As if 2022 hasn’t been challenging enough, we learned earlier this month that our local chicken processing plant (Dewberry Hills Farms) will be closing its doors in October. I knew we were on borrowed time since the owners (Terry and Jane) were getting on in years and literally working themselves to death. In spite of all the challenges associated with running a small batch USDA facility (labor, government, customers), they were always very accommodating and patient.
When we began this endeavor, it was a blessing to have Dewberry Hills Farm's processing facility and knowledge of raising, processing, and selling chickens nearby was a blessing, and it continued to be so as we expanded and grew. They were even gracious enough to accommodate an extra batch of broilers the week they close despite health issues. They’ve also agreed to coordinate and facilitate the processing of our Thanksgiving Turkeys. This is a tremendous relief to me as the next closest facility is two and a half hours away and fully booked for the remainder of the year.
In order to get that last batch of chickens finished before they close, we’ve had to take some extraordinary measures here at the ranch. It takes a chicken 7 weeks to grow from a chick to a finished weight. If I time it just right, I can do 300 birds every 4 weeks as they spend 3 weeks in the brooder and four weeks out on pasture. My limitations are driven by both brooder equipment and the number of chicken tractors I have on hand. Further complicating the issue are the 65 turkeys we are raising for Thanksgiving, which equates to running 100 chickens – thus limiting me to 200 broilers at a time.
Timing is everything, and in order to meet that last batch of 200, I'm having to get creative. When the latest batch of chickens arrived I didn’t have a brooder open as inclement weather had delayed the turkeys' move from brooder to pasture by a few days. So I had to put together a makeshift brooder to house the chicks overnight.
Moving the 65 turkeys out to the chicken tractor only opened up one of my brooders which can hold 100 chickens. Fortunately, day old chicks are tiny, so I am able to house 200 chicks in the brooder for 1 week while they’re awaiting my other 2 brooders (currently full of 2 week old chicks) to open up. Of course I have no where to put those 200 chickens as my chicken tractors are full of 7 week old chickens. It’s like chicken Tetris! Thankfully, Dewberry Hills was able to move my next processing date up a few days earlier so I could orchestrate this whole ballet. I sure will miss their flexibility and convenience.
Dewberry’s closure not only affects us, but a few hundred small batch and backyard growers in Central Texas – all scrambling to make arrangements. The best thing that can happen is that someone buys Dewberry Hills Farms and continues their legacy. There is talk of someone building another facility to fill the gap, but until an alternative presents itself, I am trying to coordinate with the next closest processor (Burgundy Farms in Hillsborough TX) for my 2023 schedule. As they are over 2 hours away, this will add quite a burden to our small operation - but that’s a problem for another day. These things have a way of working themselves out, and I can only fret over so much. Until then – eat more chicken!
$7.50 per lb.
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