This Sunday, Island Grown Initiative (IGI) will offer its third annual poultry workshop at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. The workshop leaders, Jeff Munroe and Richard Andre, are members of IGI’s poultry processing crew. Mr. Andre has been IGI’s poultry program coordinator for the past two years, and he has been raising chickens for about three years.
Mr. Munroe says that he became interested in raising chickens for meat at a Living Local festival here three years ago. “I met Doug Brush there,” he says, “and he was trying to get together a few people to talk about raising broiler chickens, for meat.” He had just finished a feasibility study about doing on-farm processing of chickens. “I had worked on a farm that raised egg-laying chickens, but it wasn’t until I was working with Doug that I really had much experience with broilers.”
The first half of Sunday’s workshop will focus on the basics of raising meat broiler chickens. “We’re going to start with brooding” Mr. Munroe says, “then we’ll talk about the pros and cons of day-ranging versus using a moveable pen. More people are familiar with day-ranging, where chickens are allowed to roam free, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems.” Moveable pens contain up to 70 chickens, and they are moved daily. Following the discussion of pen design, they will move on to talk about profitability from a smaller scale commercial standpoint and for home use.
After lunch, the main topic will be licensing for the Island’s mobile processing unit, which is now restricted for private use. The lack of a processing facility has kept a lot of people here from raising chickens for meat, according to Mr. Munroe. “The closest facility is in New Bedford, but it’s all done behind closed doors there,” he says. “It really stresses the birds out to be in cages for so long. They’re probably in cages for 3-5 hours before they’re slaughtered there, after the boat ride and the drive.” In addition, the New Bedford facility is not licensed to process meat for commercial sale.
IGI’s processing unit is in a pilot program for a new type of poultry processing license.
“The state had never licensed a mobile processing unit before,” says Mr. Munroe. “The codes were set up a hundred years ago and more, when all the slaughterhouses were bricks and mortar. For years, people sold chickens off of their own farms, and that’s covered by the older laws, too. Having a unit and a crew that travels from farm to farm changes how things work. The mobile poultry processing unit and crew are in a pilot program for a state license which allows growers here to sell to the public.”
The popularity of raising poultry for meat at home and on a small commercial scale is increasing. “It’s trending,” says Mr. Munroe. “Once people are given the option to know where their food comes from, they want to know more. It’s almost universal. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who’ve seen the film ‘Food Inc.’ and said, ‘I can’t believe that’s where our food comes from!’
“IGI’s poultry program has shown how we can facilitate a massive increase in food production by people on the Island. Three years ago, probably about 200 meat birds were raised here, two years ago, maybe 1,200. Last year, it was about 3,000. This year we’re projecting somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000.” The availability of the mobile processing unit, with its trained and experienced crew, makes raising broiler chickens more accessible to many.
This weekend’s poultry workshop is offered free of charge. It will begin with breakfast from the Scottish Bakehouse from 8:30 – 9:30 am. The first segment, covering how to raise broiler chickens, will run until about noon. The second segment, after lunch until about 3 pm, will focus on the licensing process, and how Island Grown Initiative’s mobile poultry processing unit can be used by small-scale commercial growers. Participants may attend one or both parts of the workshop, for which there is a $5 suggested donation. For more information, contact Jeff Munroe at 714-785-0112 or Richard Andre at 774-563-8640.