Why it's hard to buy local when it comes to chickens

Jun 7, 2013

“Pastured Poultry” is a method of raising chickens or turkeys by giving them free range over the ground and the most natural life possible. Agriculture Economist Jeff Schahczenski  with the National Center for Appropriate Technology, NCAT, said it’s a method gaining interest across the country.

“The idea is to get them outside, in the air there. It changes the quality, we think, of the meat, and possibly the nutritional value of the meat. It lends itself to the animal being healthier and happier – to a certain extent, although they all end up in the pot,” Schahczenski said

NCAT teamed up with several other organizations to offer workshops on pastured poultry in Great Falls, Bozeman, down in the Bitteroot Valley, and in Ronan in the Mission Valley. Director Jan Tusick for the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center said her organization focuses on economic development for the agriculture sector.  The Center helps food and agriculture clients navigate regulatory issues; works with food cooperatives, coordinates farm-to-school programs, and offers a certified kitchen to prep fruits and vegetables.

Tusick said challenges to raising chickens in Montana include having an available processing facility, costs to small scale farmers, and confusion about the rules and regulations guiding the industry.

“There’s a high demand for local poultry, but there are several barriers. One is, we talked about regulations, feed cost was another barrier, labor costs for doing on-farm processing of birds, doing the labor was an issue,” Tusick said.

A Hutterite colony in Montana that sells whole chickens has its own packaging plant, and Tusick said the Center used to have access to a mobile processing machine which is now out of service.

Another challenge of raising chickens in Montana is handling predators, like grizzly bears.

Part of the workshop discusses electric fencing, and cost share programs available through Defenders of Wildlife to electrify and to build safe coops. Tusick said right now the regulatory set up makes it difficult to sell chickens on the small scale. She said these workshops give the chance to explore the interest that exists in raising pastured chickens for sale, and the next steps that need to be taken to make that an reality in the state.