In college, Kelly Hahn needed another couple of credits to graduate and the poultry science class sounded interesting, so she signed up. Years later, when she wanted to stay home with her children, she remembered that class, and thought that the things she learned could translate into a way for her to generate some income while being a full time mom.
Kelly and her husband, Evan, lived in Indiana and started raising few chickens for their own food. They butchered them on the back of a pickup truck. When they moved back to Ohio in Ashland County and started a family, the few chickens they were raising turned into a bigger endeavor — Acorn Ridge Poultry Farm, LLC.
“We started raising chickens again when we came back to Ohio and friends asked us if we could raise a few more for them. Then more people started asking,” Kelly said. “Four years ago we started raising chickens in a larger volume on pasture, we did 800 in the first year of the larger scale. We did 3,200 birds last year.”
The Hahns have also added hogs and turkeys to the mix in the last couple of years. Evan is very involved in the operation, but works full time off the farm, while Kelly handles most of the day-to-day operation on the roughly 10 acres of pasture in the rolling Mohican hills.
The birds are raised in 8 portable pens on pasture with a gravity fed water supply distributed through hoses.
“They are primitive pens with tarps on them to protect them from the elements.
They get moved twice a day to new pasture,” she said. “The turkey pens have a roost in them so they can get up off the ground to perch.”
The meat chickens are raised in 7-week batches from spring through fall and one batch of 50 meat turkeys is raised from early July until just before Thanksgiving.
“We get new chickens every two weeks. We start with chicks and we put chickens out on pasture after 2 or 3 weeks. We have a meat builder pasture mix with clover in it that we seeded two years ago,” Kelly said. “They eat the grass first but they need still supplement with feed. We have them on a starter feed for two weeks with more protein and then we’ll switch them to lower protein feed — 18% protein.”
Roughly a quarter of the chickens are processed onsite and sold locally to buyers who pick them up at the farm, with the rest being sold live to wholesale buyers who market through farmers markets and other channels.
“We sell to a buyer with a pasture-raised poultry business that is pretty small. He can’t raise as many as he needs so he buys ours. That helps him and gives us the sales volume we need to make it work,” she said. “We butcher or sell the chickens after seven weeks when they are 4 to 5.5 pounds. We loaded out last batch of chickens at end of October.”
The broad breasted bronze turkeys are more challenging and costly to raise than the chickens.
“Turkeys are a real roll of the dice. They are a huge gamble,” Kelly said. “If it gets cold and damp a week before Thanksgiving they can all crowd together and die or a coyote can come in and wipe you out. Our biggest predator problems with the birds are hawks, raccoons and weasels.”
The poults cost more initially and the turkeys eat substantially more than chickens. They also tend to be less tolerant of adverse conditions. They are kept in two pens of 25 each.
“Turkeys are put on pasture after 7 or 8 weeks because they need to be warmer,” she said. “The turkeys are marketed at 15 to 25 pounds. We get them in early July and we process on either Nov. 9 or Nov. 23. We have the earlier date in case you want a smaller one and once right before Thanksgiving so they can have fresh birds. We feed them the same feed as the chickens — we don’t feed them really high protein. We have bulk bins for feed. We give them a 5-gallon bucket twice a day and they will eat way more than that if you let them. A lot of people don’t do turkeys because they really are a gamble. You have to look at turkeys as a risk and a nice reward if it works out.”
Most of the turkeys are processed and picked up by customers on the farm.
“We do all of our turkey processing here,” she said. “They are physically exhausting to process. That is why we only do 50.”
The Hahns try to keep their prices as low as possible.
“We sell our turkeys for $3 a pound and that is very cheap for what we are doing, but we can’t compete with what you can find at the grocery. We still make some money but we try to keep our prices low,” Kelly said. “Chickens are $2.50 a pound and $2.50 for processing.”
In addition to the poultry and hogs for meat production on the farm, the Hahns took on a new project this year with feeding out some breeding turkeys for a local hatchery.
“We had some heritage breed turkeys like blue slates and bourbon reds. We get paid per bird per day to take care of them,” she said. “The hatchery is very meticulous with what they want. They look for certain colors and traits. Some are sold for show, some for pets, and some for finishing if they don’t make the cut for breeding stock in the hatchery. We started in July with those and finished out 210 in October. We raised them similarly but they have to be kept in the brooder longer because they grow slower. They did really well on pasture. They were on the ground just like chickens.”
More poultry producers are turning to pasture raised production on a smaller scale around the country. The Hahns are members of the American Pastured Poultry Producers’ Association (APPPA), a nonprofit educational and networking organization dedicated to encouraging the production, processing, and marketing of poultry raised on pasture. On their small farm, the effort, as a whole, has been quite a bit of work for the Hahns, but it accomplishes the goals they were hoping for when they started raising chickens.
“It has been a part-time job while I stayed home with the kids and we really could not ask for a better situation. We wanted our two daughters to be around agriculture,” she said. “Being outside is one of my favorite things and I get to be home with my kids. And we know where out meat comes from — our property — and to me, that pretty neat.”