A trip to buy a ‘few’ chicks turned into a  new agriculture operation for Pamela Vinyard

What started as the purchase of a few Rhode Island Red chicks for her husband about three years ago started a new farming operation for Pamela Vinyard.
“Once I got that first egg, I was hooked,” Pamela, who lives in Marshfield, Mo., said.
More than 70 other breeds and more than 600 birds, most of which are breeding stock, have now joined that small group of Rhode Island Red hens.
“I sell eating egg, hatching eggs, baby chicks, grown birds and everything in between,” Pamela said.
Olive Eggers, Marans, Polish, Polish Brahma and Silkies are just a few breeds Pamela is able to quickly recall, including multiple color lines of each breeds. Her list also includes turkey and duck breeds, and a pair of pigeons.
Pamela admits being a poultry breeder was never on her list of agriculture ambitions, but once she got her feet wet in the industry, there as no going back.
“When I started getting eggs, I started looking for the prettier breeds,” she said. “I made the mistake of going to the Cackle Hatchery web page, and before I knew it, I had 60 chicks in my cart. That started the addiction to the different breeds. Then once you get the different breeds, you have to have all eight colors that the breed comes in.”
Each breed is kept in its own breeding group, typically in pairs or trios, so there is no chance for cross breeding.
One breed she is currently excited about is her Silver Laced Orpingtons, which is an English breed that reaches about 13 pounds.
“They are a new breed to the U.S. and the breed isn’t breeding ‘true’ yet,” Pamela explained. “You can breed two perfect birds together and get an all black bird. The color on these are key, also the bigger the better.”
She went on to explain that like any livestock, her birds must adhere to breed standards.
“You even have to look at feet and comb color,” she said.
Each breed may also have different health and reproduction issues that must be addressed. For example, breeds such as the Polish Candy Corn have a very large  bouffant crest of feathers, may need to have their feathers trimmed or even tied back to allow them to see. The crests may also become so heavy that the bird is unable to hold its head up.
Pamela generally purchases birds that are a little under a year old because of the cost factor. Birds generally hit their peak production at about 2 years, but she has some hens that are up to 10 years old.
Coming from a dairy cattle background, Pamela admitted there was a lot to learn about poultry production.
“You have to learn about different diseases, what to do at the right time and how to do it,” she said. “Even with the cattle, I never had to give a shot, but it got to where there are so many birds I had to be the one to do that.”
Eggs produced from breeding pairs or trios are gathered and then placed in her 288-egg incubator for hatching. She prefers not to sell hatching eggs.
“If someone has a bad hatch because of something they did wrong, then they expect you to replace them,” she said. “I do sell some, mainly to people I know.”
Last year Pamela had so many eggs that she sent more than 80 dozen to a friend to help with the hatching.
While Pamela is focusing on producing the highest quality purebred birds possible, she has not ventured into poultry shows.
Biosecurity is a concern for many poultry producers.
“If anyone owns a chicken, they don’t come out here, unless they have completely clean clothes, shoes and even then I don’t allow people to touch the birds,” she said. “If I don’t fully trust you, you don’t come out here.”
She added since her birds are under cover and are not allowed to free-range, she feels the threat of Avian flu is small, but admits it is a “scary” disease.
While she is still relatively new to the industry, Pamela has produced birds that have gone into the breeding programs of other, larger operations.
“They are some big name breeders here in Missouri,” she said. “I’m very excited about it. In these rural areas, I can’t charge people what these breeds are worth… They want Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, not these breeds. Unless it is a breed they really want, they aren’t prepared to pay what they are worth.”  
She said day old chicks, depending on the breed, can sell for as much as $25 each; however, the same chick may only bring $5 locally.
Pamela’s goal for this year is to become National Poultry Improvement Plan certified, which is a disease-free certification that will allow her to sell and ship birds and eggs outside of the state of Missouri.
“When I get that, I can market to those producers in California and New York who will pay for the breeding,” Pamela said. “At some point I would like for this to be profitable… At this point they are a hobby, but I really love to do this.”
In addition to her breeding stock, Pamela has laying pens with heavy laying breeds for the “eating egg” side of the operation. During peak production, she often does not have enough customers or room for the eggs. Eggs that are too old for sale or consumption are scrambled or baked, then fed back to the chickens.
“It’s about the best nutrition you can give a chicken,” Pamela said. “Also feeding them back the egg shells is a good source of calcium for the chickens.”
She is currently using a commercial crumble and chicken scratch mixture to feed her birds. Pamela said she did try a custom mash, but the birds wasted more than they ate, so it was more cost efficient to stick with the crumbles and the scratch. She added that many pellet feeds are too big for her smaller breeds to consume.
As for the future, Pamela doesn’t want to expand her operation, but she would like to become more centralized.
“Right now, we have chickens in individual coops, and I would like to build a barn with separate sections so that I can get everything together, and keep water from freezing in the winter,” she said.


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