Tucked away at the upper end of Tie Chute Lane north of Florence, the Red Coop Poultry & Produce LLC is on the verge of expanding. The small operation has been producing live chickens, mostly Polish and Silkies, as well as selling eggs for some time now, but it is about to jump into the broiler business.
Laura Oppenheim, owner of the business, who is also a social worker serving mentally ill adults, said that when she was a kid her family raised all their own food including sheep, lambs, goats and chickens.
“We are lucky here in the Bitterroot,” said Oppenheim. “Many people in the country don’t even know where their food comes from or how it is produced.” She said her aim is to produce good locally grown food in clean, healthy, and humane conditions at an affordable price. But according to Oppenheim, left to her own devices, producing organic chickens and eggs for sale is not cost effective.
What makes her planned expansion into the broiler business possible, she said, is the Montana Poultry Growers Co-op, located at Homestead Organics Farm south of Hamilton. Members of the cooperative can cut costs by combining their feed purchases for bulk discounts. The Co-op also provides a processing facility with specialized processing equipment to meet the needs of developing small farm poultry enterprises with their market entry.
“Without this state certified processing plant and the possibility for bulk price purchasing, I would not be able to expand my business as I now am,” said Oppenheim. She said Beau McLean, the Co-op facility manager, was also providing her with a lot of good advice.
She has already hatched her first batch of broilers and plans on adding turkeys to the operation next year.
The chickens she is raising for butcher are different from her Polish and Silkie chickens, which are popular birds amongst the 4-H kids, but they are not big meat producers. For that she has turned to White Cornish, a large fast-growing breed.
“They are interesting birds,” she said. “They are not great free rangers. They don’t take temperature changes very well. They are bred to be raised indoors.” As a result, Oppenheim also raises kale, spinach and other greens, as well as meal worms to provide fresh, natural food for the chickens.
The chickens are given fresh water daily and their cages, with plenty of room to walk around, are kept clean as well. Once the chicks have grown past the down phase and feathered out, Oppenheim does release them into confined areas for ranging when the weather is good. She plans on adding some netting over the top of a few corrals on her place for greater protection from birds of prey while grazing.
Situated as her place is, in the wildland urban interface, birds of prey are not the only animals looking for a chicken dinner. They did have a black bear visiting the coop at one point. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel were able to capture the bear and relocate it.
Oppenheim hopes to be selling her White Cornish broilers and, next year, her Heritage Bourbon turkeys, at the Hamilton Farmers Market.
Oppenheim said that she is trying to do her part to help people re-connect with their food sources by providing good, natural food products at an affordable price. Her plans, if realized, will produce about 50 to 60 eggs a day and from 75 to 100 broilers per season. Oppenheim can be reached at email@example.com or call 406-552-7329.