Originally Posted by Yellow House Farm
Hmmm...so I was driving back from a visit with my God-son, and I was thinking about this thread. I was feeling that I wasn't quite communicating what it was that I meant. I knew I was talking about one breed and the need for the specialization, and yet I didn't want to alienate. Then I had a bit of an a-ha moment. Perhaps, I hadn't made it clear that our approach has a rather commercial bent, which changes the game plan.
The goal of our farm is to maintain a "closed flock", a flock that rarely, if ever, and then only judiciously brings in outside stock. The reasons would be three with the first leading to the following two: genetic protection, flock health, product stability.
But first I should explain. When your goal is for your own table, well then your table's law rules. If you want four different fowls--great. If you don't care about any of it and you just want a pretty sight, great. If you want one fowl and consistency, that's cool. However, when the majority of the meat you produce is destined for sale at market, things change. When a customer tries your product and they like it, they want to return and buy it again, but they want the second to be like the first. Customers want the dependability of consistent quality.
It is a very strange sensation when you put that roaster down on the table in front of your customer. There is silence; all gimmick, all fanciful notions are gone. They look at the presentation. They see what they want, or they don't. A heritage roaster is going for $5.99/lb. That customer is about to give you over twenty dollar for that roaster. Is is worth it? You have 100 pounds of chicken to turn over that day, 75 pounds of duck, some turkey, some geese, 50 dozen chicken eggs, 35 dozen duck eggs, and then other product. Customers are coming back, and they want the quality that you've delivered in the past. They have guests coming on Saturday evening, and they've chosen your Heritage roaster as the centerpiece above the elk available two stalls down, the heritage beef staeks, the goat sausage, the locally caught lobster, the leg of lamb; your roaster's it, because they've tried it, loved it, and want to share the experience. They buy it, take it home, defrost it, and what if it's not what they had expected. Problem.
It's on this level that farming can be different than homesteading. You're about to slaughter 300 roasters that you need to sell at a profit. If customers don't know what they're going to get when they visit your stall; they're quick to become gun shy. If they get a Rock one time, a Dorking the next time, and a Cornish the third time, you'll quickly become "the neat little farm but you never really know what you're going to get." We're all different, but that's not the marketing position I'd choose to hold. Consistency is key.
Here's where things get complicated. Consistency in poultry is the fruit of directed effort in breeding. The difficulty is by choosing to work with heritage poultry, one is choosing to work outside of the realm of hatchery consistency, which has been focused on the perfection of commercial crosses for decades now. These crosses keep you dependent on the hatcheries, but they deliver. They provide you with consistent quality, be it for eggs or for meat. When you order their crosses, you get what you order. With heritage fowl, it's more risky. You order Dorkings; they grow with marked variability in weight, breadth, and depth. You order White Wyandottes, many of which are deformed and unthrifty. You order Australorps that lay very well, but the egg size is only medium. You buy Columbian Wyandottes with a high percentage of crooked breast bones and small eggs. You get some Anconas that have been bred indoors for too many generations and can't keep up with the cold. You order Salmon Faverolles that turn out to be half Mahogany Faverolles. Your Speckled Sussex are flat breasted. Your Houdans are half way to being bantams....what's a farmer to do? Well, use the factory crosses, of course....or......
You decide what you're going for and what you need: levels of productivity, better for meat, better for eggs, rate of maturation, meat quality, foraging ability, historical or cultural significance. You line them all up, and then you prioritize them. You pick the breed that best meets your goals, and then you settle in to create your own consistency. You recognize ahead of time that you need to be able to close your flock, which means you must have the level of biodiversity needed to be genetically self-sufficient. You are about to put a lot of time into this investment. Over time your stock is going to be exactly where you want it, where your clientele expects it to be. The importantion of outside stock can throw your genetics for a loop and damage your business, undermining seasons of work. New stock can introduce disease, as well. On a homestead, you might see past these things, but on a farm they are moments of true anxiety.
The kind of breeding that is necessary to do this requires focus on many details and requires a depth of selection. I used to dream of doing it for several breeds, but as time slowly reveals the kind of commitment and effort that is needed to do this with even one breed, it makes two seem like a pretty steep climb and three would be daunting. Sometimes, I wonder if I could put this much effort into the Dorkings, while also maintaing a couple of hobby lines in another breed or two, we'll see.