room for our current groups of meat chickens and turkeys. The research we put into this room has enabled us to start these different varieties of poultry with very little brooder mortality. Our hoophouse is now used as an ideal structure for summer pasture-raised laying hens,” said Maro.

Timothy Shell, developer of this breed, has relocated out of the country and Maro and her husband feel an added responsibility to continue raising these Corndel Cross chickens, since they are one of the few producers who have a Corndel Cross breeder flock.

“We deeply appreciate receiving this grant and the opportunities it has given us,” said Maro. “Without it, we would not have been able to afford to take on this project. We have learned a great deal and feel we can use the knowledge gained during this year to expand and improve on our efforts at developing a local hatchery for organically raised Corndel Cross chickens.”

Coon Creek Family Farm’s pasture-raised certified organic birds are available for the holiday season. Call (715) 834-4547 to reserve yours today.

More about their project is available online at the SARE reporting web site.

Since 1988, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.

Coon Creek Family Farm Corndel Cross chickens – photo by Julie Maro

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