Training helps improve animal welfare & boost profit margins
In March 2016, Haley Rosemond received a scholarship from FACT to attend the Sustainable Poultry School to learn humane and sustainable techniques for raising her chickens. The Sustainable Poultry School (SPS) is a weeklong intensive training course that provides instruction in all aspects of poultry production, including how to hatch, raise, breed, and market traditional breeds of poultry. We recently caught up with farmer Haley to see what changes she has made as a result of the training. Nearly a year later, we found that the impact of her SPS experience continues to multiply.
Haley co-owns Cane Creek Farms, a diversified operation located near Hillsborough, North Carolina that raises beef cattle, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens, turkeys, horses, and a variety of vegetables. She came to the training as a relatively new poultry farmer, eager to learn new skills to help her manage her flocks and maximize production in a humane way.
Reflecting on life since SPS, Haley was confident that the experience both improved the welfare of her birds, and increased her farm’s profits. For a poultry farmer, profits and animal welfare can go hand in hand. Sometimes it’s the basics that make a big difference. “One of the first things I did when I got home was teach everyone the proper way to hold a chicken. I do believe this has benefited the birds’ overall welfare by cutting down on stress,” she shared. (Haley is demonstrating proper form in the photo at left.)
Haley made additional changes to her farm that are still in place, from adding grit and oyster shells to her birds’ feed to improve their digestion and egg quality, to giving them a diatomaceous earth dust bath to help control mites and other parasites. “These practice changes have also affected my farm financially in a positive way. Anytime I can cut down on the birds’ stress in anyway means more and larger more consistent eggs,” she said. From reducing parasites to producing stronger eggs, healthier, happier chickens save the farm money.
Even as the farm continues to progress and evolve, challenges remain, particularly when it comes to scale of operation. With over 250 laying hens, the farm needs tools that are somewhere between ‘hobby’ and ‘commercial’ size – a size that is often difficult to find. This has led to ingenuity, exemplified when Haley designed and built a mid-sized egg washing machine that held more eggs than the smaller models but was much less expensive than the larger ones. Of course, as she noted, “Finding the time to operate a farm and come up with creative solutions to problems is a struggle.”
But opportunities to learn remain an important and ready resource. She reported: “I was lucky to have a classmate one county over and an instructor two counties over. I am hoping to visit one of their operations over the winter to see how they are doing.”
Overall the impact of the program went beyond improving farm techniques and profits, and has resulted in a broader understanding of agricultural norms and practices. “During my time at poultry school I learned about questions I didn’t know to ask. For example, I had no idea that when you buy pullets from a hatchery that many times the cockerels [young male chickens] are euthanized upon sexing.” While it turns out that the hatchery Haley uses does not euthanize male chicks, she felt compelled to spread the word among her friends, customers, and fellow poultry producers about what was happening at some of the larger scale hatcheries. “Many were as shocked as I was to find out the truth,” she reported.
Almost a year after learning in depth techniques for running a sustainable farm, Haley considers the program a success. In her own words:
I’m not sure it is possible to put into words the gratitude I feel for being awarded this opportunity. As a young farmer I live with a very tight budget. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and know that you could be doing better but not having the resources to learn new things keeps you there. I truly believe the knowledge I gained in one week will not only improve the lives of the birds on my farm but it will improve my life, the life of my business partner, the lives of employees, and the community as a whole that we offer products to.
FACT and its Fund-a-Farmer Project are proud to support farmers like Haley who are deeply committed to raising their animals humanely. Our conference scholarship program is designed to help farmers enhance their knowledge of humane livestock production practices. Armed with new information and skills, it is our hope that these farmers will ultimately be able to improve animal welfare on their operations and boost their profit margins.