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North country chicken production may increase

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North country farmers interested in more commercial production of poultry will get a boost with a grant to Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County that will look at pasture-raised fowl and the arrival of a mobile slaughterhouse.

“There’s an overwhelming demand for pastured poultry, but we have had an inability to scale up,” said Brent A. Buchanan, an agricultural issues leader with Extension.

However, a long-anticipated mobile chicken processor is expected to be in operation soon.

The North Country Regional Economic Development Council and North Country Pastured, the owner of the processor, will have a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the unit at 1 p.m. Thursday at 116 Rice Road, DeKalb Junction.

North Country Pastured was the recipient of a $130,000 state grant through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

Delivery of the unit took longer than expected because the company responsible for building it also makes equipment for the military, which took precedence.

North Country Pastured has estimated it could process 25,000 chickens in its first year and surpass that number in the future.

A research and field data project into raising pastured poultry in hoop houses, brooders and fenced areas just begun at Cooperative Extension will tie into the mobile slaughterhouse.

“We’ve been thinking this was a need in the north country,” Mr. Buchanan said. “The gaping hole was the slaughterhouse. North Country Pastured has been able to solve that part of the puzzle.”

With the use of freezers and the addition of U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified slaughterhouses, including the mobile unit, the north country could have its own poultry available year-round for use by institutions and other consumers.

Mr. Buchanan procured a $29,000 grant that will pay for hoop houses and other equipment and gather data for best practices research that farmers in six counties can use to improve their flocks.

The Extension’s Learning Farm on Route 68 in the town of Canton will have a hoop house and raise several batches of chickens for the project. Three other hoop houses will go on loan to farmers in St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Lewis and Jefferson counties.

On Thursdays, extension educators and farmers who will receive the first hoop houses were at the Learning Farm to build the structures, set up watering systems and have a lesson from Peter L. McDonald, McDonald Farm, Romulus, which raises chickens, beef, lamb, turkey, pork and eggs.

“This is the system I put together as a means of growing chickens,” Mr. McDonald said. “We have run up to 10,000 chickens in a year in half a dozen hoop houses.”

Day-old chicks start out in brooders in the hoop houses but are free to roam as their feathers sprout, eating grass and bugs along with grain, Extension educator Betsy F. Hodge said. The complex, including fencing, is movable so the chicks can have fresh ground.

The study will make comparisons between Cornish Cross birds, a quick-growing variety ready to market in eight weeks, and Freedom Rangers, a heritage breed that is slower to grow but reputed to be better foragers. Data will be collected until July 1. Extension will help with coordination of buying feed and the chicks.

“People will know if they like the system,” Ms. Hodge said. “We learn a lot from trial and error.”

Raising birds on pasture is essential to the health of the animal and the people who consume them, Mr. McDonald said.

While the poultry are fed grain and have ready access to water, about 25 percent of their diet comes from what they peck up from the ground.

“They have a choice,” Mr. McDonald said. “They really have a wonderful time. They’re running around chasing bugs. They can have a great life and one bad day.”

The birds can be inside the tent or out and are protected from predators by the hoop house and an electrified poultry net.

The hoop house system could help producers who typically raise 25 birds increase to 250, Mr. Buchanan said.

“This is a unit that is doable and replicable,” he said.

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