5 Profitable farm diversification for poultry farmers
For some types of agricultural land, the farm diversification opportunities can seem endless. If you are a livestock farmer, a mixed farm, or have some type of arable setup, there is often a good selection of obvious farm diversification projects to investigate. But if you are a pure poultry farmer, it can seem like there are far fewer options for diversification.
Many poultry farmers want to find farm diversification options that allow them to continue farming as they always have but with a higher return. The lower value of poultry products can mean that swapping to alternative routes to market is unprofitable or unpractical. However, there are many ways in which the profitability of poultry units can be improved.
In this blog, we will look at alternative routes to market, alternative income streams and diversifications that reduce your costs of production. It is unlikely all of these options will apply to every poultry unit, but I hope at least one will work for you or give you ideas to build on.
Farm diversification projects to save you money
Improving the profitability of a farm business doesn’t just have to focus on creating more income; it can also focus on reducing costs. One of the most significant costs to any poultry unit is heating, whether this is heating for chicks at the brooding stage or ongoing heating for hens during the winter months.
One way to reduce the heating cost of a poultry unit is to generate heat using renewable energy. This option allows you to receive a tariff for producing renewable energy while also benefiting from cheap/free energy. The most appropriate type of renewable energy will vary depending on your setup, but common options could include solar panels on barn roofs, biomass energy or ground source heat pumps. We do have relationships with a couple of providers of green energy solutions that we refer clients to so if this is of interest, get in touch here.
Selling directly to the public
Selling eggs directly to the public can be a time-consuming practice considering the low price per item and the upfront cost of managing so many customers. But much as milk vending machines have helped many dairy farmers to access the direct-to-consumer market effectively, egg vending machines offer the same option for poultry units. This would take farm-gate egg sales from pocket money side hustle to a proper income stream. Vending machines can be installed on the farm or, if permission is granted, at a convenient location nearby such as near a village centre. You may also be able to team up with local dairy farmers to set up a joint mini farm shop with a milk and egg vending machine.
If you are a meat-producing poultry unit then selling direct to the public is more achievable. The key is to offer something that the supermarkets can’t. You will never be able to compete with supermarkets on price alone so instead, you need to provide something extra. This could be providing cuts of meat or preparations which are less common, or it could be to do with your production method such as offering free-range, super high welfare and organic chicken.
If you want to focus on only offering chicken, you need to develop your brand such that you are positioned as THE CHICKEN COMPANY! Take the example of Gressingham Duck. They have created a brand that only sells one product: duck. But they do it with such high standards and with the backing of a well-established brand that everyone can think of them straightaway. If you decide to go down this route, you will need to factor in a decent budget for branding and marketing, as well as considering how you can offer that wow factor from your chicken. This could include offering specific rare, native or pure breeds of chicken.
Unusual farm diversification additions
Alternatively, you could offer more than supermarkets by adding in a wider range of poultry such as including duck, guinea fowl, or quail. Offering a more unusual selection of species allows you to position yourselves as the go-to business for any feathered purchase and applies to both egg sales and meat sales. Once you have a wider range of products, you can then look at offering more diverse meat boxes or similar subscription options which help to provide a more stable income stream of repeat business for the farm diversification.
Although each of these species has different needs, there is likely to be a substantial overlap in their requirements. It also means that if there is a change in consumer demand, you have a wider selection of products to fall back on. You may find it is worth considering seasonal variations in the meat options provided, for example, turkeys or geese for Christmas and game birds in autumn. If you are keen to support rare breeds, you may be able to work your system such that the best examples are sold on for breeding homes or retained, and the rest are sold as meat. This would work in a similar system to many pure breed sheep producers.
Pet poultry sales
Since the pandemic, the demand for backyard poultry has increased significantly with many more people working from home and wanting to be able to have their own eggs from their own hens. Therefore, there is a substantial opportunity for farmers to produce birds for the pet or backyard poultry market. Many backyard chicken owners are looking for breeds that are docile, hardy, and bonus points if they are a bit pretty to look at.
Chickens are the most obvious option for backyard poultry sales but more and more hobby farmers and smallholders are also looking for alternative poultry such as ducks, geese, quail and, less commonly, guinea fowl. Therefore, there is scope for not only offering a selection of different chicken breeds but also a selection of alternative poultry as part of a pet sales farm diversification. Sales can be offered in many ways; from hatching eggs through to day-old chicks and right up to POL pullets.
Marketing to smallholders and hobbyists works well on social media and benefits from a supportive and knowledgeable approach to customer services. If you choose the right selection of breeds, you may be able to run pet sales in conjunction with an egg or meat production farm diversification as well. There are also plenty of opportunities for cross-selling or upselling your customers with feed sales, starter packs, chicken runs and even incubator rentals for those wanting to try their hand at home hatching.
The key is to choose a farm diversification that suits your setup and which will work for you personally. For example, if you don’t like the touchy-feely hands-on customer service with the public, then I would avoid the pet sales farm diversification option and try the vending machine option. Whereas if you have a passion for rare breeds, the pet market option may be an ideal opportunity for you to combine a hobby with an income stream.