Chicken business far from paltry

MIRBOO Pastured Poultry is a small commercial chicken operation growing free range, pasture fed birds mainly for farmers markets.
Run by Ilan Goldman, the property on Nicholls Road produces around 200 meat birds a month, raised from day old and processed at eight to 11 weeks of age.
The chickens are sent to the abbatoir in batches over a three week period, to coincide with the markets Mr Goldman attends.
Each month he purchases a new batch of 200 day old chicks and starts the process all over again.
Inspired by American farmer and author Joel Salatin, Mr Goldman aims to produce healthy and tasty chickens on his six hectare property.
“I grow white, or commercial meat birds and a coloured meat bird developed from heritage lines by Sommerlad’s Poultry,” he said.
“The chicks are purchased from northern New South Wales as day olds and spend their first two to three weeks inside in a brooder.”
Depending on the weather, the chickens are transferred to the paddock in one of six movable bottomless shelters.
“The shelters are moved daily, sometimes more which is the most important thing. This means the manure is spread evenly and the chickens get fresh grass every day,” Mr Goldman said.
“This method brings the grass to the chickens; they are on it all the time.”
When Mr Goldman first started growing chickens, he provided them with grain continuously. He also found he was losing a lot of birds.
“I now mix my own feed, primarily wheat with seaweed, blood, meat and camelina meal added. I also make sure they are without grain at some stage throughout the day.”
Once Mr Goldman reduced the feed intake slightly, he found he was losing far less chickens.
The chickens always have access to shell grit which helps them to digest a whole grains diet.
“The birds also eat a lot of insects, particularly in summer and autumn, though there are not as many about at this time of year,” he said.
The pasture is cross grazed with cattle, which is an effective way of maintaining the grass at a height suitable for the chickens.
The Sommerlad chickens are a new addition to Mr Goldman’s business, after buying his first batch to try in May.
“The breed has only recently been released to growers like myself. They take a few extra weeks to grow to size, and don’t get as big as traditional meat birds,” he said.
“But they really taste like chicken and are not tough or gamey.”
The Sommerlad family developed the breed from a variety of heritage chickens, based on desirable characteristics such as taste and texture.
Mr Goldman now purchases around 100 of the Sommerlad chickens a month, along with 200 commercial chicks.
“I will continue to run both breeds and sell the Sommerlad chickens whole and the commercial chickens as pieces,” he said.
“We also sell chicken necks, livers, hearts and feet.”
Mr Goldman moved to Mirboo North from Melbourne in 2010 and to his current property in 2012.
“I read about Joel Salatin and attended one of his two day seminars when he was in Australia in 2011,” he said.
“We did a few ‘test’ batches of chickens in late 2012 and sold the first batch to the public in September 2013.”
The chickens are processed at a poultry abattoir in Albion, near Sunshine.
“There are around 20 poultry processors in Victoria, but most of them wanted to kill at least 1000 birds a month,” Mr Goldman said.
“Albion is good because it handles smaller batches. It is all done manually; I drop them off one day and pick them up the next.
“The distance is a bit of a hassle but I can do deliveries in Melbourne once the birds have been processed.”
Mr Goldman said the price point of his product can be a hurdle for some consumers, but said the taste and texture of his birds is nothing like a supermarket chicken.
“Coal Creek is my best market. I am getting people who are buying all of their poultry for the month off me,” he said.
“At Coburg in particular, people often just buy single pieces.”
Mr Goldman said he has plenty of repeat customers, many of whom tell him how good the chicken tastes.
“The business is growing, but it is time to push the business more as far as marketing goes,” he said.
Mr Goldman would like to expand his poultry business to include ducks and turkeys.
“I want to find out more, but the model for growing them is similar to the chickens. I might try a few batches next year and see how they go,” he said.

Chicken little: Ilan Goldman with one of the chickens grown for meat on his Mirboo North farm, while Rufus the dog watches closely.

Chicken little: Ilan Goldman with one of the chickens grown for meat on his Mirboo North farm, while Rufus the dog watches closely.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=12522

Posted by on Oct 14 2014. Filed under Rural News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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