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Published July 05, 2010, 11:51 AM

Perfect Partnership for Perfect Poultry

Why compete when you can collaborate and come out ahead? That’s the theory three farmers are taking in northwest Wisconsin to ensure quality customer service, a successful business plan and a high quality product for eco-conscious eaters.

By: Beth Probst, Living North

Why compete when you can collaborate and come out ahead? That’s the theory three farmers are taking in northwest Wisconsin to ensure quality customer service, a successful business plan and a high quality product for eco-conscious eaters.

Pasture Perfect Poultry consists of the Wild Hollow Farm in Sanborn, the Great Oak Farm in Mason and the Vranes Farm in Benoit. A few years back the farms were trying to ramp up production but shared a common problem of processing. “Processing is a stumbling block for a lot of small farms,” Melissa Fischbach of Wild Hollow Farm says. “The equipment is too expensive to purchase on our own. But, we realized if we worked together it’d make sense.”

It also makes the workload more feasible. “Small Farms work best when you have three or four generations and friends and neighbors working together,” Melissa’s husband Jason explains. Jason, who is also the Agriculture Agent for Ashland and Bayfield County, says one of the

struggles some of the new farm owners see in this region is that thier closest family is often 200 miles or more away. This plan was just one way to address that problem.

Fast forward three years to today, and this plan is working out. Today, the farms are maxed out for what they can process on-site. “USDA regulations cap farms at 1,000 birds a piece,” Jason says. “Everything over that gets sent to an actual processing plant.” For now, that totals an extra 1,000 birds that will be sold in stores around the region. The other 3,000 fill orders for folks looking for free range, organic chickens and turkeys.

“People come to us for a number of reasons,” explains Melissa. “They want to know how the animals are raised, what they were fed, that they actually got to run outside. I think they also like the connection of buying their food from people instead of just buying it in a store.”

Customers also have the option of touring the farm. During my visit I

saw everything from baby chicks to birds that were just days away from

heading to the freezer. While I’m no chicken expert, it was good to see the

birds had plenty of space to roam and the opportunity to snack on grass,

bugs and other items birds should be eating. A movable fence ensures they

never run out of things to forage. At night, they sleep in a movable

“hoopie” which protects them from predators. What they “leave behind”

is a rich fertilizer which is then integrated into gardening space on the

farm.

The experience comes with a cost —this year the white chickens and

turkeys will set you back $2.85 per pound and Heritage turkeys are $3.99

per pound. Add in the fact that you have to drive to one of the three farms

on your designated pick-up day and it can be a little inconvenient. However,customers are flocking year after year to the farms – not just for ethics, but for flavor, too. This includes a darker, more textured meat and extra omega-3. Melissa goes on to say, “People tell us the birds actually taste more like, well... chicken.”

One repeat customer described the birds when placing an order this year

by saying, “By the way, your chickens are very, very yummy. My husband

and I have been buying free – range chickens for almost 20 years in

various parts of the country and yours are as good or better than any we have ever purchased.”

Looking ahead, the farms are working with a new collaboration to

diversify their offerings. South Shore Meats, which consists of six regional farms, sells everything from turkeys, chickens and pork to grass fed beef and lamb. “We’re really trying to create a one-stop shop for people in the area,” Jason says. Something customers, the local economy and

farmers will benefit from when everyone works together.

Beth Probst is a freelance writer in Iron River, Wisconsin and Communications Officer at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

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