As many of you know, in 2021, our chicken season came to a grinding halt when our processor decided to close mid season. We were left scratching our head and wondering, what’s next? Our hardest pill to swallow? We had purchased thousands of dollars in equipment to scale up our poultry production without any way to recoup that cost.
It was in that moment that all of the plans I had been pouring over for our family came crashing down. Without a processor, we had no chicken income. And without an income, I had no way of raising meat chickens for anyone other than myself and my family.
To be honest, chicken is also a quicker turnaround on income. They take 6-8 weeks of expenditures before we see the profits from our hard work. Those profits helped us to subsidize the costs of raising our hogs and beef, which have a much longer turn around. Without it, we were in the DEEP red. Raising beef and pork is costly. And, income from those species aren’t in our bank account for upwards of 1-2 years from the time the livestock are born. Farming is a lot of sweat equity but gosh is it also a LOT of capital.
I spent that next year emailing, calling and bugging so many processors all over the state and in Idaho. Sadly, I was the new guy in town and very few even took the time to get back to me. Those that did either didn’t have space for us for the quantity we needed to raise to make it financially viable or they ghosted me after our initial conversation. Roadblock after roadblock made it really hard to see how we could make it work. The worst part, not a single processor open to the public in the state of WA is USDA inspected. The only ones that exist are owned by Purdue or Foster Farms, both of which are private entities that process 125-150K birds PER DAY and do not accamadate little guys like us. Meaning that our chicken cannot legally cross state lines according to current laws.
If you have been here a while, you know that we ship our meats. Approximately 25% of our business is out of state customers having their meats shipped to them monthly and bi monthly. While I am a HUGE believer in supporting other farms, sending customers away for a product we raise it ourselves has been a tough pill to swallow and leaves a lot of money on the table.
So, I kept researching and finally, I landed on opening a butchery myself. It was never on my radar. Owning a meat plant isn’t really what I thought this former vegan would be doing with her life but it seemed like a bottleneck that I couldn’t ignore. I simply couldn’t stand here and say, I tried, if I really hadn’t. See a need, fill a need, right?
It’s not hard to get a license to process chicken in WA. However, the hoops grow as the farm does. This gets a little complicated so stick with me, ok? In order for us to take advantage of bulk purchasing of feed and chicks, we had to raise enough chickens to consume that much feed. While I am ever the optimist, the only license we really qualified for originally limited the number of birds we could raise and increased our cost of production without those bulk purchasing price breaks. We did our best that year but it wasn’t a long term solution.
With everything else we had going on, I tried to justify the cost of building a plant from the ground up but I just couldn’t see how we could swing it when our original farm was already lacking in infrastructure we couldn’t afford to build. Specifically, we were struggling to figure out composting and waste water management. To top it all off, Ryan still works a full time job so asking him to tackle ANOTHER project that wasn’t going to have a quick ROI didn’t seem logical.
Fast forward to late summer 2022 after we had relocated our ranch to the new farm & I stumbled upon a grant opportunity that would allow us the funds to build the butchery. At that point, we had also relocated our ranch to a better location more suited for what this butchery would require. The best part, it’s already built to handle waste water! So, I put my technical writing skills to work and spent hours researching, pouring over financials and plans. I spent hours consulting with the state Health Dept, USDA and local experts. I pressed the submit button 10 minutes before the deadline and took a huge deep breath. It was either going to work or not.
2 months later, I got an email letting me know that our project had been funded. I was in shock. After preparing myself to hear the words no, I was absolutely stunned to find out that our plea for help was met with the funds we had asked for.
The best part? It gives us the leg up to bring a neglected farm facility back to life. This grant remodels our milk house, our water systems in the barn, adds coolers and freezers and state of the art equipment that will make the job easier for our future crew, increasing our daily capacity without adding hours to our day. With the license our farm will operate under, we will also be able to offer value added poultry products just as jerky, sausages, smoked products and ground chicken/turkey.
And with that single yes, Widnor Meats came to life & a giant door swung wide open where there had previously been a brick wall. While we are still unsure of the final timeline for opening (backorders are real, yall!), we are eager to bring this project to life. As a profit sharing business, our employees will have a real stake in local food production. Eventually, once our kinks are all worked out, we will also be opening Widnor Meats to other local farms and homesteads as an option to process their poultry as well.
This has been a labor of love. I truly believe in the power of healing foods and local production. While we take this giant step forward, we are grateful to fill this need in our community. We still hold strong to our belief that small farms are the vital link in the longevity of our food systems.