I have no experience, but I recently (re)read an article about them in Acres USA, from a two or three year old issue. Seemed like a neat program.
That said, I'm a bit leery of the "Full Farm Membership" aspect. Seems there are plenty of people who will do that kind of work (training, coaching, mentoring) for free, and enjoy doing so. For that matter, much (if not all) of the associated information can be found in multiple books, some public domain. But I think a localized community of like-minded farmers/homesteaders is both more resilient and ultimately more useful. I don't know that it requires a formalized process, and I question the real benefit to the people who join. Then again, I don't put much stock in any of the various agricultural certification programs. I agree with that they're doing -- "developing, producing and maintaining authentic, historic, standard bred poultry" -- but I guess I question their method.
I'm conflicted, Wes. I think that paying money to someone makes them more accountable. This is especially important if the relationship is one-sided. I don't have anything to offer someone who is giving me advice regarding livestock unless they happen to want some technical work done. Payment shows recognition that value is being given.
No one on Permies has to help me out.
A good example of this occurred in the pigs forum. A pig owner had an issue with a piglet that was roaching and had obvious pain in the joints of its back legs. I didn't say anything at first because there are people on that forum that are subject matter experts. Nobody spoke up. Nobody was obligated to. I ended up giving some pointers and I'm glad to say that I was able to help. I have to say that our community or even a local community, while helpful, isn't a safety net.
On the other hand, I believe that what you're saying is the way it should be and it's our job to model the behavior we want to expect from others.
When it comes to the full farm membership, I'm not looking for the cert. I want the coaching that's offered with a number of site visits each season. I also want the marketing assistance.
My grandfather gave up his farm rather than going in debt to the bank. I respect his decision but I'm left without a lot of the knowledge I would have if I had grown up on the farm. I was lucky enough to work on some farms as a kid and as a young adult, so I have some knowledge, but not enough. I'm always looking for a way to fill in the gaps.
I readily recognize that what I'm suggesting requires an agricultural community (and, really community in general) that is considerably more developed and advanced than what most people are likely to find locally. And I'll say that I am grateful to live in an area with what seems to me a fairly large number of knowledgeable people who will gladly share what they know on a fairly large number of topics. Regarding chicken breeding in particular, there is a really vibrant heritage poultry community (if "community" is the right word) northwest of St. Louis, where Kelly Klober lives and farms. They host at least two events a year where I could quite easily go and talk face-to-face with a number of people and gain what I expect I would gain by paying $1200 to the aforementioned poultry folks, and maybe more. Of course, this isn't available to everyone, and as such it certainly skews my views on the matter.
I'll also say that I would much rather do extensive research to learn something myself than pay someone else to teach me, both because I love doing research and because I'm stingy. But that's just my bent.
I don't doubt that these folks know what that they're doing, or that they're really good at what they do. But I do wonder if $1200 is a reasonable price. Then again, $1200 might not go far on their end if they're traveling from North Carolina to Washington state four times.
While I believe that the program could help many poultry raisers, I have a couple of concerns:
-*- His primary goal is to spread the Gospel of Jesus.
That is fine, but it means to me that poultry take 2nd fiddle in his teachings.
-*- The insistence on APA (American Poultry Association) standard breeds.
To begin with, each of the APA recognized breeds are the results of interbreeding of various preexisting breeds. Breeders took 2 or more breeds and crossed them in order to achieve desired traits as an end product. Many of these breeds were developed strictly as exhibition breeds.
I believe that many poultry farmers are eager to create their own breeds. Birds that are best adapted to their climates, and other circumstances. Adam Klaus has his Eldorados which are giving him the traits he is looking for. I am toying with the idea for a breed that will best meet my climate needs, and produce the traits that I am looking for.
To me, sustainability in poultry means adapting/raising a breed that will self reproduce, are suitable to your locale, and produce the results you desire. The birds do not need to look just like one of the pictures in the APA's "Standards of Perfection".
John, I agree wholeheartedly with your second point. There is certainly a great need for the preservation of "heritage" breeds, but it frustrates me how narrowly focused that segment is. I am at a loss as to how we can rationally say that a breed developed before arbitrary year X is somehow fundamentally better than a breed developed after that year. I feel like I can never quite articulate it adequately, but "heritage" breeds are really just an accident of time.
Related, I amuse myself with people who herald heirloom plants and heritage breed livestock and act like F1 hybrids are the spawn of Satan. Do they not realize that their beloved varieties had their genesis in F1 hybrids that didn't breed true but that were eventually stabilized?
To be clear, I am a big proponent of raising and maintaining these genetic lines, but we need a more realistic look at the situation.
First off, I suppose it depends on what kind of scale you're considering. You mentioned in another thread you were thinking about 50 birds, and that's completely doable for a first time.
You can get perfectly reasonable stock for butchering purposes from most large hatcheries. They won't have been selectively bred to realize the full potential of the breed, but by sticking with the mainstay dual-purpose birds (I would recommend White or Barred Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, and Naked Necks, based on my own experience) you'll do pretty well. Alternatively, you can search around for someone locally who is actively breeding chickens for meat characteristics and buy chicks from them, as they'll be a leg up on the hatchery chicks. I don't know what kind of connections Kelly Klober has, but he's very knowledgeable and in my experience is more than willing to help, and might be worth contacting to get references for someone nearby. I don't want to put out any contact info online, but if you search around for "River Hills Farmers Market" or "River Hills Farmers Alliance" you ought to be able to find a phone number. (For that matter, he often writes for Farming Magazine, and his contact info is at the end of each article.)
