YaSin Muhaimin started farming late in life after Hurricane Katrina ended his career as educator. At a time when he should have been looking at retirement, this urban dweller took his insurance money and bought a few rural acres to start an organic farm. In a few years, he went from novice to savvy farmer direct marketing vegetables and about 5,000 chickens annually.
He credits his rapid and successful career switch to technical assistance from two SARE state coordinators, who gave Muhaimin one-on-one attention. Also critical to his success was a SARE-funded business planning toolkit for small-scale poultry production. “It helped me analyze everything I was dealing with, and helped me work through the process and determine the feasibility of doing this,” Muhaimin says.
The poultry production toolkit is one of many invaluable resources arising from three SARE grants benefiting small-scale commercial poultry producers across the southern United States. The projects, organized by the Arkansas-based nonprofit Heifer International in partnership with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the University of Arkansas, have created the first comprehensive body of educational resources and training opportunities specifically targeting small-scale commercial poultry producers.
“I would say that over time there’s been more developed on small-scale poultry, but Heifer and NCAT, thanks to SARE funding, are leaders on this,” says Anne Fanatico, a researcher on alternative poultry production who helped develop most of NCAT’s poultry publications.
Interest in raising pastured poultry has grown significantly in recent decades because it is often an inexpensive way to add supplemental revenue and diversification to small farms, especially ones with limited resources, Fanatico says.
An experienced producer raising 1,000 birds annually—a commercial flock is generally considered small until about 5,000 birds—can net $3,000, according to a University of Wisconsin study. The Muhaimin family earns $12,000 yearly from their chickens, and they plan to quadruple the operation over time.
The SARE-funded projects began with hands-on training for more than 200 families and 39 educators. Project leaders then developed educational materials on a wide range of topics, including business planning, breed selection, nutrition and processing. Most recently, they have aggregated dozens of resources at an NCAT Web page—including multimedia and Spanish language offerings—and provided intensive training to more than 100 county extension agents and other educators from across the South, many of whom are now helping local farmers manage small-scale poultry operations.
The projects have made particularly important contributions to understanding the technical, safety and regulatory aspects of meat processing. Depending on local laws, producers can generally process up to 1,000 birds on-farm, but facilities willing to handle small flocks larger than that are scarce, creating a major gap. Along with helping producers understand local regulations, project leaders built a certified, small-scale mobile processing unit in Kentucky, where no on-farm processing is allowed.
“It has broken a lot of ground for other folks who may want to deal with the legal issues and develop mobile processing units,” says Steve Muntz, who helped lead the grant projects as a then-Heifer International employee.
Want more information? See the related SARE grants: