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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Chicken on the Brain

I have chicken on the brain today. Actually I have been doing a lot of thinking about how we sell chicken ever since we gave the pastured poultry workshop at the OEFFA conference this past Saturday. Ever since we got into growing chickens for commercial purposes (that makes us sound like big time producers when we raise well under 1000 birds each year) we have sold whole uncut birds only. And we generally sell out but than we are not selling a whole lot of them so it is not too hard to sell out of them.

at the conference we talked to several people who have been doing this for a couple of years and sell a lot more birds than we do and all of them sell cuts instead of whole birds. I was intrigued at this and than Tuesday afternoon we visited my friend Linn Stutts to pick up some home grown grapefruit sent to her by a mutual friend of ours who lives in Florida. While we spent time Linn's kitchen talking, the Food Channel was on in the background and both Eugene and I noticed that literally all the chicken used in every recipe on every show was boneless skinless breasts. This really caught Eugene's attention and he started making a lot of comments about how these shows were doing nothing to teach people how to deal with a whole chicken. I mentioned to him that boneless breast have pretty much been the standard for well over a decade. Linn mentioned that while she appreciated a whole bird because you can do so much with them (and she is an excellent and accomplished cook) it is true that most modern Americans have no clue what to do with a whole bird and skinless breasts are incredibly easy to deal with.

Me, being a slow foodie, I forget that not everyone is willing to take 12 hours to cook a great meal completely from scratch and most people are into this whole kinda, sorta from scratch using a lot of processed/pre-made food type of cooking. The kind of cooking that made Rachael Ray famous. And while this is not my bag baby, it is how about 80% of our customers cook and these meat eating people have not been buying our whole chickens like they are going out of style. Despite the fact our chickens are about as good as you will get in the USA. These are the Rolls Royce's of poultrydom. The meat melts in your mouth, the flavor is to die for. I have never had better.

I believe it is the combination of raising them on pasture, feeding them top notch organic feed and the fact we raise them with love and respect during their short lives. Allowing them to live the best life possible, running around on green pasture in sunlight eating clover and chasing bugs.

Okay, so for the past 11 years I have had no problem dealing with whole birds. I can cut one up in about 1 minute but, generally, I just roast the birds because I am too lazy to to cut them up when I can quickly rub them with kosher salt and garlic powder and maybe sage and rosemary put the bird in a roasting pan and pop it into a 350˚F oven for a couple of hours. And for years I have assumed my customers felt the same way.

Today I found out how wrong I was. You see after the conference and watching the Food Channel at Linn's we here at Boulder Belt Eco-Farm started coming to a realization that perhaps we should start offering something other than whole pastured chicken. So we got to talking about what we could offer. We came up with Cornish hens, big whole roasters, skinless breasts and other cuts. Than Eugene had a great idea-what if I were to write an email asking our customers what they wanted from us and send it out to everyone on my emailing list. So this afternoon I did just that and have gotten a far better response than I imagined. So far I have gotten 10 responses and I expect many more over the next few days. The overwhelming verdict is yes people want cut up chicken and most are intrigued by the thought of Cornish hens.

Now we have an idea of where we want to go with the pastured meat birds this summer. It looks like we will be raising a lot more than last year and by packaging them in a way people like we should make money on the birds instead of just breaking even.

If you live in my local area and have an opinion about our chicken leave an eludication. Hey, even if you are not in my local area go ahead and tell me how you feel about our chickens.


Peter comly said...

As a fellow Pastured Poultry Producer who only sells whole birds, I have been wondering this as well. We also sell pork and beef by the side, and we have been very surprised that we have had an easier time getting up to maximum production with pigs and cows, than with chickens. We figured that since buying a chicken is such a small investment compared to a side of beef that chickens would be a cinch. I am beginning to also believe that a lot of potential customers don't know what to do with a whole chicken. We are opening an on farm store this summer, and I think I might experiment with cut up chicken. Figuring out how to price it is what is going to take a little figuring. I hope you let us know what you end up doing and how it works out.

winedeb said...

Thanks Lucy for the info you left on my blog! Appreciated.
Chicken Rules! It is used every which way possible in my house as I am a foodie with a son that is a chef. People are in a hurry (?) and I think they would purchase a cut up chick as opposed to a whole one just so they do not have to cut it up. I cannot wait to taste yours when I am in Oxford this summer, as I can only get Bell & Evans here in KW. Good luck !

Doverduo said...

I just wanted to share a suggestion from This Old Farm. They said a customer told them she cuts the birds up the breast and flattens them out butterfly style to save freezer space.

Angie said...

Hi Lucy. We are wondering the same thing this year. We have our preorders, but many customers asked about cut-up birds. Would you do this in your kitchen? I'm wondering if we would have to have a 'certified' space to do the cutting. Any thoughts? I'm always amazed at how many people ask me what to do with a whole bird. When I explain to them you can make almost 3 meals out of one bird - they look at me like I'm crazy.

Do you butcher your own chickens and if so, where do you do it?

Lucy said...

Angie we do not kill our birds. there is a small family operation about 45 minutes from us that does a good job. They are a state inspected facility which means we can sell the birds anywhere in the state of Ohio.

And they will cut up birds for a price so this would mean no additonal work on our part, just a bit more money upfront.

The customers that responded to my query are about 9 to 1 in favor of cuts so we will offer them as well as whole birds.