Producer Profile: Jonathan and Ellie Coulimore
Jonathan and Ellie Coulimore, Vancouver, WA
By Aaron Silverman
Issue 20, Summer 2002
In our second in on an ongoing series of producer profiles, this month's article looks at a "homestead" scale producer of pastured poultry. Since each producer deals with unique qualities in their operation, it can be hard to generalize to universally relevant issues. In this article we've tried to illustrate both these unique traits, and the more general issues that others may be able to easily apply.
Jonathan and Ellie Coulimore have raised pastured poultry since 1994 in Vancouver, Washington, 20 miles north of Portland, Oregon. They plan on producing nearly 2,000 broilers in 2002, and just under 200 layers. While the whole family is involved in the poultry and other farm enterprises, the farm does not provide all the family's annual income. Continual innovation and trials are the hallmarks of the Coulimore's system.
Broiler Production System
Jonathan plans on raising 5 batches of broilers in 2002, from May through October, with birds arriving every 4 weeks or so. He purchases his chicks from a hatchery in Eastern Washington (Dunlop Hatchery), and has tried numerous strains over the years. He currently raises "Peterson" strain of Ross Arbor Acres.
His typical harvest age is 8 weeks, 3 days, and he obtains an average dressed weight of 5-5.5lbs without giblets.
The brooder system has undergone significant modification for this season. Previously, Jonathan brooded his birds in old baggage carts, obtained from his work with Delta Airlines. While this unique innovation allowed him to brood small batches of chicks and deliver them directly to their field pens, it limited the size of his batches. He has begun a transition to a more open style of brooding with the construction of a 15x30ft greenhouse, covered with white plastic. The white plastic acts similarly to shadecloth, providing diffuse light that moderates temperature spikes in the greenhouse. Batches of 400 chicks are brooded 3-4 weeks in a 12x18 plywood box. The brooder's heat source is also in transition, with both an old-style electric brooder inside one box, and a propane pancake heater in another. The birds have access to an outside run after 2 weeks. One of Jonathan's concerns is the higher cost of propane versus electricity, which may be offset by the ability to raise a greater number of chicks with a single heater.
Jonathan uses a traditional Salatin-style field pen. They are 10x10ft, covered with aluminum sheeting, and moved every day.
One of the unique aspects of Jonathan's production system is his feed. He has set up several grain bins in an old garage, and has a roller mill & mixer. By producing his own feed, he is able to trial various ingredients and rations, and has settled on an incredibly diverse ration. His current ration contains: corn, roasted soybeans, wheat, oats, alfalfa meal, corn gluten meal, lysine, Redmond conditioner, azomite, aragonite, Nutribalancer, fish meal, molasses, and vinegar. His ration is about 21% protein, and he mixes this with 20% whole oats and wheat at about 5.5 weeks. He notes that molasses is added to reduce the dust in the feed, and lysine is added to counter the minimal lysine level of the corn gluten meal.
The Coulimores do not operate a state inspected plant, but have created an on-farm processing system that would be acceptable by most health departments. While killing, scalding, and plucking occurs outside, evisceration is done inside on a stainless eviceration table. Birds are collected early in the morning, and butchering begins about 5am. By 1-2pm, all birds are bagged, stapled, and stored layered in ice in an old freezer. About 2,500 lbs of ice is used throughout the system for 400 birds. Jonathan admits this is probably more than is necessary, as he loads up the freezer for storing the birds up to 3 days after butchering. All offal is composted on the farm. Customers pick up their order that afternoon.
Daily chores are handled primarily by Ellie. A group of neighboring home-school kids assist with butchering.
The Coulimores rely on word-of-mouth for the majority of their marketing. They send out about 100 letters each spring, detailing the season's offerings and calendar. Most orders are sent in within the first 3 weeks after the letters are mailed; reminders are either mailed or phoned to sell the last 20-25%. Rarely do the Coulimores enter a butcher date with surplus product. Their first customers were through a home-schooling support group they were a part of while home-schooling their children. They experience about a 25% annual customer turnover rate, and rely on customer references to pick up new customers.
One aspect of the Coulimores marketing that works well for them is their tiered price structure. Prices are based on the number of birds purchased at a single butcher date. The volumes are broken down by "1-5," "6-9," and "10+." Jonathan attributes his high average sale of 15-20 birds to this pricing structure. No deposit is taken for orders.
As with many homestead scale producers, Jonathan admits his record-keeping is not as accurate or complete as he'd like. His records focus mainly on end-weights and mortalities. He keeps a production log to record mortalities throughout the season. His main health issue has been ascites, which he has found to fluctuate through the season, peaking during periods of cool, wet weather. He does keep track of how much is sold, and a list of customers and their orders.
The Bottom Line
Jonathan estimates that he makes about $4 per broiler, before accounting for family labor. He attributes this to his small scale, minimal marketing costs, and availability of both family and home-school labor.
The Coulimores also raise about 200 layers. Replacement pullets are brooded in a similar fashion to the broilers, and go to the field between 4 and 5 weeks old. The hens are housed in a raised field house, with nests that have Shenandoah automatic egg rollout tracks. Local home-schoolers help wash both eggs and the rollout tracks. The Coulimores deliver eggs to a school in Portland, as well as their local church. Jonathan grinds a similar ration to the broilers, with a lower protein content and increased whole grains.
Jonathan attributes much of their success to the close-knit network of home-schoolers in his area. He also has used his knowledge of the freight system to become the Northwest distributor for Fertrell (Nutribalancer, Sea-Lac fishmeal, etc.). Each season brings new innovations and trials, something Jonathan feels is critical to continued success. His ability to store and grind is own feed is the keystone to his ability to conduct ingredient and ration trials.