You'll usually read that the first thing you should ever do is have your marketing figured out before you produce a single thing. That's true to an extent--you don't want to butcher 1000 broilers and then go, "Now what?"--but at the same time you're not likely to find anybody willing to commit to buy your chickens before you've even produced them. The answer, in my opinion, is to start small (like 50) and figure out what the market is. If you offer 50 for sale and nobody wants one, you eat a chicken a week for a year. If you offer 50 for sale and there's demand for 1000, there's always next year. (If you offer 1000 for sale and nobody wants one, you eat chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, darn near every day. If you offer 1000 for sale and there's demand for 1000, buy lottery tickets and forget about chickens.)
In short, programs like the one you linked are perhaps a quick way to good stock, but they're far from the only way. Just like you can buy or grow "organic" produce that isn't officially certified, you can develop or buy great livestock that's not officially certified either. As far as discernment, that'll come with time. I can't claim to be an expert, but I know a heck of a lot more now than I did even a year ago. The key, I think, is just exposing yourself to as much as possible, until eventually you'll realize you're gaining an eye for it.
Let me be clear in saying that I have nothing against the program, and have no reason to dismiss them as not worthwhile. I can only give my experiences, and tell what I would do (and have done) in a similar situation.
Wes, you're right about the 50 chickens number. That's what I was planning with no-one holding my hand.
With a mentor (paid or not), I'd like to do 3 varieties of chicken and 1 of turkey. 50 of each. This lets me some research. Adam's Jersey Giants sound great, but what a long growing season. So, I'll try them and Delawares. The turkeys will be bronzes. These are risks I'm willing to take with someone looking over my shoulder.
And I'm still planning on the original 50, which are cornish crosses.
I'll keep some of those Delawares for laying and improving my stock. We'll see about the giants.
I haven't heard anything that sounds like these people are running a scam. I'm going to try to reach out to some of their customers. I'll let you know what they say.
If you want a good baseline for your experiments I would recommend White Rocks. They will outperform Delawares handily. The White Rock is a really solid breed, that has kept more of its functional performance over the years than most heritage breeds. I personally am biased against a solid white bird, having heard that they are more prone to aerial predation and I just think they look weird. But I would rate White Rocks very highly as meat birds and they are plenty decent layers too. The biggest key is purchasing from a good hatchery, and a guy like Kelly definitely knows his hatcheries. He recommended Mt Healthy and Ideal as his favorites to me, five years ago.
For turkeys I personally raise Broad Breasted Bronze, though their breasts are so large that they will not breed without AI. But since I dont want to breed turkeys they are the best bet in terms of cost and yield. If you wanted to breed your own turkeys (which is a money loser and PITA, IMO), I would go with Naragansat. They were the best of the heritage breeds I raised. The downside to heritage breed turkeys vs. broad breasted bronze is that the heritage birds cost more per poult, yield much smaller carcasses, and fly much higher into trees and such which makes housing them a pain.
I dont have any hard numbers on turkeys. They definitely eat a lot more, per pound of gain than chickens. Theoretically, they are better foragers which helps to offset this, but IMO, they are much less effecient than chickens. I think the commercial guys figure 3 pounds of feed per pound of gain with chickens, and 6 pounds of feed per pound of gain for turkeys. Heritage breeds are less efficient than the broad breasted, which I believe is what these numbers would come from. I think the heritage breed turkeys are something like 8 to 1, but I could be mistaken. LOTS of grain, any way you dice it.
Plus baby turkeys are a real PITA. They are very fragile, needing both super high protein feed and a very warm brooding location for 8 weeks. Adding all this together, I think chickens are vastly superior. The only way that turkeys are better, IMHO, is if you have a grasshopper invasion, and in the processing. Chickens are more efficient, easier to brood, taste better, market better, and are more versatile. I raise turkeys for the holidays, more for fun than profit. I am working to pay somebody else to brood the turkey poults them for the first 8 weeks, because that period is such a hassle and risk. Of course, YMMV.
Jeremey, I wouldn't count on the other breeds (save the CRX) taking much less time to grow out than the Giants. I'd say you're probably looking at a solid 16 weeks. The Cornish, of course, will be in the 6-8 week range.
Not knowing your background, I wonder why you're keen on having a mentor for raising chickens to butcher? I know how intimidating it can be to start something you have no experience with, but by and large animals are just really easy, regardless of all the things that might go wrong that you can read about. Give them shelter, food, and water, and they'll mostly live and grow. I guess I just don't see what "risks" you're worried about that a mentor might help solve. I don't think the Center for Poultry folks are running anything close to a scam, I just don't see what the real, tangible value is.
As Adam suggests, the Delaware probably isn't your best choice for a meat bird. Yes, they get a fair bit of press about being one of the main meat birds prior to the introduction of the CRX, but they've flown (ha!) under the radar for a while now and the genetics just don't seem to be there. But the Rocks have remained popular for a long time, and will serve you better. The New Hampshire Red is another good choice that will lay pretty well. If you're uncomfortable going with an all-white bird, the Barred Rocks will be fairly similar to the Whites, though probably dress out a bit smaller. But probably worth the trade-off of not having 50 "Here I am! Kill me!" advertisements running around your pasture...
There's a publication put out by the Livestock Conservancy that references a book from the 1950's on turkey management (pre-Broad Breasted varieties, I believe). Average feed figures for a 28-week grow out time were a little under 80 lb. per bird.